THE awarding of £150,000 in state aid to the promoters of a highly successful music festival was only ever going to provoke controversy.
Granting the award to T In The Park, to assist with the relocation from the festival’s long-term home at Balado to Strathallan, wasn’t the only mistake the Scottish Government made. The other error was to try to keep this agreement quiet, with the details only coming to light when reference was made on the state aid section of the Scottish Government’s website, two weeks after the festival had taken place.
It wasn’t long before it emerged that the deal happened after Jennifer Dempsie, a former special adviser to Alex Salmond when he was First Minister, brokered a meeting between culture secretary Fiona Hyslop and Geoff Ellis of festival promoters DF Concerts. Further details emerged of meetings between Mr Ellis and three other Scottish Government ministers, although two were wearing their constituency MSP hats at the time.
Ms Dempsie, who was working as a project manager for DF Concerts when meetings were arranged, has now announced she will no longer be seeking nomination as an SNP list MSP. Although she says she has other interests to pursue, it is clear that the issue over T In The Park funding has ended her immediate political ambitions. She can have little cause for complaint, because she should have known her role in this deal would compromise her credibility.
The lack of transparency on this award is only part of the problem. Making a significant award to a festival run by a company which made pre-tax profits of £4.5 million also raises questions which have not been answered. “Why?” for instance.
As we report elsewhere today, funding cuts are hitting arts organisations hard. Creative Scotland is under attack from National Mod organisers An Comunn Gàid-healach, and the Traditional Music and Song Association, after both had funding applications turned down, the latter having only sought £5,000. The reality is that Creative Scotland has more applications than the quango can honour. It must be galling for those who have requests rejected to see a highly commercial concern such as T In The Park enjoy direct access to ministers and pick up substantial funding from central government.
As with all unsatisfactory situations, the matter refuses to go away. The culture secretary has now been called to appear before MSPs to explain her decision to award funding, and it is right that she is called to account. It is unlikely that the grilling will extend beyond simply being an uncomfortable experience, but she should get the message. The T In The Park deal, without proper explanation or justification, was not acceptable, and this sort of below-the-radar arrangement must not be attempted again.
Corbyn sings to his own tune
LABOUR’S newly-crowned chief swept to power with a landslide victory, won largely by a long-standing reputation for authenticity and integrity.
So it might seem surprising that Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire on one of his first public outings as opposition leader.
Dressed in a mismatched jacket and trousers and with the top button of his shirt undone, the pacifist joined fellow politicians, air force officers, veterans and their families at St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
But onlookers were quick to spot that although the 66-year-old stood for the national anthem, he didn’t sing, and instead was solemn and silent.
His actions and appearance sparked accusations of disrespect, with some critics suggesting it was his civic duty to take a full part in proceedings on a state occasion.
The row came hours after a dispute with his own MPs over whether he will don a red poppy on Remembrance Sunday. It all brings to mind a similar incident surrounding a predecessor, Michael Foot, who famously turned up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day sporting a donkey jacket.
But what do we expect from Corbyn? If the self-described “democratic socialist” had taken a deep breath and belted out God Save the Queen there would have been deafening shouts of “hypocrite”. After all, he has previously called for the monarchy to be abolished.
After less than a week in the job, this will not be the last anti-establishment act we see. Corbyn has proved he is his own man, and will always sing to his own tune.