An Eye-Popping Lack of Diversity

scotlands-rorschachRecently, on the Parliamentary Channel I caught a late-night adjournment debate with Chuka Umunna MP urging the government to ensure a more rapid response in the battle for greater diversity in private sector board-rooms as well as in senior corporate management. His diversity demands related to both greater gender equality at the highest levels of business as well greater participation by the ethnic minority community on boards and in senior management positions. (This writer with an Afro-Caribbean partner and bi-racial children listened with personal as well as political interest).

The former shadow-minister in his quite cool forensic style presented the uncomfortable truths of a business culture with a paucity of women and an absence of non-white bosses at the top table.

Serendipity showed her presence as I am, as we speak, planning to present a possible policy recommendation to the Scottish Government on Community Arts development with the need for greater diversity within arts leadership in Scotland .

As we are dealing with the creative sector allow me to invite you to engage your imagination a wee while. This is the scene. The minister for the arts, Fiona Hyslop, has called a meeting of her five major Scottish Government funded arts-companies plus of course Edinburgh International Festival, Creative Scotland and for future planning the Head of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That illustrious group absorbs a substantial portion of her budget. (There are three other budget heads in her arts portfolio, capital expenditure the new Dundee V&A and gallery refurbishing, the hot topic of broadcasting and finally a Commonwealth Games initiative Let Scotland Dance).

But her guests are the big spenders led by Creative Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the subsidized performance five: Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, the National Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra and the National Theatre of Scotland.

Coming into Hyslop’s meeting as a bit of an interloper from education is the grandly named Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, whose quality output in music, theatre and dance should feed the others with talent.

Ms Hyslop begins the meeting with an energetic pep talk on the need to grow the Scottish creative industries sector plus the usual ministerial pointy finger on the need to spend wisely, with care and caution as it is the ‘peoples’ money’.

While she speaks to the bored congregation around the large oaken board table she notices for the first time that out of the eight powerful figures only Creative Scotland has a woman leader in the presence of Janet Archer.
She sits amidst a cast of men; seven of them (seven it is said makes things perfect):

Fergus Linehan Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Christopher Hanson Scottish Ballet, Stuart Stratford Scottish Opera, Peter Oundjian National Orchestra, Robin Ticciati director of Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Laurie Sansom of National Theatre of Scotland and finally the large figure of Professor Jeffrey Sharkey from the Royal Conservatoire. Quite a body of talent indeed, BUT all men and all white men.

The lack of diversity is eye-catching if not eye-popping. Minister Hyslop makes a note but makes no mention of the glaring inequality with no woman creative leader from the big seven while the question of colour or lack of it passes her bye for the moment. But a review of the international creative and arts scene would have revealed that very, very few of the big star-filled performance companies have creative women leading them. (In Scotland the major arts performance company with a woman leader is Dundee Rep with Jemima Levick as Artistic Director).

But as the conversion and discussion warms up the loquacious Ms Hylton is soon outspoken by the urgency of the demands from around the table. She has an image of Leith with noisy sea-gulls attacking the sea-front for food. She remembers the collective noun for sea-gulls is appropriately a squabble.

Then suddenly like a skelp on the face comes a fresh realization. In that room of over a million pounds of creative talent with several millions in collective budgets, la crème de la crème of creativity in Scotland as well as Creative Scotland, Ms Hyslop, the minister, was the one and only Scot in the room.

The shock turned her red with embarrassment. Her chief minister had lectured all of her ministers on seeking gender balance in appointments but here was a case in the sensitive area of Scottish cultural development with no Scots-surely a glaring case of lack of diversity.

While the fierce eloquence continued she noted of the eight, five were from England: Ms Archer from Creative Scotland, and the key creative figures from the National Theatre, Ballet, Opera, and Chamber Orchestra; then there was an Irishman at the Edinburgh Festival (in 70 years there has never been a Scottish born director of the Festival), a Canadian/Armenian leader at the National Orchestra and an American principal at the Conservatoire. No Europeans, no Asians, no Latins no Afro–Caribbeans, no Scots: in the global world of cultural excellence the talent pool was narrow.

