Scotland Votes Against Independence, UK Networks Report

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The referendum divided British celebrities and drew intense media coverage

Voters in Scotland have decided against independence and in favor of remaining part of the U.K., British TV networks reported early Friday morning local time.

Sky News called the results of the referendum just after 6 a.m. (Thursday at 10 p.m. PT), with the BBC then also predicting that the "no" voters were on course to succeed. All networks reported the final result at 8:15 a.m. local time, just after midnight in L.A. It showed that 55 percent of Scottish people at the polls, or just more than 2 million, had voted in favor of remaining part of the U.K.

The count started shortly after polling stations closed at 10 p.m. local time. A final poll released early Thursday had predicted 53 percent in opposition of independence, which would have ended 307 years of union.

Results from various regions of Scotland started coming in after 1 a.m. British news networks and the big networks in regular news shows and specials covered the referendum all day Thursday, overnight and into Friday morning.

The referendum divided British celebrities. Gerard Butler and Sean Connery were among those backing independence, while English stars from David Bowie to Mick Jagger and Scotland resident J.K. Rowling asked the Scots to stay.

Many stars had on Thursday made last-minute appeals, including Simon Pegg and Alan Cumming. Among industry executives, 21st Century Fox chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch also waded into the debate.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron early Friday confirmed that Scotland would get some extended powers, but it wasn't immediately clear if there would be any impact on the entertainment industry.

But a "yes" vote for independence would have meant radical consequences for the film and TV industries, including the BBC. However, many issues related to independence would have had to be worked out over time. Scottish leaders had targeted March 24, 2016, as the actual Independence Day, which would have provided a year and a half to figure out details.
 
One key issue debated in the industry was the future of the popular tax breaks enjoyed by TV and film productions handed out by the British Film Commission. Creative Scotland has said on its website that independence would not affect their availability. "The tax incentives currently offered by the U.K. on personal and corporate taxation in relation to the creative industries would continue in Scotland on independence through the principle of continuity of law," it said.

However, shoots in an independent Scotland would have no longer qualified for European film funding until confirmed membership of the European Union. Politicians had said independence would have left Scotland in need of reapplying for EU membership if desired.

Scotland doesn't currently have a major studio, but such shows as Starz's Outlander, which brought the biggest ever production-related investment into Scotland, have shot there. Proponents of independence had said though that they would support the industry via possible additional incentives, spending and training. But critics argued that the new nation would have to be financially cautious, with some predicting that nationalist productions would have had the best chances of getting funding.

Scotland doesn't have its own film agency and lags behind similarly sized nations in terms of production. Scotland makes just five or six films a year, compared with around 20 in neighboring Ireland, which invests close to $10 million a year in local production, compared with just over $6 million in Scotland.

Public broadcasting would have also been affected by independence. Consumers in Scotland would have lost their guaranteed universal access to the BBC's radio and TV channels, with the exception of TV networks BBC One and BBC Two, according to experts. The Scottish political leadership had proposed the creation of a new broadcaster, which they said would have worked with the BBC, offering original programming in exchange for maintaining the current free-to-air channels.

But BBC spending in Scotland was projected to drop significantly in the case of independence, which would have led to job cuts, according to industry observers. The BBC itself has not commented about its future, citing its need to remain impartial in its coverage of the referendum. James Purnell, the BBC’s strategy director, last week repeatedly declined to comment on the issue at an industry conference in London.

"Scots who want to keep receiving the BBC, Channel 4 and other U.K. media will have the choice of subscribing to Sky or Virgin Media or online platforms," Enders Analysis' Claire Enders said before the vote. "Because the scale of the U.K.'s broadcasting and communications industries will be reduced, costs of supply — whether of actual broadcasting and distribution or creation of material —will go up for all the U.K.’s nations."

TV journalists before the referendum had spoken out about their experience covering the run-up to it, with some calling the atmosphere challenging.

Sept. 19, 12:21 a.m. Updated with final figures and David Cameron comments.

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