CS Open – Aberdeen, 29th April 2013
Hi there – my name’s David Morgan and I’m a theatre producer based in Liverpool. The reason why I’ve been asked to talk today is because about a year ago I started writing a blog called Stramash Arts. The opinions that I posted on that blog partly helped to kick-start this whole debate, alongside major contributions from Joyce McMillan, David Greig, Roanne Dods and Anne Bonnar. I should also acknowledge the long-standing contribution that Variant has made across the last 5 years or more.
I’m going to try not to talk too much about what’s been going on over the last year or so – anyone who wants to know my views on that can visit the blog at stramasharts.wordpress.com. Instead I’d like to talk a bit about where we might go from here and what I’d like Creative Scotland to be. I’ve put some images together to help illustrate what I’ve got to say.
Here’s the first one – can anyone tell me what it is?
Well it’s a set of cliffs that lies about 800 miles North-West of here in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. It’s the original meeting place of the Icelandic Allthing – the longest running parliamentary democracy in the world. It’s where all of the Freemen of Iceland came together to settle property disputes and dispense justice. Over time the Allthing grew to become the largest social event in the calendar with a whole fair surrounding it. It was kind of like the parliament, the supreme court and the Edinburgh Festival all rolled into one. It’s worth noting that the Icelandic Government have awarded the site protected status, meaning it’ll remain the property of the Icelandic people in perpetuity. It can never be sold and can never be developed.
So that would be my starting point for what Creative Scotland might become. At the Tramway World Café event back in October I summed it up by saying that Creative Scotland needs to become the forum for debate and stop being the subject of the debate.
We need to create a culture, not just in the arts but in the whole of our public life, where people are willing to speak openly about the issues. That’s not going to happen unless we have public institutions that are open to having those debates. The big failing of Creative Scotland Mark One was that so many people felt alienated because they felt that there was no room for discussion, no room for debate, no room for dissent.
Well – so what? Why is this important? Why should anyone care?
Hands up everyone who saw You’ve been Trumped when it came out last year. It’s a great documentary and if you haven’t seen it yet then you really ought to. But for those who haven’t here’s a little clip that the producers have kindly agreed to let me show.
So just to put what’s happening in context here – this is the moment where the documentary makers get arrested by Grampian Police and held for four hours, largely at the behest of the Trump organisation.
Does anyone know this guy? No? Well that might be understandable. This guy is Ian Taylor and he’s the President and Chief Executive of Vitoil – one of the world’s largest oil brokers. He’s also a major donor of the Conservative Party and he’s currently the major funder of the Better Together campaign, having provided almost half of all the funds they’ve raised so far.
Last month when his involvement in the Better Together campaign was announced a pro-independence campaigner called Michael Gray decided to have a look into Vitoil’s background. Sure enough a ten minute internet search was all it took for him to turn up a string of allegations about Vitoil’s dealings. This included the fact that Vitoil had paid $1 million to the Serb warlord Arkan, along with allegations about a string of questionable oil deals in Iran, Iraq, Libya and Congo. All of this information was in the public domain and The Guardian had published the story about Arkan more than ten years ago.
Michael published what he’d found as a blog on the National Collective website. Within about 3 days National Collective, Wings over Scotland, The Herald, The Guardian and various others received letters from Ian Taylor’s lawyers demanding that they remove the content in question and issue a full and immediate apology, or else they would be sued for “substantial damages”. On receiving these letters National Collective decided to temporarily suspend their website and engaged Aamer Anwar as their lawyer. This particular story is still ongoing and probably has a long way to run yet.
Lord McCluskey – chair of the McCluskey report on press regulation in Scotland. I’m not going to go into the full ins and outs of the report just now, suffice to say that it recommended that blogs (potentially including personal Facebook and Twitter posts) should be fully subject to the same level of press regulation as major newspapers. It seems as though the Scottish Government have already shelved the report, but I can tell you right now that if McCluskey’s full recommendations had been in place this time last year then Stramash Arts almost certainly wouldn’t exist, and it’s possible that this whole Creative Scotland stushie may never have taken off in the way that it did.
A Herald front-page headline from August last year.
Ongoing protests against the application of the governments anti-sectarianism legislation. And lastly, bringing us full circle again…
Janice Galloway’s concerns about the fact that Creative Scotland edited her winners statement from last year’s Book of the Year award, removing any mention of issues around arts funding.
Ever since I started writing about Creative Scotland around this time last year I’ve noticed a really worrying trend in political life in Scotland – a trend towards trying to stifle criticism, debate or even free speech. For me this is the complete antithesis of what the Scottish Parliament and its institutions ought to represent
The Scottish Parliament doesn’t sit distant and detached from its electorate. If voters have questions that they want to put to our politicians, even to ministers, then there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t be able to sit across a table and ask those questions face-to-face.
So what’s this got to do with Creative Scotland I hear you ask? Well the connection between all of these various events is that all of them are underpinned by the question of values – or rather perceived conflicts of values.
When we look over so many of the problems that flared up over the last year almost all of them have to do with this conflict of values. Probably the best example of this was the Creative Scotland awards – some people questioned how appropriate it was to have the Daily Record acting as media partner, given then general tone of much of its arts coverage. Pretty much everyone was appalled by the fact that not a single woman was selected to be part of the judging panel.
I want to end by talking about a more recent example. Can anyone tell me where this is?
This is Loch Fitty in Fife. Scottish Coal want to build an opencast coal mine here. The plan is to completely drain the Loch, strip out the coal and then re-landscape the whole thing again. They intend to replace it with an visitor attraction called ‘Scottish World’ and they’ve commissioned Charles Jencks to remodel the whole site, which will feature an artificial lake shaped into a map of Scotland. Last year Scottish Coal applied to Creative Scotland and were awarded funds as part of the Year of Natural Scotland to include a “large-scale artwork symbolising local regeneration” as part of the project.
Now I just want to make something really clear here. The reason why I’m bringing this up isn’t to make any kind of personal attack against the judgement of anyone who was involved in assessing or approving this application. What’s at fault here isn’t necessarily the people who are making the decisions – it’s the criteria against which those decisions are being judged. As long as cultural projects are judged principally on the benefits they bring to the economy or to tourism then we’re going to keep on getting decisions like these time and time again.
And that’s a problem, because whether we’re talking about a golf resort on the Menie Estate or whether we’re talking about a Loch that’s been re-shaped into a map of Scotland it all boils down to the same thing – a conception of our culture that frames the whole of Scotland as a theme park.
I hope that this series of discussions marks the start of a transition towards that type of organisational culture that I’d like to see Creative Scotland adopt – we certainly can’t let this be the end of the process. And if there’s one thing that I’d like to see coming out of today it’s a sense of what values people think that Creative Scotland should be standing for. Thank you.