Arts & Culture

2007 - 2022

Creative Accounting

Music has the right to children.

Children have the right to music, and theatre, and books, and art and film.

It’s hard to reconcile the outpouring of dissent and high calibre criticism raining down on Creative Scotland with the sort of cartoon painted by the composer James MacMillan or the tabloid journalist Stephen Daisley of Scotland’s arts community (“luvvies” in Daily Mail-Speak). Catherine Wheels Theatre, whose work has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people since its inception in 1999 issued a statement saying:

“Scotland is the now the only country in Europe without a regularly funded children’s theatre company and this is an embarrassment for a progressive nation.” 

Tony Reekie, former director of Imaginate –  the development company for young people’s theatre said bluntly:

“Set aside the Year of Young People. Set aside new strategies of touring and an obsession with arts organisations that don’t make art. To lose from your main fund work for children and the disabled was so fundamentally stupid it calls into question the basic skills of those who came up with this ‘strategy’. To compound that by not realising that some of these companies are utterly crucial, in RFO form, to the lifeblood of our cultural nation and are genuinely world class shows they simply don’t understand the world they inhabit, and therefore have no right to impose any kind of half-arsed strategy on the rest of us. If the outpouring of support, admiration and love for companies like Catherine Wheels from home and across the world is ignored then you have to consider a stupidity compounded by malevolence at some levels of that organisation. Either way there are folk in that need to be kept away from the sharp things for a while as people are getting hurt for no reason at all…”

The idea of Scottish writers, artists, playwrights, producers, actors or cultural workers being some kind of Tartan Valkyrie marching in Goose-Step to the nationalist agenda is put forward only in the fetid circles where Salmond is Mugabe, David Greig is a sinister svengali and AL Kennedy is a sort of literary Leni Riefenstahl. This is the world poor Daisley resides in:

“What happens when artists are subsumed into the machinery of politics and their art sublimated to a cause? What becomes of art’s duty to challenge, to provoke, to pursue truth wherever it leads? The answer is to be found in Scotland, where much of the artistic world has been absorbed into the Nationalist project.”

This sort of heaving paranoia is fed on hungrily by Scotland’s band of philistine moaners, endlessly worried that – just around the corner – is the truth of the Forced Scots – Jock Authoritarian – Gaelic Sign-Wiedlding McMafia – they’ve been warning you about all along.

Daisley’s poshlost fantasies are remarkable given the dissent pouring out of Scotland’s beleaguered cultural ‘sector’.

As playwright Peter Arnott asks:

“Doesn’t the fact that the chorus of protest against Creative Scotland’s cackhandedness is being led by the very same “yesser” crowd of luivvies that you’re accusing of being Nat Apparatchiks kind of blow this interpretation of events out of the water?”

The latest debacle from Creative Scotland has a long history. It is a history of mismanagement, poor communication and of a body acting well beyond its remit and with acute incompetence. Back in 2012 a huge row erupted after fifty formerly flexibly funded organisations (FXOs) were told that they would in future be invited to apply for lottery-funded project grants.

Back then the theatre critic Joyce McMillan wrote:

“…its thinking is still hopelessly infected – 22 years after the lady’s political demise – by a kind of undead Thatcherism, a half-baked, hollowed-out, public-sector version of market theory that reduces the language of creativity to a series of flat-footed business school slogans, and imposes a crude ethic of sado-competition – “this will make you sharper and more creative” – on areas of society where co-operation and mutual respect matter more.”

The irony and tragedy of this latest round of cuts is that arts and culture is something that Scotland excels at. It is not, like football or manufacturing something that we are derided for. In theatre, visual arts, literature we are consistently and often, world-leading innovative and ground-breaking. This isn’t uh-thumping, it’s pointing out that this is an ear where we do well. If you take just Glasgow School of Art you’ll see that it’s produced five Turner Prize winners, and 30% of nominees since 2006 alone. In 2014 Dani Garevelli noted that:

“Since 1996, six artists associated with Glasgow – Douglas Gordon, Martin Creed, Simon Starling, Richard Wright, Susan Philipsz and Martin Boyce – have lifted the trophy. A further nine, including Christine Borland, Jim Lambie and Karla Black, have been nominated. So established is Glasgow’s reputation for nurturing talent, there was barely a ripple of surprise when it was announced last week that three out of four of this year’s short-list – Ciara Phillips, Duncan Campbell and Tris Vonna-Michell – were also GSA alumni. Although they are not Scottish Phillips and Campbell have chosen to live and work in Glasgow, attracted perhaps by a vibrant scene, the abundance of studio space and the strong support network.”

