AN SNP MP has made fresh calls for broadcasting to be devolved to Scotland as fears grow around the possibility of the Six Nations moving behind a paywall.

The 2024 edition of the men’s international rugby tournament got under way this weekend and fans, as always, were able to enjoy the drama and rivalry via free-to-air TV.

But in a couple of years, this may not be the case after an attempt to protect TV rights for the contest from being sold to subscription services was voted down by Tory politicians last week.

The Six Nations is not currently in the Group A list of sporting events in the UK that are restricted to free-to-air channels and is instead in Group B, which means it can be sold to a subscription service providing highlights are shown on free-to-air channels.

Gavin Newlands, who has been campaigning for all Scotland football games to be broadcast on free-to-air TV for years, said with grassroots rugby already in a difficult place, the knock-on effect of not having free access to big international fixtures could be devastating for participation levels.

READ MORE: Scotland should 'have new public broadcaster after independence'

He told the Sunday National: “The fact rugby might move behind a paywall is ridiculous, particularly at a time when the grassroots of the game in Scotland is really struggling.

“There are clubs who have previously put out two or three 15s who are now struggling to put out one.

“Then you look at the international scene and we rely more and more on project players [who qualify through relatives or residency]. I’m not making an argument against that, but the state of the game at grassroots means that less [home-grown] quality is coming through.

“I do fear for the game in Scotland if it goes behind a paywall. If you have fewer people going down to a rugby club because the national team isn’t on TV, that has impacts on the health of the nation too.”

Not only that, the Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP said the impact socially could be huge, as many have already experienced through the majority of Scotland football matches being shown on Viaplay while England matches are shown free because of a deal the FA has with Channel 4.

He added: “We always come together when Scotland are playing, we celebrate and commiserate together. 

“My mum will get so excited about Scotland football games for example and when I break it to her she can’t see it, she gets really disappointed, and she’s an example of thousands who have the same issue.”

The Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Abi Tierney claimed last week that keeping the Six Nations on free-to-air TV would “devastate” the sport, saying restrictions "would artificially restrict the market” and impact the earning potential.

The National:

But Newlands said: “Rugby can have all the money it wants, but if it doesn’t have children turning up to play at junior level and then continuing to play throughout their adult years, then there won’t be a product to sell to TV companies.”

Rights to the men’s Six Nations are currently shared between BBC and ITV but this deal ends next year and the tournament could then be swept up by a subscription channel. The BBC has exclusive rights to the Women’s Six Nations.

Newlands had hoped his amendment to the Media Bill last week - which would have ensured the tournament and Scotland football games were protected beyond that time - would be accepted but Tory MPs rejected the idea.

Four Scottish Tories voted against the amendment while their leader Douglas Ross - who is a football referee - abstained.

Another amendment that was rejected would have compelled the UK Government to set up a fund to ensure that smaller governing bodies’ day-to-day grassroots activities were protected from any financial impact Group A listings might bring.

The situation with the Six Nations has added to frustrations around broadcasting being entirely reserved to Westminster.

Newlands said: “I’ve met multiple UK sports ministers and digital ministers but anytime I think I’m making progress, there’s a reshuffle and we’re back to square one.

READ MORE: UK Government under pressure to protect 'lifeline' Freeview TV

“It’s extremely frustrating and that frustration is not limited to sports coverage. If you look at news and current affairs, the lens through which we see a lot of our coverage still comes from a London angle.

“If [broadcast] was under our control, we wouldn’t have to go cap in hand constantly pushing the BBC or the UK Government to try and improve the situation. We would have news and current affairs that could be viewed from a Scottish angle all the time rather than occasionally.

“Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite in London. I think they see devolving broadcasting as something that would somehow advance Scottish identity and therefore the independence movement.”

Scottish independence would see a new public service broadcaster established to deliver free-to-air sporting events, Culture Secretary Angus Robertson said last week. 

Green MSP Gillian Mackay and fan groups including the Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) joined with Newlands recently to campaign for free-to-air Scotland football matches.

Newlands said it was “incumbent” upon the BBC to put a competitive bid forward for tournaments like the Six Nations and Scotland football matches as it has a duty to serve all four nations.

He criticised the way in which the broadcaster had dealt with this sports budget in recent years.

He added: “[The BBC] don’t have the resources left over after securing things like Match Of The Day to make a competitive bid for Scotland matches.

“They’ve got a charter in which they are supposed to serve all four nations equally. Clearly, that’s not been the case when it comes to allocating sports budgets.

“It’s incumbent upon the BBC to at least make a competitive offer.

“These are national games, they are our teams, they are the nations’ property and I think the nation should be able to see them.”

A BBC spokesperson said: "The BBC’s TV coverage of the Six Nations will feature more Scotland and Wales matches than any other teams. The BBC’s television coverage of the Six Nations [began yesterday] on Saturday, February 3, for Wales v Scotland on BBC One and iPlayer.

"Live commentary of every match from the Six Nations will also be available to listen on BBC Radio 5 Live.”