WHAT would be the cost of a Yes vote in the independence referendum to classical musicians learning, living and working in Scotland?
It’s one of those issues that requires serious appraisal and debate, yet which is simply too far down the priority scale as a vote-catcher for politicians either to answer or engage in.
As former MSP Susan Deacon noted last week on BBC’s Newsnight, a major problem with the debate so far is that people are talking in slogans and failing to engage deeply with the nitty-gritty of even such key issues as how do we pay for the elderly 20 years down the line.
Emotion, not cool-headed reason, is driving the debate. Answers are driven by impassioned bluster. The Yes campaign is asking us all to have faith in glorious generalities, when what we really need is to be able to weigh up calmly, and with honest and open evidence, every implication that separation will have on our lives.
So what future for classical music in a solo Scotland? When last month’s Musicians’ Union conference addressed the subject, it drew answers that could best be described as naïve, at worst irresponsibly crass. While Jean Urquhart MSP told delegates the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra would survive as it was so fantastic, she omitted to spell out where the £5.5 million a year required to keep it would come from. John Robertson MP, in a wince-inducing example of social stereotyping, addressed the issue of subsidised opera thus: “I’m from a red sandstone tenement so I’m not a fan.”
Well, Mr Robertson, there are a lot of classical music fans out there: some from the leafy suburbs; others from red sandstone tenements. And if they’re watching the finals of the 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year a week tomorrow, televised live from the Usher Hall, they might care to consider how much of what they are viewing may be available to them in an independent Scotland.
There’s the competition itself, a superb showcase of astounding precocity among young UK-wide musical talent, in which the three finalists will vie for the prestigious prize, performing their choice of concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Sadly, there isn’t a Scottish finalist following the elimination from the woodwind finals of 17-year-old Edinburgh flautist Hannah Foster. So there won’t be a repeat of the famous Scots victory ten years ago, also in the Usher Hall, by a 16-year-old Nicola Benedetti, whose performance of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1 not only secured her the coveted title, but escalated her overnight to international stardom.
Benedetti described it as a life-changing moment. Almost overnight came an major international record deal and concert engagements; but most of all a feeling she had proved herself against the best young musicians around. You simply cannot overestimate the clout attached to winning such a major competition, especially as it bears the BBC brand name, which opens important doors anywhere in the world.
But will Benedetti be the last Scots resident to lift the BBC YMTY trophy? According to the rules, to enter a person “must be a resident of the United Kingdom (including the Channel Isles and Isle of Man)”.
In other words, if we leave the UK, the obvious conclusion is, no more BBC Young Musicians from Scotland. It’s unlikely the rules would be changed to include Scots residents, as candidates from the Republic of Ireland have never been permitted.
And while we’re at it, let’s resurrect the prickly subject of the BBC SSO, Scotland’s national broadcasting orchestra, which will support the concerto finalists in next week’s contest. Since raising concern in January over its future in the event of independence, I’ve heard nothing to appease my fears that any proposed new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation could either justify or support it in the long term.
Currently funded by London-based BBC Radio 3, it supplies around 80 broadcasts a year for Radio 3, and a very small number of broadcasts for BBC Radio Scotland. What possible use would a new SBC have for that amount of symphonic broadcast material?
I’m not convinced by the SNP’s belief that an SBC could negotiate airtime with Radio 3, which is in the process of finding a new controller in the wake of Roger Wright’s recent surprise resignation. This is a volatile time for Radio 3, and all its orchestras must be worried about future cutbacks. As a foreign body, the SSO would be an easy target.
Then there’s the worldwide access and kudos that comes with the BBC affiliation, and which would have an impact on its reach, reputation and quality. You simply wouldn’t attract a Donald Runnicles or Osmo Vänska to direct an orchestra that broadcasted solely within Scotland, and which no longer had automatic residencies at the BBC Proms.
The most frustrating aspect of the SSO issue is that, being part of the public-funded BBC, it cannot comment on the potential situation.
Word is that those at the top of the BBC who can act on this with contingency planning are burying their heads in the sand and assuming all will be well when Scotland votes No. That can’t be good news to the 70-plus players whose livelihood depends on the SSO. And it certainly isn’t good news for the orchestral scene in Scotland, of which the BBC SSO is a world-respected component. Maybe we should watch the Young Musicians’ Final with open eyes.
• The 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year final is at the Usher Hall on 18 May, and broadcast that evening on BBC 4 and BBC Radio 3