Brian Ferguson: Duplication and double standards

Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Julie Bull

Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Julie Bull

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IN A previous journalistic life, a regular mantra – heard almost daily – was “check the cuts” (cuttings).

It was a slightly bizarre hangover from an era when reporters relied heavily on newspaper libraries and archives.

Staff would spend the entire day cutting up copies of newspapers and carefully archiving them away in paper packets. Although these brown faded artefacts can still be unearthed in The Scotsman library, it is rarely more than an annual occurrence as all stories from the last 20 years can be summoned at the touch of a button – if one remembers to “check the cuts” of course.

I suspect PR executives, politicians and their spin doctors know fine well that dwindling media resources mean that these days they can get away with reheating the same stories time and again – and someone, somewhere will publish it, especially in the frantic rush for website clicks.

Despite the endless hype about Disney-Pixar’s Brave last year and the predicted economic impact the film would have, there was another flurry of publicity recently, quoting the very same figures.

If you thought there was something oddly familiar about the plans for Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations last week – including the advent of a London Eye-style wheel next to the Scott Monument – that’s because they had already been announced at a big launch some weeks ago. I know. I was there.

Then there was the strange case of culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s keynote speech to the SNP conference. On the face of it, especially since the words “today I am delighted to announce” were deployed, the Scottish Government appeared to be responding pretty swiftly to the sabre-rattling of the film industry when Ms Hyslop said that £2 million had been found for new production facilities.

I wondered whether this £2 million was really the same figure that the culture secretary had trumpeted on STV weeks earlier – which turned out to have already been announced in early September, before the film industry decided to turn up the heat for a bigger share of the arts funding cake.

Of course it was. And a “not insignificant” amount too, as I was politely informed when I questioned the recycling of this old news. Was that it from the culture secretary – less than a year ahead of the independence referendum?

Well, there was also the rather bold assertion that culture and heritage would “flourish in an independent Scotland”. I am still searching for a single word, never mind a sentence, in the government’s news release to support that claim, particularly since arts and culture have been entirely devolved for the last 14 years.

I’ve also trawled through the entire speech hoping for enlightenment, but instead found an awful lot recycled from Ms Hyslop’s keynote address to the sector in Edinburgh in June.

Much of that was focused on trying to place as much distance – or “deepening clear blue water” – as possible between herself and the UK culture secretary Maria Miller, particularly over the latter’s insistence that the arts and culture sectors should be “focused primarily on economic gains”.

At the time, many artists were falling over themselves to applaud Ms Hyslop’s insistence that the economic impact of arts and cultural projects were a “secondary benefit” and that they were “not products to be bought and sold”. It was also seen as one in the eye for the previous regime at Creative Scotland with its corporate ethos and business-speak.

But a funny thing has happened since. The economic benefits of cultural initiatives in Scotland are being underlined almost everywhere you look – from the opening of the Hydro in Glasgow to the unveiling of Dundee’s bid to become UK city of culture, and the launch of the Celtic Connections festival. Hopes are already high that James MacMillan’s new festival in Ayrshire will transform Cumnock’s economic fortunes.

Alex Salmond underlined the importance of sci-fi series Outlander being filmed in Scotland in the face of “fierce competition”, revealing the single production was expected to generate £20 million, as well as “money-can’t-buy-exposure”.

And with a major film studio still a pipe dream, the biggest stick the film sector is beating the Scottish Government over the head with is how much the country is said to be losing out financially compared to elsewhere in Europe. How’s that for irony?

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