The same can be seen across sectors where Scottish-based artists frequently shine against the odds. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be like this.

That’s not to say that the stance taken by the Creative Scotland isn’t political, it clearly is, nor is to say that creating culture and literature isn’t political, of course it is, it can’t be otherwise.

You’ll remember Jim Kelman’s acceptance speech for the 1994 Booker Prize when he said: “My culture and my language have the right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that.”

But Kelman is no nationalist and there is a difference between supporting a democratic right and supporting a political party.

That’s what’s confused these poor souls.

Scottish artists are in open rebellion and they have the right to stand up and reconfigure their whole world. They also have the right to throw off the insulting doggerel aimed at them by the paranoid fantasists of the Daily Mail and the philistinism of the far-right.

There are real issues about cultural confidence not cultural propaganda in this country, and you can only despair at the impact of the coming withdrawal from Europe. Funding and connectivity will wither further.

But if Daisley and MacMillan’s ultra-Unionist views are to be expected, we should be able to find common ground beyond a political divide.

In an era of real issues about mental health, stress, digital overkill, and social isolation, poverty of the mind meets poverty of the wallet.








Comments (3)

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  1. Marilyn Clark says:

    “Scottish artists are in open rebellion and they have the right to stand up and reconfigure their whole world. They also have the right to throw off the insulting doggerel aimed at them by the paranoid fantasists of the Daily Mail and the philistinism of the far-right”

    For sure, but that’s part of the job.
    On the other side though, where people defending artists should be is …………… one.

    There’s not a a single critic in the Nation that seriously examines Creative Scotland, apart from the sort of analysis the partner of a drunk would give having enabled them to get locked up in the cells for the weekend.

    Don’t act surprised and shocked when the multiple incidences that people sweep under the carpet become progressively more idiotic.

    Can anyone direct me to any arts critic in Scotland voicing concern over the Fruitmarket Gallery’s acceptance of a cash award from the daughter of Rupert Murdoch ?

    Have any of them seriously examined the credentials of the opportunist neoliberal dullards that populate ‘Creatives’ Edinburgh and Dundee ?

    What about the ‘voluntary’ arts festival that is funded by a firm due to construct luxury housing on the premises of the event after ?

    These not insignificant and extremely concerning signs seem to have passed Joyce,Neil and Phil by.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    To go off at a slight tangent: Before I retired (and that is quite a few years ago) I was Head Teacher of several local authority secondary schools in Scotland (at different times). Last year I was asked for advice about the funding proposals for schools in England (where I have never taught), by a parent who was opposing them.

    The first thing that struck me was that in the intervening decade since I retired how much education in England had diverged from that in Scotland. I had not appreciated just how much has been effectively privatised and the fact that Councils have very little locus, despite still ‘owning’ some schools. Most boroughs have no education department and have little or no staff with expertise in education.

    The largest school in the borough concerned was what was called an ‘orphan’ school, because no educational company had taken it over (too many factors associated with social deprivation and consequently a very low place in the infamous league tables.) Although technically still owned by the l.e.a. it was run by a private company. The school was slightly smaller than the one in which I last worked, but the head Teacher, taking account of inflation, was paid more than three times what I had been paid, and I considered myself to have been well-paid.

    On speaking to parents I found that the school no longer offered art, music, drama and that mathematics was mainly taught via computers in large groups supervised by non-teacher assistants. Only one or two lessons were given by qualified mathematics teachers. It was a significantly pared down and cynically ‘basic’ curriculum. This was how the Head Teacher was able to be paid such a large salary.

    It is noteworthy that it is the creative and aesthetic curriculum which was dispensed with.

    Of course, the ‘academy’ schools with the highest placings in the ‘league’ tables had a very rich creative and aesthetic curriculum. These schools were, in effect ‘selective’ schools, although they were ‘public’ schools in the common meaning of the word, not as a descriptor of Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Stowe, etc.

    It is clear that those in positions of power see the creative area as a threat to their position – and obviously too good for the riff-raff, who need to have the ‘facks’ drilled into them, solely for the purposes of testing …. and proving that they have ‘failed’.

    I think that those in charge of Creative Scotland, consciously or not, are carrying out a process of ‘de-culturising’ our young and many others in the population.

  3. nakanoyuji says:

    Ahead of his vetting, the former Attorney General said in a statement that: “One thing I know from the outpouring of support for the President’s nomination of my humble self as the Special Public Prosecutor is that if the President’s wishes were put to a national referendum, all the 275 constituencies of the country will return an overwhelmingly positive endorsement for his choice.

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