Essay: Scotland says No to quangos, consultants and dodgy MBAs

A modest proposal for the new Edinburgh parliament: fund the arts democratically. By Angus Calder

Watching Channel 4's attempt last week to settle on the names of the 100 most powerful people in the New Scotland, one waited for the moment when someone uttered the P-word. It turned out to be Jim Sillars, a robust street-fighting politico not often sighted at arts events, who rather shyly invoked "the poets" as the unacknowledged legislators of Scotland's consciousness. And as it emerged around the same time that Ted Hughes had left pounds 1.4m, one reflected wryly that the recently-dead masters whom Sillars surely had in mind - Norman MacCaig and Sorley Maclean, George Mackay Brown and Iain Crichton Smith - for all their prizes and honours attained no more than a middling sufficiency. Furthermore, most of their books came out from English publishers.

It is clearly true that the surge of patriotic optimism which regained Scotland a parliament after nearly 300 years was powered by recent cultural self-assertiveness. The Edinburgh Festival was created in 1947 in a country where music and theatre were stunted and provincial, where Scottish history and literature were subjects barely taught at all. But now, the world's biggest arts festival seems aptly sited in a country teeming with creativity. The best-known effigy of Scotland overseas must today be that of Ewan McGregor in the film of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Sean Connery is helping to fund a new film-making centre in Edinburgh, while the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi has in effect given a new gallery of Dada and Surrealist art to the city, adorned by many of his own works. MSPs elected next month might just be in danger of assuming that the arts are doing fine in Scotland, and will earn the country prestige and money without much further input from taxpayers.

The arts have not featured at all so far as an issue between the parties contesting the current Scottish elections. Yet the Holyrood parliament cannot long defer debating their parlous state. Scottish Ballet has just failed in its quest for a director of high international standing. Over three decades of uneven achievement, Scottish Opera has barely survived horrific financial debacles. Scotland's main theatres stagger from crisis to crisis. Excellent, internationally rated Scottish writers may just, with luck, achieve incomes equivalent to those of junior publishers south of the Border.

So it might seem to under-informed MSPs that the Scottish Arts Council, for some years separate from the London Arts Council and now clearly subject to policy decisions by the Holyrood Parliament, has been wise to commit itself to spending pounds 2.2m over three years on audience research and "regeneration". That is, on marketing. A lot of this cash is going to a new company - "The Audience Business" - set up in Edinburgh to market the arts. As a now-retired veteran of the Boards of four SAC-funded Arts Organisations, and as a deviser, ongoing, of arts events, I descry the Gogolian logic of bureaucracy pressing on its mad course.

Last summer, the Independent exposed the way that lottery funds for the arts were being hijacked by accountants and consultants employed at rates far beyond those earnable by actually creative people to "assess" the "viability" of proposals submitted - after which there was little or no cash left. Marketing people with dodgy MBAs plunder phantasmagoric future bums on seats for cash that might otherwise support real theatrical productions with full casts and adequate rehearsal times: more Wagner as good as Scottish Opera's fine current production of Tristan; musical experiments by such remarkable young composer-performers as Tommy Smith and Martyn Bennett; pathbreaking painters - and even worthy writers.

Some excellence markets itself. Scotland's three major orchestras have made recordings which have achieved international esteem; the SCO, without trendy plugging, is selling out its current Beethoven cycle, under the dynamic baton of young Joseph Swenson. But even sellouts depend on subsidy - our bums may be willing, but our wallets are meagre. Audiences want from the live arts the sort of excitement they can't get from CDs and TV. Spectacle, polish, pizzazz, cost money.

And the artists who need money for ambitious projects must have the right to fail. Marketing persons cannot prophesy adverse critics and disappointed first-night audiences. After massive pre-publicity, Forbes Masson's new musical, Stiff, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh has been received with a cagey mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. We shall see if it tightens up sufficiently to woo and win audiences when it goes on tour, or whether it will be remembered as a brave but too-flawed attempt to modernise Scotland's wonderful pantomime tradition for new-millennium grown-ups.

The SAC is fighting for its life. It has been a well-meaning body, with much to its credit. But generically it is a secretive quango. It has recently been mired and mauled in controversy - arts people mostly don't like it. Meanwhile, taxpayers willy-nilly stump up for arts favoured by genteel minorities. People who love these arts, but live in Kirkwall or Stranraer, rarely get to see what they have paid for. (I think it obscene that people in Penzance and Accrington have been footing the colossal bills run up by the grossly mismanaged Royal Opera - and I speak as one who at the last count owned over 50 complete opera recordings.) But there is a case for "national" arts organisations, if their funding is controlled by the people's representatives.

Scottish Opera, needfully, has been by far the SAC's most expensive client. Opera is intrinsically costly. The new Parliament could first decide whether Scotland needs subsidised "national" opera. Since countries of similar or smaller population, such as Denmark and Finland, sustain such operations, I hope that MSPs would accept the case for subsidy. Also for funding from money at Parliament's direct disposal should be the Edinburgh Festival, other international festivals, Scottish Ballet, the major orchestras, and an umbrella organisation for Scottish National Theatre which could promote major multi-venue productions and train Scottish actors to perform better. Money could be voted on an annual or triennial basis, but not without rigorous debate, in which some MSPs might care to advance counter- claims for funding for museums and libraries.

Scotland's greatest artistic glory is its folk music, in a tradition of length and breadth unmatched elsewhere in Europe. It doesn't cost megabucks to stage. Nor does small-scale touring theatre, in which, over the past 30 years, Scotland has achieved seminal successes. Along with smallish festivals, galleries and writerships-in-residence, funding for these could be devolved to local councils. At this level arts are currently budgeted together with recreation. There is good reason for this. If the Scottish Parliament enacts that a given percentage - 5 per cent or more? - of spending by each local council should come from such a budget, elected representatives can fairly weigh the value of theatre and music alongside the need for swimming pools and libraries.

The Arts Council method of funding, as developed in Britain since 1945, has involved giving the public what unelected persons think is good for it. Democratising state support for the arts will no doubt strike elitist aesthetes as dangerous. But I think that by engaging public interest in open debate, it could strengthen the efforts already made by arts organisations to justify community support by taking beautiful and challenging work to people in deprived and remote areas, to schoolchildren and to sick people. In this, as in other fields, the brand-new Scottish parliament might give a useful lead to the rest of the UK.

Angus Calder is the editor of 'Wars', to be published as part of the Penguin Press's Snapshots of the Century series in August.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice