The Canary in the Coal Mine, from Our Man in Lamancha (Scot. Bords: la.mank.ka)



Forgive me Creative Scotland; I don’t think I will be able to make any of your open sessions where I have the opportunity to “help inform the future operational and policy direction of Creative Scotland”. Lets just say I’m too snowed under at the moment as a freelancer trying to make a precarious living in the arts to attend another consultation day for free.

You see, last year for example, I was invited to take part in one of your consultative days for a particular strategy, because as you said, you’d ‘like to tap into [my] brains and seek [my] expert view.” I asked if my time might be worth anything, a fee, or as least a per diem, and was told that “the velocity at which we’re working at the moment means we simply can’t put the admin in place to facilitate this”. When I asked then if I could get back the twenty quid for the train fare, I suspected the answer I might get. I didn’t even get an answer.

Indeed over the past decade, I have contributed to various days, consultations and debates on the future of the arts in Scotland, always, or at least usually, patiently making the same point, through asking the same question: “Why should we publicly fund the arts”. Perhaps I hope if we can crack that one, if we can articulate the fundamental principle, then the rest will follow in its slipstream… So no offence, but I don’t want to take time out from my week and come and answer your questions – I want you to answer my question…

In all the debate, the chatter and the indignation and implosion over the past year, the Year of Creative Scotland, this single principle has remained unanswered, unarticulated and unformed. In fact, it was for this that I believe the chief executive went – not for the boobs and the gaffes, but ultimately because Creative Scotland under his leadership actually destabilised and weakened the very sector it is there to support, and secondly as an organisation it did not defend that sector.

The SNP, shortly after coming to government, in 2008, in a fit of managerialist streamlining and efficiency created the Single Overarching Purpose: “to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth” In doing so all public services including the arts were to be brought together under this purpose. The underlying rationale was of course, given the SNP raison d’etre, that if all public spending could be directed to creating a more successful country, then the populace might be more willing to go for independence when the question was eventually posed to them further down the line. Fair enough, it’s their government, they have the mandate.

“A successful country”, “opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish” – laudable aims but the emphasis on “sustainable economic growth” as being the route to doing so has resultantly impacted on the public services (one of which is of course Creative Scotland). This has caused consternation from a range of sectors in society that the world view that economic growth is the sole way to ensure that Scotland flourishes is too narrow. Economic growth is one way, but not the only way to ensure a country ‘flourishes’, and indeed just because there is economic growth, doesn’t mean ALL Scotland is flourishing.

In all the debate around Creative Scotland last year, the Scottish Government did it’s best to keep its head down. As Stramash Arts incisively points out on his/her blog: During the course of the Creative Scotland saga there were a number of occasions where Fiona Hyslop invoked the arms length principle to explain why she would not intervene directly in the management and running of Creative Scotland…

It’s important that we acknowledge this shift because it marks a complete reversal of the arms length principle, as it was originally understood. In effect we now have a culture in which politicians are only too happy to issue directions as to what sort of work should be produced (through initiatives such as the Year of Creative Scotland, Year of Natural Scotland and some elements of the now defunct plans for strategic commissioning), but who rapidly invoke the arms length defence when it comes to addressing issues of policy or management competence.

Accountability? No, the last thing the SNP wanted was for their competency to be called to question – their whole pitch for government (and independence) is based on proving themselves a credible and competent government, a safe pair of hands, and in fact Creative Scotland is a core plank of that building of Scotland PLC. So when the preverbial flak was flying, when #CSstushie was in full flight, when artists were calling into question not just the organization but the underlying ideology, the government decided it was best not to be associated with the stink. It would be fairer to describe the arms length approach as hands off.

There is a school of thought that Andrew Dixon was a fall guy – that in effect he was only doing what the Single Overarching Purpose and the government set out – namely to use the arts to contribute to economic growth – hence the talk of investments, the relentless ‘good news’ approach, the increasing festivalisation of our publically funded culture which ultimately aims to produce work which promotes Scotland the Brand and contributes to increasing tourism spend.

