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Creative Scotland: born to fail?

AT THE END OF 2003 it all looked very promising. On St Andrew's day that year, First Minister Jack McConnell made a visionary speech about the importance of culture to a modern Scotland. He did this at the highly appropriate location of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow. 

 

Jack McConnell is believed to have an informed and genuine interest in the topic. After all, his wife Bridget runs the culture brief at Glasgow City Council and she has inspired a genuine renaissance in the commitment to the arts and culture in that city, evidenced by the triumphant reopening earlier this year of a refurbished Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery. 

 

So, it looked encouraging when a Cultural Commission was set up under the chairmanship of James Boyle, the former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council and a former director of BBC Radio 4. 

 

As it happens, I was appointed a member of this commission. Given the reported "high" costs, I should point out that I was never paid any fee, nor claimed any expenses for this. 

 

We commissioners wrestled with the complex issues surrounding Scotland's culture, we examined how cultural activities were supported in other countries and we consulted - goodness knows how we consulted - with everybody who could possibly have an interest. The appendix to the report lists those who contributed during the development of our findings - over 350 of them. 

 

It was, admittedly, a very complex report; it is a very complex area. But one of the key recommendations was that the governance of the new body, Culture Scotland, was to be put into the hands of those, professional and voluntary, who represent the various pieces of the cultural jigsaw - literature, music, theatre, poetry, dance, art and heritage. 

 

Just as a private sector board representing business interests governs Scottish Enterprise, so various culture 'experts' should drive the equivalent organisation supporting Scotland's culture. The 'arms-length' principle was to be respected and the politicians removed from giving day-to-day direction. 

 

Now the Culture Bill has been published and the arms length principal has been torn up. The national companies, such as Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the National Museums of Scotland, are to report directly to the Scottish Executive. The Executive has also baulked at the idea of allowing Creative Scotland (as it has labelled the new body responsible for the rest of the sector) any independence from its control. Ministers are allowed to "give directions of a general or specific nature" which "Creative Scotland must comply with". 

 

James Boyle is very critical: "The overwhelming judgement is of a weak document that hasn't been put together with any enthusiasm or determination. It just looks like it was born to fail." 

 

But the real problem lies in the lack of cohesion in the arts sector. We discovered during our year working on the Cultural Commission that the theatre people never communicated with the literature people, the dance people never spoke to the art community and so on. 

 

The Culture Bill is in consultation right now and submissions are invited by the end of March. Is there any hope? 

 

I wonder whether the whole arts community in Scotland can get their acts together and collectively give the message loud and strong to the Scottish Executive - 'Trust us. 

 

We can generate new levels of ambition and inspiration. 

 

We can run this'

 

Ian Ritchie was a member of the Cultural Commission. He is a trustee of the National Museums of Scotland and a board member of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. 

 

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