ONE of Scotland’s leading artists has condemned the writer Alasdair Gray for his controversial criticism of English candidates securing prime jobs in the Scottish arts scene.
John Byrne, the veteran playwright and painter, insisted such posts should simply go to the best candidate for the job and said he was disappointed by Gray’s comments.
Byrne praised the contribution of Vicky Featherstone, the outgoing artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, saying she had proved herself in the job during the eight-year tenure, which ended in controversy after she admitted suffering from anti-English bullying.
Gray, who has insisted he is not anti-English, sparked a furore at the weekend with an essay for a book on Scottish independence, describing English people living and working in Scotland as “settlers” or “colonists”. He also asked why so few Scots were given senior arts administration jobs in Scotland.
Another independence supporter, writer Kevin Williamson – who famously published Irvine Welsh’s first novel, Train-spotting – has demanded a “social audit” of senior administrators and mounted a staunch defence of Gray.
However, Byrne, 72, best known for The Slab Boys trilogy of plays and the TV series Tutti Frutti, said it was inevitable that people from England would get senior jobs in the arts in Scotland because of its larger population. He said it was healthy to have Scottish and English arts administrators crossing the Border to work in the other country.
And he gave the example of Sir Michael Boyd, who was born in Northern Ireland, attended school and university in Edinburgh and went on to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in London after making his name in theatre in Scotland.
Byrne spoke out as one of Scotland’s pre-eminent historians, Tom Devine, criticised Gray’s comments, branding them “disgraceful”.
He added: “We have got to remember that the current Scottish population is so vibrant because of the English factor.”
Byrne was one of the most outspoken critics of Creative Scotland during its lengthy crisis, which came to a head after its English chief executive was forced to resign this month.
Byrne told The Scotsman: “Alasdair Gray is obviously entitled to his opinion. But I do believe that we have to give these jobs to the best candidates that are available.
“Vicky Featherstone was the best person for the job and she has done a great job.
“People go down to England to work, and people come up here from England, it’s always been like that. Look at someone like Sir Michael Boyd and what he did in Scotland before he went to the RSC.”
Meanwhile, in a new posting on the blog site Bella Caledonia, Mr Williamson – who has come under fire for his comments from Labour and Lib Dem MSPs – insisted it had been “firmly established that Alasdair Gray doesn’t have an anti-English bone in his body”.
However, on the same website, writer and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, a regular columnist with The Scotsman, said: “Alasdair’s not daft – he would have known that ‘naming names’ prompts a defensive response.
“And the terms employed in the book chapter are indeed loaded. Settler has the ugly connection of ‘white settler’ – colonist has the unattractive overtone of colonialism.”
Arts producer Roanne Dods said: “Having taken years to feel OK to say, feel and act ‘I am Scottish’ in Scotland, I no longer feel as secure.”