And in fact, this frustration with being the labeled the bad guy and carrying the can led to him quixotically tilting at the windmills of Scottish culture in his resignation: “I have been disappointed, given my track record, not to gain the respect and support of some of the more established voices in Scottish culture”. So why hadn’t he gained the respect and support of the cultural sector? It was the top down approach of Creative Scotland that artists didn’t like, and then revolted against.

“Routinely, we see ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture. We observe an organisation with a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources.”

In fact, whilst the artists’ letter centred on matters of style and communication, one of the most telling and incredible things to come out, came from the Board’s own ensuing inquiry into the organization which they presided over;

There was an almost universal belief among the staff that a gulf had opened between the activities of some members of the senior management team and those of the rest of the staff. This impacted on the ability of staff members to articulate the organisation’s goals and led to their feeling undervalued and underutilised.

“An almost universal belief”: Using Creative Scotland’s own managerial standards, here was a organisation, a public organisation, in which this view festered and grew amongst it staff – what internal processes and supervision, or lack of, could lead to such a damming condemnation of an organization from it’s own staff. Who was responsible? …

“The Board has corporate responsibility for ensuring that Creative Scotland fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers; for promoting the efficient use of staff and other resources, in accordance with the principles of Best Value and for establishing the overall strategic direction for Creative Scotland.” (See Creative Scotland National Lottery Annual report here)


…The fact is that the central government grant to the arts is going down. The money from the Lottery post Olympics is going up. This wasn’t a problem according to Creative Scotland’s pragmatic, managerial position as the total investment in the sector was after all going up overall. QED, the garden was rosy.

However, there has been much discussion about how Lottery funding cannot replace central funding and has to be “additional”. What Creative Scotland did was accept the sleight of hand necessary and sought the best way to pass this fix on to the sector. Hence the cut to the 42 flexibly funded organizations, who were told that their core costs would now come from the Lottery monies in the future. In doing so Creative Scotland made the central critical error. Effectively, rather than arguing for the necessity of core public funding in order to maintain a sustainable cultural infrastructure, Creative Scotland tacitly supported the position that these organisation would get their core funding from the Lottery, that ergo the arts are additional, and that it doesn’t matter where the money is coming from. At present, looking (as they do) at the spreadsheet, the monies seem fine but the desire to shift arts organizations to the Lottery critically undermines both the sector in the long term and indeed the whole rationale for why we should publically fund the arts in the first place.

Creative Scotland’s role is to research, support and advocate up on behalf of the sector – not research and advocate down to the sector. Creative Scotland need to be separate and talk back to government, and they need to position themselves to protect the sector. That’s how they will get the support of artists and the broader cultural sector.

So lets ask again, “Why should we publicly fund the arts?” Is it to be a sort of creative bank, investing in development with one eye to envisaging future return? Or is that not what the banks are for? Or, is the purpose of publically funding the arts to fund the very thing that the market cannot provide – to fund work that is uncommercial, unexpected, that is unsponsorable, work that may, or indeed may not, be critical. That not’s to argue for the avant garde, but rather to seek to secure the space for a public culture and discourse that is democratic and free. Free from external interference, whether that patron is public or private. Creative Scotland could not (and did not) articulate this and therefore could not (and did not) defend this – that is why those bolshy artists rejected their programme out of hand. They trust their instincts.

In fact this rejection is I believe a canary in the coal mine for the SNP. Increasingly the SNP wish to manage their way to independence, which is of course counter-intuititive.

The best way to foster independence is to foster independents. To trust those below you, to trust that your own instinctive nature will in the long run pay off, to trust that what comes might not be what you want but is democratic – and for that you need foster the space for someone else’s debate.