“Diversity is vital” she thought “it enriches like a fertilizer our local soil” she rationalized. But then it seemed it was all fertilizer and no local soil.

Why does Scotland not produce any leaders in the major arts community in Scotland? Is our artistic talent too wee, too poor and too talentless? For Scotland to create a distinctive cultural voice and a vision with the quality to inspire Scotland and indeed the world, a diverse range of talents is important. But diversity must include some men and women whose sensitivity has been nourished and honed within this indigenous community from Shetland to Galloway. Developing a cadre of talent for building a new nation requires making appropriate choices now.

The meeting continues with preparations for a new Government in May.

Comments (28)

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  1. Frank Lynch says:

    “Why does Scotland not produce any leaders in the major arts community in Scotland?”
    I suspect it’s elites nominating elites from their own spheres of interest. Few Scots get the chance to get into the back of elites’ limousines; we’re generally the chauffeur. It’s a bit like, why there are so many foreign nationals in Scottish football: because you have management selecting who they wish – because they are the nominating elite in their sphere – and to hang with how odd the whole scenario looks to the outsider.

    1. duncan says:

      taking the football analogy one kick further you cant pass the blame on to elites or English. Why? it’s like saying the elimination rounds in the world cup prevent Scotland from getting into the finals. WGAF where people come from? Its the content, no? English elites are alright by me as long as theyre doing a good job? If not, attack the quality of their work, not their accent or their so called elitism. You don’t have more title because you have more diversity or are Scottish.We are all made of the same stuff.

  2. john young says:

    Why are Scotlands utilities in the hands of foreigners why can,t Scotland forge ahead in win/wave of ehich we have a monopolymwhy are we always the tail wagging the dog,Rosyth/Leith were first choice for a super port being the quickest option,where did it go Felixstowe? why do we accept being second class/second rated all the time??

  3. David McGuinness says:

    The long-standing Chief Executive of the SCO (soon to retire) is the very Scottish Roy McEwan. Fiona Hyslop’s much more likely to talk to him than the orchestra’s Principal Conductor, who doesn’t actually run the organisation.
    But it is a problem that our directly-funded ‘national’ companies are often left out of discussions about cultural diversity, by talking about what happens at Creative Scotland level.
    Regarding the lack of Scots and Scottish content in classical music (see also here, our level of ignorance of our own musical history is striking.

  4. Jane Kidd says:

    I think there are no borders in the arts because art people like to try new places and new things, right? So a new place where you talk a common language and don’t need a work permit is going to be attractive to ambitious art people from all over the UK.
    However, we Scots, we cannot help but hear the English voice as superior, better educated, confident and authoritative (not necessarily as ‘elites’ or ‘toffs’), but we can’t even question that feeling, because we don’t want to be accused of parochialism or racism. English-born employers in the arts, on the other hand, might give Scots candidates a fairer chance, but they may either be insensitive to the diversity of culture question, or (understandably) just warm to fellow countrymen more.

  5. Duncan McGregor says:

    One of the reasons there is frustration is that we keep comparing ourselves with the English who have a world mega city and the image, reputation and perception that are the uk in its entirety and the seat of a once vast empire.

    We should compare ourselves with Denmark, Ireland, Norway and Finland, is their arts industry stuffed with people from outside the country?

    My frustration is that the people in these posts in Scotland are waiting for that invitation and stepping stone to London, that this also serves the purpose of undermining Scottish culture is a boon to the union.

    I would not stop at the Arts, look at across careers in Scotland and the remorseless anglicisation.

    At the end of the day the british establishment wants us stupid, malable and lacking in confidence, providing we don’t make a noise, we’ll continue to get crumbs from the table!

    If you look at the complete garbage the bbc in Scotland manufacture, that’s the lowest common denominator we are headed towards!

  6. Jan Cowan says:

    Excellent article! Problem nailed by Duncan McGregor. “Stepping stone to London” – so true.

