Reading this issue’s front page, arts professionals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland might be enviously thinking: time to move north. Scotland seems to have been showered with new cash just lately – a total of £19.5m just in the past fortnight. With the advent of Creative Scotland, moreover, it looks as though there might be some new thinking and fresh ideas on the way as well as enough cash to stuff the most capacious sporran to the brim
However, there might be another side to the story. On 31 March, The Scotsman reported an attack by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Yvette Cooper, on plans for spending by the Scottish Government. According to her, there’s potentially “a £750m black hole” – a gap between what is raised currently by council tax and what would be raised by the Scottish National Party’s local income tax. Now, we all know that the arts are among the first areas to be cut in times of shortfall – sporrans empty once again. But perhaps we would be misjudging the Scottish parliament if we assume that this would happen in a cash squeeze. The strong nationalist tone of many of the new developments is a clue: identity, pride, and the national and international profile are very much to the fore in these new funding decisions. While this raises the question as to what might happen to an organisation which didn’t prove itself sufficiently devoted to Scotland’s cause, it does tie the arts and the cultural industries very firmly to the fate of the country as a whole. Nationalist arts policies can be problematic – only look at Stalin and his chorus of yes-artists producing yes-theatre and yes-music. On the other hand, think of Bartók and Kodály, whose championing of Hungarian folk and classical music in the late 19th and early 20th century underpinned the emergence of their country’s identity and opposed both Nazism and the excesses of the Soviet era. (It might be worth noting that the latter artists lived in relative poverty and had very little state support.) We should be at least a little suspicious of the motives of Governments handing out cash to the arts. Too heavy a sporran could inflict accidental damage to the creative organs: not good for the future of the country.
Catherine Rose, Editor