In Scotland battle lines are increasingly drawn between the two camps in the independence referendum debate – the Yes Scotland camp and the Better Together camp – in an increasingly rancorous and unedifying discussion of where the future of the country lies, raging on both the highly partisan pages of the traditional media and the similarly securely held timelines of social media. Neither will ever give any ground. Neither will waste an opportunity to cast a stone.

The national debate is of course not about do we want one thing, or the other polar opposite. Life is not like the debating chamber of the Parliament – it is somewhat more forgiving, more considered, more diverse and more understanding of others. The coming year is too important to be left to the politicians- there is an urgent need for non-partisan discussion from civic Scotland and it’s artists and writers are ideally placed for that. That is what they do, it’s their bread and butter. For the debate to be fruitful it needs to be what do we want our society to be, not who wins.

And so in lieu of attending and in the spirit of new beginnings happening at Creative Scotland I propose three exercises for their away days:

1. That we in the cultural sector discuss and articulate why we should publicly fund the arts?

2. That we move to designate next year, The Year of Independent Scotland – and artists and writers can write about/do what the hell they wish to, rather than proposing something that fits someone else agenda.

3. That we think under a new flag – one without baggage, one that allows us to jettison dumb identity politics and partisan positions – one that allows a public space for the population, the artists and the writers to coalesce and contribute positively to the future of this nation., no matter what the outcome of the referendum, to dream the impossible dreams.


And for those of us who question just what it is that artists can contribute – I offer up this Cautionary Note from Lewis Grassic Gibbon from the frontispiece of the third novel from his A Scots Quair tiology, Grey Granite from 1934.

Cautionary Note

The Duncairn’ of this novel was originally called ‘Dundon’. Unfortunately, several English journals in pre-publication notices of the book described my imaginary city as Dundee, two Scottish sheets identified it as Aberdeen, and at least one American newspaper went considerably astray and stated that it was Edinburgh – faintly disguised.

Instead, it is merely the city which the inhabitants of the Mearns (not foreseeing my requirements in completing my trology) have hitherto failed to build.

L. G. G.

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  1. bellacaledonia says:

    Johnny – a fine provocative article.

    Most artists, writers and creative thinkers will find much that resonates in it. Creative artists need to be free to create, think, provoke, challenge, subvert, entertain or confuse. Period. Artists cannot be subservient to the agenda of any government, any ideology, or any institution. We are free citizens of a non state.

    Why should artists be publicly funded? This is a deep and complex question that you quite rightly say needs addressed as a prerequisite to any serious discussion of art funding. My simplistic, economistic answer would be that the net happiness and fulfilment in our society would be considerably reduced if art was only created by those who could afford to produce it a) out of their own pockets, b) through the patronage of wealthy others or c) through the patronage of the market.

    The problem is pretty obvious. When these fiscal frames become the modus operandi of public funding bodies then art becomes a captured plaything of the affluent classes and the dissident, challenging or non-commercial artist becomes a silenced voice. Those artists who have the least material wealth at their disposal are marginalised and often pushed into an alternative productivity. Market forces triumph. Art loses. The result is conformity, art from above, or co-option of the artist: all of which are the sworn enemies of creativity as social discourse.

    There will be readers who will screw their noses up at any critique of the SNP. But there’s more at stake here than stroking the fur of political parties or sooking up to powerful funding bodies. I’m not naive enough to think that Creative Scotland either has the will nor the power to rethink itself into an alternative ideology but it doesn’t mean that we, as artists, cannot frame the debate in the way we see fit.

    Kevin Williamson

    1. Johnny Gailey says:

      Thanks for response Kevin
      I agree with you entirely apart from “‘Why should artists be publicly funded?’ being is a deep and complex question” I think its actually quite simple, and you nail it in your ‘simplistic, economisitic’ answer – it’s to do with equality and democracy – who gets heard and who’s voice gets represented…

  2. mrbfaethedee says:

    Fascinating and provocative indeed!
    I’m not an artist or a ‘creative’, but a couple of things intrigue me as an outsider.
    First, is the the question of whether we should publicly fund the arts one that ought to be restricted to the ‘creative sector’ or is it better dragged into public view to see if it can garner any interest from a broad base of the public?
    Second, there seem to be more than a few articles bemoaning the state of the sector, and the management and government ‘layers’ have had some of their deficiencies highlighted (I’m taking them all at face value since I know little about the sector) – does it end there or are there lessons to be learned from deficiencies from the artists/creatives themselves?