  7. Fiona McCuish says:

    I could tell the meaning of a word like serene
    I got some ‘O’ Grades when I was sixteen
    I can tell the difference between margarine and butter
    I can say “Saskatchewan” without starting to stutter

    But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land
    Cap in hand

    I could get a broken jaw from being in a fight
    I know it’s evening when day turns to night
    I can understand why Stranraer lie so lowly
    They could save a lot of points by signing Hibs Goalie

    But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land
    Cap in hand

    We fight when they ask us
    We boast, then we cower
    We beg for a piece of
    What’s already, what’s, what’s already
    What’s, what’s already ours

    We fight when they ask us
    We boast, then we cower
    We beg for a piece of
    What’s already, what’s, what’s already
    What’s, what’s already ours

    Once I thought I could make God a bribe
    So I said I was in His lost tribe
    Getting handouts can be so frustrating
    “Get in line son, there’s five million waiting”

    I can’t understand why you let someone else rule your land
    Cap in hand
    No, I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land
    Cap in hand, cap in hand
    No, I can’t understand why you let someone else rule your land
    Cap in hand, cap in hand, cap in hand, cap in hand


    Published by
    Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

  8. Hugh Kerr says:

    Great stuff Thom and see my post on Newsnet Scotland on the cultural cringe to see that a similar event really happened! A major conference on ” Access All Areas” on cultural diversity in the arts in Scotland began with two speakers from London who knew nothing about Scotland. One was David Goodhart editor of the Blairites house journal Progress who gave us a sample of his near racist views on ethnic diversity. “

  9. Douglas says:

    Well said Thom Cross…

    …the sheer hypocrisy of the SNP and all of these arts bodies, who go to such lengths to bang the drum for diversity in the arts while completely failing to respect it at the senior management level reveals just what a sham it all is.

    They are all in it for the salary….they are a bunch of sociopathic hypocrites…the only serious artistic response is to have no dealings with them.

    …the acquiescence of paying members of the SNP in this deplorable, corseted anglo-centered, male, white world is truly alarming. Maybe if some SNP members started cancelling their membership to Supposedly National Party, you might actually get a reaction from Her Majesty Fiona Hyslop.

    And that´s not even getting to the second tier of arts bodies, like The Scottish Book Trust – a carbon copy of the same thing in England called….eh…The Book Trust (they couldn´t even be arsed coming up with an original name) who are advertising for a marketing executive on 45,000 a year while offering a mere 3,000 pounds for the New Writers Award and 1,000 pounds for the Next Chapter Award, the total grants being worth approximately one month´s salary of said executive.

    How many executives do The Scottish Book Trust have on 45,000 a year? A good few is my bet. These people are the parasites of Scottish literature.

    Who funds The Scottish Book Trust? Creative Scotland. They ALSO have a marketing executive – or several probably – on the same kind of salary.

    It´s madness. The arts administrators have taken over, they are a bunch of leeches and vampires and are the biggest single danger to the health of the arts in Scotland.

    I´d rather work in a pub than go cap in hand to these vultures….

  10. Douglas says:

    That´s no even getting to the creative side of things…The Scottish Book Trust – promoters of literature as a frivolous, whimsical pastime instead of the serious thing it is; the sworn enemies of literature – offer in their New Writers Award….”a tailored package of mentoring”.

    What on earth must that be like? Which writer could ever have any faith in these people when they write so badly? A “tailored package of mentoring”. Tailored to who or what? To the market….the supermarket even…the supermarket bestseller list…..mentoring…by whom and no matter what, just because?

    The new Alexander Trocchi of Scottish letters could send them the first chapter of “The Young Adam” and these guys would patronize him with a cheque for three grand and the torture of two weeks in some secluded place in the Highlands under the mentoring of some published, possibly alcoholic, almost certainly depressed writer who doesn´t want to be there either but needs the cheque because the executives of the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland have hoovered up all the cash, lining their pockets and fathering their nests….

