Fiona Hyslop hits out over art being used for ‘propaganda’

Hyslop's comments came just days after writer Kirsty Gunn criticised Creative Scotland's 'controlling agenda'. Picture: John Devlin
Hyslop's comments came just days after writer Kirsty Gunn criticised Creative Scotland's 'controlling agenda'. Picture: John Devlin
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SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has insisted the arts should not be used for “propaganda” - days after a leading author accused Creative Scotland of setting a “controlling” agenda.

Fiona Hyslop, who has overall responsibility for the direction of the Scottish Government agency, has insisted there is no place for “aggressive” or “arrogant” promotion of the arts for political reasons.

And she said it was vital that the cultural sector retained its “integrity,” adding that artists and their work should not be used in any “artificial” way, but added that there was an apparent culture of fear about showcasing home-grown culture in Scotland.

Kirsty Gunn, an award-winning novelist and professor of writing at Dundee University, claimed that Scottish literature “has never been in such peril” due to “unofficial politicising” by the quango.

She said Scotland’s artists to be alert to “the tap tap tap of the bureaucrats’ computer keys telling us what to write and how.”

Officials at Creative Scotland later insisted the body would “never seek to influence what artists create.”

Speaking at a cultural hustings in Glasgow, Ms Hyslop attempted to turn the issue on its head by accusing the UK Government of using culture in a “blunt and aggressive way”.

She said Ms Gunn’s views - which were published in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend - appeared to be “a rehash of a unionist’s argument.”

Ms Hyslop added: “Should we be using our heritage and arts? Yes, of course. We do that with events like the Edinburgh festivals and Celtic Connections. But we’ve got to do that in a very sensitive way and not in an aggressive way.

“It has occurred to me that if Creative Scotland is saying that the Scottish people have a right to understand their own culture then that is not an unusual thing.

“If it was said about France and the French, or Denmark and the Danish, no-one would blink an eye. Why is it in Scotland that we are so frightened of our own productions?

“We need to look at our home-grown talent and realise that potential in so many uses. We shouldn’t be frightened of that by any new means. Let’s make sure we’re ambitious and visionary in terms of what we can do on the world stage.

“I’m not going to be an arrogant country. Our internationalism is about solidarity of support. It’s not about propaganda. I want to make sure we do that in a way that has integrity.

“That’s something very valuable that we have in the arts and cultural sector in Scotland. It’s something that is very precious. We shouldn’t use that integrity in any artificial way.”

Baroness Goldie, who was representing the Scottish Conservatives at the hustings event, said promotion of Scottish culture around the world was “healthy” and had “unlimited potential.”

But she added: “There is a very clear distinction between the government doing that and getting mixed up on some propaganda mission, which is deeply repugnant.

“If there is any evidence or suspicion that a government agency is imposing or seeking to tailor a provision in a certain way that is more about supporting a particular view I would regard that as regard that as completely unacceptable.”

Jean Urquhart, founder of The Ceilidh Place hotel and arts venue, who is standing for RISE in the Holyrood election, said: “The artist is there to challenge government and the establishment of whatever state we live in. Theatre is there to make us think.

“There should always be a real kind discomfort between government and the arts.

“If it is all too cosy it becomes some kind of wrapped-up tourist product. We really need to avoid that. Here’s to anarchy in the artist movement.”

Labour candidate Claire Baker: “There are issues that all governments need to guard against. It shouldn’t be about what artists can do for the government, it should be about what the government can do to help and support artists.”

Zara Kitson, who is standing for the Greens, said: “If we are choosing to celebrate our diverse identifies and our culture in Scotland, and put that on a world stage, then it has to be done in collaboration.

“We have to make sure that it is all of Scotland’s identifies and voices that are being represented and not a kind of government-packaged one.”