    Also – I think the new flag is brilliant!

    1. Johnny Gailey says:

      Hi mrbfaethedee – thanks for your response
      Absolutely, as I suggest in my response to Kevin above, I think the question of publicly funding the arts is a democratic one, and should rightly be played out in the open – after all we all enjoy the fruits of artists and writers labours – books, poems, pictures, films…

      In terms of turning the spotlight on artists’ deficiencies – I’m not sure what lessons there might be to learn from that… I think it’s very different highlighting deficiencies in structures than in individuals – perhaps if I was forced to present one lesson learnt from last year is that artists as freelancers are often fragmented, don’t speak with one voice easily and are used to having to constantly make a claim for themselves – which is partly their very strength – they represent no-one but themselves and are independent…

      1. mrbfaethedee says:

        Johnny, thanks for taking the time to reply.
        I agree that the whole question should be publicly aired – but I’m not sure I can imagine it happening; there seems to be no space in the mainstream media (what passes for our public forum these days) for it to happen. Perhaps pushing the discussion into the web and social media (as your article does) is as much as can be hoped for just now, but I think it is something that needs to happen. Having the govt ‘contributing’ resources to the arts & culture sector on behalf of an absentee public is not healthy.

        Perhaps consumers like me should just get out and sample more of our own arts and culture, then we’d probably have stronger opinions and more proactive behaviours on the subject of public funding of arts and culture. In reading the various articles on this theme over the past year, it’s only just now occuring to me that the absenteeism of the general public in this is a problem.

        Yes, the difference between govt & funding bodies on the one hand as discrete organisations and artists as a completely informal group is probably their ‘deficiency’ in the picture I have. For what seems like a fairly long standing unhappiness with the situation, I suppose the fragmentation accounts for the apparent failure of the artists themselves to (try to) force a resolution of the situation.
        I take your point that the individualist nature of the artist is a part of their strength, though they also seem able to collaborate well as collectives, so perhaps it’s not an unsquarable circle.

  3. Leigh says:

    thanks Johnny

    much there we might agree on – and good to see where we differ:

    “Creative Scotland under his leadership actually destabilised and weakened the very sector it is there to support…”
    As you point out, wasn’t that the job he was taken on to do?
    Is CS actually there to ‘support the sector’? What is ‘the sector’ – who’s in/who’s out? What constitutes ‘support’?
    Was it ever SAC’s purpose? Is that CS’s purpose now? Where, how, by what means does that purpose come into practice?
    In what way has this ScotGov attempt at recomposition towards cultural enterprise been about ‘leadership’?

    “…and secondly as an organisation it did not defend that sector.”
    Again, is that CS’s purpose? Moreover, can it legally do so – against who? SAC could also not lobby ScotGov – it was not SAC’s purpose.

    If, as you seemingly have done, you acquiesce to the reconfiguring of ‘public good’ as ‘economic growth’ then what? How might we configure and account in actual practice for an equitable ‘public good’?

    Post-2008, who actually equates the neoliberal dog-whistle of ‘economic growth’ with laudable aims? I suppose those who would continue to stuff the mechanics of ‘civil society’ with financiers and brokers expecting everything to… continue as before.

    You are absolutely right about the invisible hand of ScotGov/UK/EU policy in all this – how does perpetuating ‘charismatic management’ contribute to that opacity? In it being said to be about ‘personality’ not ‘politics’ – really?