    Steer clear of these people, especially if you are young….they are bad for your soul and their mission is to corrupt the ethics of anybody serious about art and literature….their money/prizes/grants/award should come with a health warning….

  11. DialMforMurdo says:

    Who’s Ms Hylton?

  12. Douglas says:

    The Scottish National Patsies will preside over the death of Scottish culture at this rate….

    Hyenas, jackals, scavengers….maggots feasting on the festering corpse of indigenous Scottish culture – which, if you kicked it really hard, might still sit up and mumble something at you in one of the national languages in a way not dissimilar to a zombie – that´s what our so highly cherished fat cat arts administrators resemble….

    …or else….like one of those mysterious, and unaccountable diseases which silently decimate forests, felling trees by the thousands in a matter of months…an invisible virus which rots the tree from the inside out until it just topples over or crumbles apart….and nobody hears a tree falling in a forest, or so they say…

    …or like that damp stain on your bathroom wall which you never do anything about, and which you look at every time you take a crap and ask yourself, “is it growing or is it just my imagination?”…and then one day, you walk in there and the whole place is flooded and the wall has collapsed and…

    …Sic Transit Gloria Scotia, and the flooers of the forest are all wed away…

    …or as T.S Eliot said, “not with a bang, but a whimper”…that´s how it will end.

    Marketing executives paid four times the salary of the average writer (11,000 p.a) to market the “charity” – another weasel word these days – which markets Scottish writers ….a NATIONAL DISGRACE…so much for “fair”, “caring”, “egalitarian” Scotland….how fine it must be to feel egalitarian and fair and caring on 45K a year….

  13. Jimmy Black says:

    Please note the plays In My Father’s Words and The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil from Dundee Rep. Neither would have happened without strong support from Fiona Hyslop, I suspect, and both were productions to be proud of. Look beyond the central belt! Having said that, I share Thom Cross’ frustration; we need to ensure diversity in those who make the appointments before we can achieve it in those who get appointed.

    1. Douglas says:

      Was it Fiona Hyslop who said, “The Scots are no genetically programmed to run their own cultural affairs” or am I mistaking her for somebody else?

  14. Gordon Benton says:

    Thank you, Thom Cross – for many of us (listeners) this is a revelation. Can Scotland cut out the self-pity and navel-gazing and do something about it?

  15. Jim Bennett says:

    I hadn’t heard of the Scottish Book Trust until reading the above, so I thought that I would share their guidance to new writers:
    1) Be gracious
    2) Be nice.

    There are other suggestions but I thought you’d appreciate these pearls of wisdom.

    I must admit though, my two youngest daughters have benefitted from their pre-5s “Bookbugs” programme.

    1. Douglas says:

      Jim, the annual budget of the Scottish Book Trust is 3,000,000 pounds….

      …their New Writers Award offers 3,000 pounds to the lucky winner….so they offer 0.1% of their entire budget – which we all pay for – to the next generation of Scottish writers….or something like that.

      What do they do with the other 99.9% of the money?

  16. old battle says:

    It can be said that Irish Independence would have never happened without the preceding vibrancy of the cultural movement with the Abbey Theatre in the vanguard of that splendid outpouring of creativity.
    How can a national political movement be realized without a genuine determined creative response from our artists? How can our creative community flourish when the leadership is at best apathetic towards Scottish sovereignty or simply have no understanding or feeling for the ambitions of the people?
    Yet we have an SNP Gov supporting and funding this system of disempowerment of our creative community.

  17. john young says:

    SNP are just another political part with the same agendas/ideas or lack of,if it wasn,t for the many and diverse innovators of the indyref they would slip in to suppineness if they haven,t already,how many radical ideas/thoughts emmanate from them? very little to my knowledge.They should be fighting/challenging every decision that is against our interests,we are at the forefront in clean sustainable yet what? nothing,how is it that this benighted country that has so so many resources in so many fields fades/withers on the bough when countries like Norway can consolidate for the benefit of all and progress,we are great at whining blaming others for our lack of initiative,effin sickening.

