Eurovision 2023: why does the UK snub singers from Scotland and Northern Ireland?
It has been decades since a Scottish or Northern Irish artist represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest.
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It’s the gaudy, camp, often ridiculous musical pageant we all either love or love to hate. But it seems that not every part of the UK is getting equal opportunities to contribute to the Eurovision Song Contest fun.
At first glance it may seem that Scotland’s Eurovision links are strong. It has a claim to song contest royalty, through Scottish singer Lulu, who brought home the crown in the 1969 competition. Edinburgh also hosted the contest, back in 1972 – and of course more recently on film, in Netflix’s ‘Eurovision: the Story of Fire Saga’.
Northern Ireland meanwhile shares our only land border with Europe and is arguably now our closest link with the continent. But when NationalWorld analysed which regions of the UK had produced the most – and the most successful – Eurovision artists so far this century, we were surprised to find that neither Scotland or Northern Ireland had had a look in, with both contributing zero acts.
In fact, the last time a ‘Scot’ represented the UK was back in 1991, when English-born but Edinburgh-raised Samantha Janus placed 10th with her track ‘A Message to Your Heart’ (disclaimer: there have been a handful of group members since then whose origins we have been unable to trace). Before this came Glaswegian Scott Fitzgerald, who sang ‘Go’ in 1988, placing second.
For Northern Ireland, the last time we know of a singer from the country representing the UK was Clodagh Rodgers singing ‘Jack in the Box’ in 1971. (Many Northern Irish artists have however represented Ireland in the years since, instead of the UK). Even in the case of the 1971 competition, song contest expert Paul Jordan (aka Dr Eurovision) suggests it may have been the politics of the day that made the selection for organisers.
“Clodagh Rogers sang for the UK and that was definitely a political choice because it was in Dublin that year at the height of the Troubles,” he said. “And they thought that having a Northern Irish singer would be less of a threat and a target essentially."
It is London meanwhile that has sent the most acts to the Eurovision stage since 2000, with Mae Muller becoming the 6th 21st-century act to hail from the city (or hail from it in part, in the case of groups). There is no underestimating the size of the platform Eurovision gives artists, with over 160 million viewers reportedly watching last year’s live shows, according to its organisers.
Dr Eurovision for one doesn’t think the snubbing of the devolved nations is a deliberate act, pointing out that Wales has not seen a similar lack of representation (the country has produced five acts so far this century, according to our analysis). “I think it's just a coincidence, really,” he said. “Most of them tend to be from the South East – I guess in showbiz, you tend to be in London or whatever, but I don't think it's a deliberate thing at all.”
But what does the Scottish music industry make of it? For his part, Ronnie Gurr, chief executive officer of the Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA), has not spent a lot of time dwelling on Scotland’s lack of representation on the Eurovision stage, and does not think it bears any reflection on the musical talent the country has to offer.
“You’re talking about a one off annual event which doesn’t represent the history of Scottish music,” he told NationalWorld. “I don’t think the Scottish music industry is losing sleep over this. It never occurred to me before.
“It doesn’t take away from the fact that Scottish artists and bands have been working away over the years and have a long and proud history of success.”
While an obvious answer to the question of why Scottish artists are not selected for Eurovision could be that not many have put themselves forward in the past, Mr Gurr also does not think there is enough awareness about how musicians could carve a path towards the song contest if they want to – indeed, the music industry expert is unaware himself how an artist is picked nowadays.
In recent years the process for selecting a UK act has oscillated between public votes based on televised contests, and internal selection by the BBC. Since 2021 the broadcaster has teamed up with record labels to find our entry.
A partnership with BMG that year produced Yorkshireman James Newman, who became the second UK act in Eurovision history to achieve the dreaded ‘nul points’ result, placing last. But in 2022 a partnership with TaP Music led to Essex-based Sam Ryder, and the UK’s best Eurovision result in decades. The same label is also responsible for selecting this year’s representative, Londoner Mae Muller.
In 2020, when announcing its change of approach, the BBC said it had approached a range of record labels before settling on BMG, as it shared a "vision of selecting a song with broad international appeal and securing an artist who embodies the spirit and values of the Eurovision Song Contest". But news of the broadcaster’s hunt for partnerships does not seem to have made it north of the border, where the SMIA works to “strengthen and increase the value of Scotland’s music industry on the world stage”.
“Maybe it needs to be promoted more,” said Mr Gurr. “Maybe BBC Scotland needs to push it more in Scotland. They need to cast the net as wide as possible.”
And for next year, an invitation: “I would be happy to work with them – get in touch.”