    “So why hadn’t he gained the respect and support of the cultural sector?”
    Does “the cultural sector” add up to “some of the more established voices in Scottish culture”? Or are there other voices – given the model of exclusion you outline? Who can take a speech position? By ‘respect’ do you mean mutual support?
    In part because the purpose of this highly mobile cultural policy was and remains to ‘smash the art form silos’ – that it, to replace the gentlemanly tradition of patronage-networks with a more service delivery-like market liberalisation.
    That this economisation of cultural policy, as a process coupled with globalisation, is what defines competitive nationalism.

    Re: “an almost universal belief among the staff that a gulf had opened between the activities of some members of the senior management team and those of the rest of the staff”
    What patronage networks had Creative Scotland’s recomposition disrupted? What were the concerns of those staff [if not all] founded on? Was it inevitable that in introducing more of a ‘creative industries’ environment of ‘competition’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’ that such patronage networks should be disrupted? How have was ‘exceptionalism’ expected to extend and for how long? What did people expect form such a neoliberal ‘industries’ core script? This is where ‘exceptionalism’ for sectional interests, and in seeking such a vantage, remains the problem.

    Re: Lottery money – Was it within CS’s powers not to accept the slight-of-hand over ‘additionality’? Would CS have been challenged for not protecting the sector, in plugging those holes with Lottery cash, if it had refused this fix? Catch-22?
    In managing the cuts in this way – despite the perpetuated fantasy that ‘this isn’t about cuts’, just the personalities of CEOs – isn’t one reason why this funding arrangement is desirable for ScotGov because it further reduces any remaining vestige of autonomy? It further pulls influence to the centre under the circumstances you describe – so not unlike the accusations of imposing financial dependency on Local Authorities regarding frozen Council Tax.

    Perhaps CS could not articulate how to “secure the space for a public culture and discourse that is democratic and free” because – as its name suggests, as much as the name of the service delivery bill which created CS – it is itself the actual manifestation of a specific neoliberal ideology, though not one specific to Scotland: that of ‘competitive nationalism’.

    Having identified the lack of autonomy of knowledge producing structures, and its effects within and upon the arts, one has to question what public spaces remain in this national competitive culture for such a critical project?

    How to prevent foreclosure of explorations towards any possible number of Scotland*s* as a territorial, political container for any number of polyvocal culture*s*?

    1. Johnny Gailey says:

      Hi Leigh – thanks for response
      I take on board most of what you’re saying re legitimacy, exclusivity, networks of privilege, reconstructing, what powers CS have invested in them, etc…
      There’s much in your questions that pushes my perhaps simple use of language but I actually don’t see too much where we differ… The only thing is the “acquiescing to the reconfiguring of ‘public good’ as ‘economic growth'” I thought I was pretty clear in terms of my concern about economic growth being the engine for Scotland to flourish – namely that the flourishing automatically leads to inequality, as not all of Scotland will flourish…..
      In terms of defending and advocating on behalf of the sector – I would of hoped that the national agency in charge of supporting culture might take a position and suggest that the pressure felt by local authorities under the Council tax freeze is (however rightly or wrongly)is resulting in closures (The Changing Room, The Byre) and budget reductions (Moray)..

      1. Leigh says:

        thanks Johnny

        A “national agency in charge of supporting culture” seems more a wishful, retrograde [if expanded] description of an arts council – one I may share in parts, while reserving my many criticisms of that previous system.

        CS comes about to displace that previous, historically-contingent system so as to do something other – brought about to do differently. It involves an economic remodelling of the cultural front – its annexing to the production of monetary value, or ‘growth’.

        This shift in Scotland shadows broader patterns of policy-making throughout the EU – reacting to and mimicking high profile policy innovations elsewhere so stimulating convergences on that scale – while attempting to position an essentially Scottish character to these policy shifts ‘at home’.

        So we might see the arts councils as being of and about an earlier period/system of *Welfare Nationalism*, whereas we might more adequately understand Creative Scotland as both being-of as well as helping-to-shape our current period/system of *Competitive Nationalism*, one which frames globalisation as a re-territorialised national challenge.