  18. Big Jock says:

    We do produce people capable of these jobs. However the system prevents Scots from being elected. By that I mean the operators of the system. You would probably be shocked to discover about 60% of these arts committee boards are English. They just keep topping up the system with more English people ,and so on and on the cycle continues.

    The key to changing this is to change the staff on the boards and committees. They are the ones who elect the directors. This is a big job. We are effectively trying to change the culture of the organisations. Having one or two Scots on the boards is like spitting in a headwind. Now the problem has been identified its up to Hyslop and others to demand more Scots be appointed. Otherwise why have Scottish Opera or Scottish Ballet, when they are no such thing.

  19. douglas clark says:

    SNP are just another political part with the same agendas/ideas or lack of,if it wasn,t for the many and diverse innovators of the indyref they would slip in to suppineness if they haven,t already,how many radical ideas/thoughts emmanate from them? very little to my knowledge.They should be fighting/challenging every decision that is against our interests,we are at the forefront in clean sustainable yet what? nothing,how is it that this benighted country that has so so many resources in so many fields fades/withers on the bough when countries like Norway can consolidate for the benefit of all and progress,we are great at whining blaming others for our lack of initiative,effin sickening.

    Oh!, so much just wrong.

    The SNP are not a part of any agenda other than Scottish independence.

    Indyref, or more likely a raising of national conciousness, went well beyond the SNP.

    Quite a lot of radical thoughts emmanate from the SNP. For instance no nuclear weapons.

    I would like them to argue more for tidal power, and fund it. Is that a reason to leave the SNP?

    Probably it is why I will vote green after we are free, if they can deal with the consequences of tidal weirs everywhere.

    Sure we have resources, but it needs a radical shift in our politics, specificaly over land ownership and a responsible attitude to our greatest resource, for that to become free’d.

    I am not blaming ‘others’, I am blaming ‘no’ voters. Who are ‘us’, last time I looked.

    Your mileage, obviously, varies.

  20. douglas clark says:

    Norway is not the only successful nation on the planet. It did what we ought to have done, but didn’t. The scaredy cats couldn’t leave ‘the most successful bout of Imperialism that the world has ever seen.’ That is the frankly disgusting truth of what Londinium wrought on the planet. They bought and sold and never, ever, cared.

    It is easy meat to alienate anyone else. The people in India, the people in Southern Africa, the people in America. We did that. They were non-persons to the brave Brits. Not really humans.

    And the brave brits came home. Then they exorcised people from their Scottish Estates. They put them in marginal lands and ‘encouraged’ them to emmigrate, in sinking rotten hulks.

    Wonderful folk, the class that ruled us.

    Dontcha think?

    I really wish we had had a good revolution, like the French.

    But sadly, we look up to the Lords and Ladies as though they were Fairie Queens or summat, with glamour and wonderousness unabated.

    It is a lie, but it is a magnificent lie that we tell ourselves.

    Quite how we get though a mere day with this level of idiocy, is beyond me.

  21. john young says:

    Douglas Clark I didn,t mean to give the impression that the SNP are/were “a party of any agenda other than independence”,the point I was trying to make was all political parties have narrow agendas some more some less,for me this stifles innovation/free thinking/a radical exchange of ideas,the coming years are going to bring huge changes in almost every field and we have to be right up there.I would where possible challenge the establishment every time face them down do not let the msm away with anything,turn them to the cameras and ask them to explain themselves to the public,don,t let go unchallenged the points they are making,in other words get fcuking right in about them,stop the snivelling oh I wasn,t prepared or he/she is telling fibs if they are tell them to their faces that they are either lying/mis-representing the facts,do not take a step back as we have done for hundreds of years,tor to toe and fight them at every turn,show that you are ready and prepared and will fight tooth and nail.I agree with all you posted above,we have a helluva load of s—e bags in this country unfortunately.

