The referendum debate provides a rich source of inspiration for Scotland’s arts community, writes Jennifer Dempsie
OSCAR Wilde said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”. That observation has fascinating relevance for 2012 . Will Scottish life be inspired by art, or art inspired by Scottish life, and the political direction Scotland will take? Our cultural community could be the driving force in the independence referendum debate.
The lead up to the referendum will be compounded by intense cultural activity, as 2012 has been declared as the year of Creative Scotland. Scotland-wide celebrations for the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 began on Hogmanay, with the fancy fireworks display in Edinburgh, to be followed by Celtic Connections and Burns Night. On top of that, it has been announced that Edinburgh will host the first ever Culture Summit next August with ministers of culture from nations attending the 2012 Olympic Games.
But will this year of renewed focus on creativity spill out onto the other “big thing” destined to hog the headlines next year – independence for Scotland? We only have to look back to our recent history to see that there is a strong precedent of culture reflecting society in periods of political change.
The 80s and early 90s were a creative explosion as a reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s rule. Punk, New Wave and the New Romantics (believed to have taken their fashion cue from independence icon Bonnie Prince Charlie) were just the tip of the iceberg.
Billy Bragg performed in the coal fields, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting defined a generation exploring the absence of a true Scottish national identity (as well as heroin addiction of course), and Ken Loach made Which Side Are You On? examining the miners’ strike.
Loach said in 2009: “I can’t separate the arts from what’s happening politically.” This is a common thread in the creative community, after all most artists are inspired by their environment and what is happening around them.
Looking forward to the referendum campaign, I just wonder what Scotland’s creative legacy will be from this period? Will our poets, musicians, film makers and gamers reflect on the challenges and possibilities of independence, in search of perfect progress to take Scotland forward. If so, what impact will that have on the political discourse and the people of Scotland?
In my experience our creative community have been and continue to be among the strongest supporters of independence. Iain Banks, James Robertson, Liz Lochhead, David Greig, James Cosmo, Martin Compston, David Hayman, Lou Hickey, Sean Connery, Alasdair Gray and Elaine C Smith are just some of the names who have expressed their support.
In 2008 Annie Lennox told The Scotsman of her support for the possibility of an independence saying Scotland could have “some kind of new, ethical, visionary stance and it could take on some fresh ideas. That could be amazing, really amazing”.
Being able to visualize what an independent Scotland would look like is perhaps something that our artist friends are better equipped to do, painting a picture of Scotland which is independent with their creativity and inhibition.
And ironically, it is the creative community that could be the biggest beneficiaries in an independent Scotland. Scottish broadcasting is a clear example. A report from Scottish Enterprise in 2009 said that with the implementation of a Scottish Digital Network, combined with increases in network television production from Scotland, could result in a near-doubling of direct employment in the industry to nearly 5,700 and additional income of more than £200 million. That is just with a Scottish channel, imagine the job opportunities and serious economic punch our own broadcasting corporation could have.
Then there’s potential tax breaks for the gaming industry which the Westminster government has failed to implement despite the clear economic benefits. Investment has flowed away to other countries and employment in game development in the UK has fallen.
A report by the trade association for the games industry (TIGA), last year said games tax relief would create and safeguard more than 1,300 new jobs over the next five years and lead to £138m of new investment in studios. In one nimble step a Scottish Treasury could give the Scottish game industry a competitive advantage in Europe and the world – a step the SNP government supports with financial powers to do so.
And we should not underestimate the cultural impact and opportunity of Scotland being promoted on a world stage, with Scottish cultural diplomacy forging relationships as equals with other countries and showing the very best of what our creatives can offer.
Scotland already has one of the most respected cultural footprints in the world. It ranks 14 out of 50 in the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index. As the campaign for the Scots Parliament was building momentum in the 1990s, Ricky Ross, when launching Artists For Independence, said: “We are a bit of rolling chaos to get some energy back into a key issue in what is Scottish life at the moment.” I would be interested to see what an artistic rolling chaos of energy around the independence debate would look like as Scotland forges it constitutional path.
What we do know is a Scottish Parliament with full financial powers or full powers are the popular options. Last month a Social Attitudes survey showed 65 per cent of people said that they would support independence on the basis that they would be better off and an Ispos Mori poll suggests 38 per cent of people would vote for independence, up three points from August.
Interestingly the same poll showed 47 per cent among those aged 18-24 and 58 per cent for 25-34 year olds are likely to back independence.
As 2012 is upon us, what will be the factor that has the biggest impact on our constitutional future? Will it be our business community, civic Scotland, politicos or perhaps the creative community that is in the driving seat with a bit of creative chaos to keep everyone on their toes? One thing is for sure, it will certainly be fun if a strong dose of culture enters the debate.
• Jennifer Dempsie is a former special adviser to Alex Salmond