        This is evidenced in the core-script for CS being so economistic – as compared with what went before – having more in common with other development agency purposes than the earlier state-patronage system of arts councils. CS’s raison d’être *is* : “To contribute to the Scottish Government’s central purpose – increasing the rate of sustainable economic growth – through our support, development and promotion of culture, creative industries, Gaelic and Scots at home and abroad, reflecting Scotland as a creative and dynamic modern nation.” Central to this narrative is a vision of a ‘Scotland open for business’ – Scotland PLC, Team Scotland, etc etc.

        A national competitive state seeks to develop a national competitive community – that is one function of CS.

        Nothing of course is so absolute in translation from policy to practice, but CS cannot be just so wishfully disentangled from this, its larger neoliberal re-purposing, as some presuppose. So, as regards that translation of policy into practice, where do we locate our own agency in these processes? [That CS is also the outcome of CoSLA + Enterprise Angency horse-trading is something @Stramash recently reminded us about.]

  4. Ootby says:

    I’m not sure about the flag it looks a lot like the international maritime flag for F (“I am disabled; communicate with me.”) but that could be an improvement on the current M (“My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water.”).

    On Creative Scotland – there is an articulate community able to make their concerns heard, which is good.

    In defence of the SNP’s managerial approach, they do have a commitment to a range of good things in their national framework. As a mildly centre-right party (so liberal, or neoliberal if you prefer that term), they are looking to economic growth to deliver these, either directly or indirectly.

    Supporting parts of government, like arts, historic buildings or environment are now expected to include a commitment to sustainable economic growth in all their plans.

    The SNP view of what brings growth is similar to the liberal parties elsewhere in the UK – basically lighter touch regulation and a developer-friendly framework. For example, the SNP are currently revising the Scottish Planning Policy to make it shorter and give greater assurance to developers – not going quite as far as the Conservatives and Liberals in England in reducing regulation – but there is a shared worldview.

    Arts can have a role in this worldview – but like sport, it is there to serve the government’s purposes (economic stimulus, raising the national profile, health and education, etc.) not as an end in itself.

  5. Really interesting stuff.
    Over on WoS the following link was provided by Vronsky (via the ‘Quarantine’ thread) who is a regular contributor here.
    I’m still trying to get my head around it all, but it strikes me as worth thinking about in relation to the radical overhaul we need to see in so many areas – it would have to be ‘tested’ somehow, so why not with CS, (or whatever it’s going to be called post-Yes)?

  6. Interesting topic, the one many address to nowadays. I’m from Croatia but the trend you’re talking about here is global – making the arts useful in some way to justify its public funding. I agree with you that answering to the question that you put at the center of your article – “Why should we publicly fund the arts?” – is crucial for any meaningful discussion. It is your answer that I would response to – you say: “to secure the space for a public culture and discourse that is democratic and free.” I’m not sure there is such a space, or that it can exist at all – our cultural field is crisscrossed by different concepts of art favored by different social groups . Public funds are limited, and you cannot escape the situation with only a few people deciding what art should be funded within this field. And this gives way to power relations and all connected with it (interest groups, influences, lobbies etc) – very far from the freedom of art we aspire too. Also, many “free” art realized withing the public field (galleries and public spaces as well) readily adapted to the market system and “sold” itself. Indeed, some think of art eco-system as mutual dependence of public and private funding of arts, public spaces giving affirmation to specific artist that would than be followed by his/her better position in the art market.
    The other thing is definition of “democratic discourse” in your answer – does it include general public, or just the cultural sector? Because, to have a good democratic discussion about any issue, about art as well, you need EDUCATED participants (educated in art in this case) and I’m not sure there will be any more of them with the reduction of art education happening in schools nowadays.
    These are my doubts regarding possibilities of publicly funded art, but I sure would like someone to disprove me.
    Masa Strbac from Zagreb (Croatia)

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