  22. Steve says:

    I think there is a point to be made about the lack of diversity in leadership (in both arts and business) but I don’t think the focus of this article is the right one.
    The obvious question is whether someone does their job effectively. If so, it really shouldn’t matter where they’re from. But that’s a bit glib – assuming that there are many people capable of performing the same roles then highlighting the lack of diversity is perfectly reasonable.
    I think this is particularly true with regards to background, gender and race but where I think the article veers off track is focusing on where people are from. Of the sample of leaders examined here it is noted that 5 of them are “from England”. That seems to have been used as a slightly lazy shorthand for something. What, in particular, is the problem with being from England? It’s true there are too many white males from well-off backgrounds in leadership. But being “from England” (Or America or Canada/Armenia) doesn’t equal white, male privilege.
    The issue might be people being “from England” as opposed to being “from Scotland”. But I don’t see what the place of birth has to do with it (assuming individuals are capable of doing the job). In terms of diversity is it better to have somebody born in Scotland, white, male and privately educated. Or somebody from a low-income BME background who is notionally English but has since made their career in Scotland?
    Also the comment “But diversity must include some men and women whose sensitivity has been nourished and honed within this indigenous community from Shetland to Galloway” seems to suggest that unless you’re Scottish (however this is defined) you would be lacking this cultural sensitivity. Is there a qualifying period for developing this nourishment? Does it only come with being born on Scottish soil? Could you start as a 5 years old? 10? 20? 50?
    Also, is the sensitivity nourished in Galloway really so different the experiences of those over the border in Cumbria? And would those sensitivities not be completely different to those growing up in post-industrial Glasgow or Manchester or Detroit?
    If the issue is that Arts organisations are lacking a “Scottish” voice perhaps a different article would be focused on where Scottish arts organisations are failing to properly fulfill their role and criticising the relevant individuals for what they produce rather than where they were born.

    1. Thanks Steve. Of course the issues are far deeper than where you’re from, and I think Thom addressed some of that (in terms of gender and race). You say ‘I don’t see what the place of birth has to do with it’. Well, the argument is that if the person has a deep and enduring knowledge of and appreciation of Scottish culture then it doesn’t really matter at all. But equally it’s more likely that a person would have this understanding if they were from Scotland. t’s not particularly controversial to say that and there’s not many places in the world where the scenario he describes could be possible at all. Is there?

      1. Steve says:

        Hi, thanks for the response. It’s a fair point that it’s more likely that a person would have a better cultural understanding if they were from Scotland and it does seem anomalous that so many people in one room would be non-Scots.
        But I don’t know anything about the individuals mentioned – they might all have lived in Scotland for 25 years or they might all have moved up here from the home counties to take up the posts. They might be successful promoting and enriching Scottish culture or they might be systematically destroying it with clumsy cultural insensitivity but neither of those things is revealed just by highlighting where they’re from.
        If the issue is that Scottish arts organisations are being led in the wrong direction and the reason for that is the lack of cultural understanding in its leadership then that’s what should be examined.
        Alternatively, if the issue is more about the lack of diversity, that should be examined in terms of how to bring through more BME, low-income or local talent. Looking just at whether someone is Scottish or Other is a bit of blunt instrument. Replacing one bunch of English privately educated white men with a bunch of Scottish privately educated white men won’t particularly change anything.
        I don’t honestly know whether this scenario would be evident in other countries. I guess worldwide there are only a handful of these posts available so would tend to be quite international? It would be interesting to examine how successful Scots have been outside of Scotland (Neil MacGregor?) to see if there is a talent drain or some other structural issue.

      2. duncan says:

        English educational elites have tended to nurture the Arts in world famous Universities for a long time,now, so it seems a bit odd you seem to have picked them out to be deeply involved in this field. I find this a bit menacing.Perhaps a rich tradition counts for something in these roles.Certainly, the Arts are only for some. I know of (some) people in the Edinburgh community going into lock down until the fringe festival is over and, then you have ISIS members, who don’t really go in for that type of thing, either. Society is rich because it is different. It is a well known fact students from Asian backgrounds score better in school exams ,what you going to do do about it?I say, this is diversity, and tall poppy syndrome is sour grapes.

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