FIRST Minister Alex Salmond says he is confident a multi-million pound “Homecoming” campaign in 2014 will not become politicised or dogged by political wrangling - despite a clash with the independence referendum.
He insisted the date for the second Year of Homecoming had been selected long before the referendum date and was instead being timed to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and the staging of the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland. At least £10 million is being spent on additional events at present.
Mr Salmond also insisted significant lessons had been learned from the previous Homecoming in 2009, which was dogged by bad publicity after the company set up to run it collapsed. He revealed that one of Scotland’s leading events company, Unique Events, who produce Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, were being brought in by the National Trust for Scotland to help run a three-day Bannockburn festival, which £250,000 of public money is being ploughed into.
The programme unveiled by VisitScotland at Hopetoun House in Edinburgh does not yet include the cultural strand of the Commonwealth Games, which will be worth a further £4 million. Arts agency Creative Scotland is also expected to plough £1m of its own budget into Homecoming events.
A star-studded concert in Glasgow to herald the Ryder Cup, the staging of the world sheepdog trials in Scotland for the first time, a clans golf tournament at Gleneagles and an orienteering contest around iconic castles are among the first events to be confirmed.
The programme also features a major dance industry convention heading for Edinburgh, Europe’s biggest brass band festival, which will be held in Perthshire, and a month-long Homecoming festival to coincide with the Royal National Mod returning to Inverness for the first time since 1997.
Festivals are planned to celebrate the life of conservationist John Muir, the songwriting legacy of Gerry Rafferty and the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge.
Other elements include the biggest ever concert at the Celtic Connections music festival, expected to be held at Glasgow’s new Hydro arena, and an outdoor arts and food festival in the grounds of Glamis Castle in Angus, the weekend after the Bannockburn celebrations.
The last Homecoming was marred after the company behind the centrepiece clan gathering in Edinburgh collapsed, despite £700,000 of public money being ploughed into it in grants and loans. More than £300,000 worth of private-sector debts were left behind.
The Scotsman revealed yesterday how the National Trust for Scotland had been given £250,000 to help stage a three-day festival over the 700th anniversary weekend after the heritage body warned the Scottish Parliament it may be forced to pull the plug over financial fears surrounding the event.
Mr Salmond said the combination of the two sporting events coinciding with the Bannockburn anniversary offered the tourism industry “substantial advantages” next year.
He said: “The key to making the most of them is to build on them. We will be displaying Scotland in an incredible positive light. There’s every reason to expect a substantial boost from Homecoming next year, as we got in 2009, but I think we can do bigger and better next year.
“There is every sign with the level of enthusiasm and the ideas that are coming forward that this is something which is capturing the imagination of communities and the industry. I think it will also capture the imagination of visitors to Scotland.
“We announced the next Homecoming some years ago. I would have had the referendum in the last term of the Scottish Government if I had been able to get it through parliament. I tried on a number of occasions. Nor did I know when the Commonwealth Games was won in Sri Lanka in 2007 when the referendum would be.
“We chose 2014 because we wanted a period between the Homecoming years and a five-year period was chosen to get the planning right. It’s not something you can hold every year and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn gave us the theme, with the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup taking place. It seemed like the obvious year. It was nothing to do with the date of the referendum. I had no idea when that was going to take place when we announced the next Homecoming in 2010.”
Mr Salmond said it was important for politicians of all parties to get behind the campaign.
He said: “I don’t think it will become politicised. The only politics we had in 2009 was after The Gathering ran into financial difficulties. If I remember correctly, politicians from other parties attended that event.
“I don’t see what is particularly, if at all, political about the events we have announced, or the Ryder Cup or the Commonwealth Games. What is meant to be party political about any of these things?
“People want to see Scotland for all the range of things that it offers. Scotland is a welcoming society and country, we welcome our friends from south of the border as well as do internationally. The open hand of friendship is extended to everyone - that is part of the Homecoming ethos.
“I thought 2009 was a substantial success. You have to remember there were more than 100 events across the country the last time and the political wrangling basically involved only one event that ran into problems.
“That shouldn’t detract from the fact that we know that Homecoming resulted in an additional £50 million for the Scottish economy. That seems a success to me.
The important thing is to learn the lessons from the huge majority of events that were successful and do them even better and learn the lessons from the event that ran into financial difficulty and make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“Looking back, probably the most important lesson is that The Gathering was an ad-hoc company that was created to have a massive event, It was successful in terms of the number of people it attracted but perhaps the company created was not able to sustain that level of event.
“The Gathering attracted 47,000 visitors, which was a big, big number, but we estimate that the Bannockburn festival we estimate will attract around 50,000 people over the three days.
The organisation responsible for Bannockburn, the National Trust for Scotland, has brought in Pete Irvine’s Unique Events, which is a good move, because a substantial lesson of The Gathering was that that scale of event is quite difficult for an ad-hoc company, with the level of expertise involved. The £250,000 funding for the event seems to me a good investment in one of the biggest events of Homecoming.
“There is a hard-nosed aspect to this as well. It’s about making sure we get the maximum benefit for Scotland from the investment that is being made.”
Meanwhile VisitScotland’s chairman Mike Cantlay insisted the planning for next year’s Homecoming was several months ahead than was the case in 2009 - despite the problems in Stirlingshire, where the local council pulled the plug on a major clan gathering event, and clan societies have expressed concern over the Bannockburn festivities.
Mr Cantlay said: “The National Trust for Scotland have now just appointed Unique Events, who have a top-notch team, to work on the Bannockburn festival and that is a significant step forward. I also think we are well ahead with where we are with Homecoming compared to five years ago.
“What we are doing in 2014 will stand against anything anyone has done of this nature anywhere in the world. I believe Homecoming will potentially reach every corner of the country and every community next year.
“Although our job is to sell Scotland to the world my hope is that Scotland as a country gets a better handle on the significance of our tourism industry from Homecoming.”