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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 17:49 GMT
Devolution and Newsnight Scotland
By Craig Williams
Editor, Newsnight Scotland

Newsnight Scotland presenter Anne Mackenzie
Anne Mackenzie is one of three regular Newsnight Scotland presenters
Born in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, way back in 1999, Newsnight Scotland was probably the most visible, and at times certainly the most controversial, of Auntie's responses to devolution.

The first ever edition went on air on Monday, 4 October, 1999. And the lead story was a scandal involving government ministers, lobbyists, and claims of paid access to the corridors of power.

The media could celebrate: we had our first "-gate" of the new Scotland. "Lobbygate" was a dark and convoluted tale of PR men and diaries thick with correction fluid, which caused a fair bit of embarrassment and hand-wringing at the time, and is just the sort of scandal a programme editor thanks the heavens for on a quiet Monday in the autumn.

Of course, there have been plenty of other scandals to keep us busy ever since.

The presenter that first night was a fairly youthful Gordon Brewer, a face familiar to Newsnight viewers from his years there as a correspondent and presenter, but who had chosen to return to his native land to head up the new programme, already dubbed "Newsnicht" in the papers, a nick-name which stubbornly persists to this day.

And Gordon's still here, sharing his duties with Anne Mackenzie, who joined fresh from stints at Westminster Live and The World Tonight.

The third spoke in the presenter wheel is John Milne, a veteran of some 30 years at BBC Scotland, during which time he has presented pretty much every programme. And he's still only 40.

Controversy

Gordon Brewer and Anne Mackenzie
Gordon Brewer and Anne Mackenzie on the Newsnight Scotland set
It would be a little disingenuous to look back at Newsnight Scotland without mentioning the controversy over its very existence. Described in the press by one Newsnight presenter as a "damn fool idea" (no names, he knows who he is), there was some internal and external resistance to the idea of a Scottish opt-out from the network programme.

Newspapers regularly predicted its imminent demise. This hasn't happened (yet), and it's fair to say the programme learned to stand on its own two feet, and is now an established part of the Scottish broadcasting landscape.

It's difficult to pick out individual highlights from five and a half years' worth of programmes, but a few stand out; a special programme commemorating the death of Donald Dewar; our coverage of the political demise of Henry McLeish (another "-gate"... this time "Officegate"); and our coverage of Lord Fraser's inquiry into the cost of the Scottish Parliament building, which Lord Fraser himself described as "unmissable" and "ground-breaking" at the start of his official report.

And then there are the stand-out films. Reports from Estonia, Italy, New York, Slovenia, Ireland, from all corners of Scotland, and an award-winning report from Newfoundland about the collapse of the Canadian cod fisheries.

So, while we're not celebrating 25 years, it looks like one day (actually, in 2024) we will. The programme is here to stay and thriving.

And we're always on the look out for the latest "-gate".


If you receive BBC Two Scotland, you'll know from Monday to Thursday Newsnight Scotland comes on air around 11pm.

Newsnight is broadcast in the UK on BBC Two every weekday at 10.30pm.



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