Angry backlash as the opera-going public joins the chorus of dismay

‘My cabbie was horrified that Welsh Opera and Opera North were better funded’

THE taxi driver ferrying me to the opera on Tuesday night was tuned in to a football phone-in on his radio but switched it off as we drew up outside the Festival Theatre. Scottish Opera’s chorus, about to be made redundant, was mounting a stirring vocal protest, and a small crowd had gathered to listen.

My cabbie said he had been horrified to learn that both Welsh Opera and Opera North were better funded than our own. When I went to sign the chorus’s petition he said he would sign it, too.

Inside the auditorium I bumped into a man who had paid 6.50 for his seat in the stalls, and several politicians (Murdo Fraser, Mike Watson, Alasdair Morgan, Richard Baker) who had paid nothing.

Later that night, in a restaurant near the theatre, a waitress spotted our La Bohme programme and asked if we had enjoyed the performance. She wanted to go and see it herself.

Regular opera-goers will not be surprised by the support Scottish Opera has received from the public, because regular opera-goers have always been aware of the widespread appeal of opera.

It is only those who don’t care for the art form, or have failed to grasp the affection in which a proud national institution is held, who may be a little stunned. I’m thinking of people like the current arts minister (Frank McAveety), the current cultural commissioner (James Boyle), and the current culture ‘tsar’ (David Pirnie).

None of these here-today, gone-tomorrow administrators can have been prepared for the backlash over the Executive’s botched arts policy, or they wouldn’t have administered it in the first place.

Now we have discovered that Boyle, while chairman of the Arts Council, actually wanted to kill off Scottish Opera altogether! How’s that for inspiring confidence in the rest of the arts community?

Naturally, Boyle is slightly embarrassed about being found out and has muttered meaningless waffle (did he recommend that the opera be shut down? "A yes-no answer isn’t there") to deflect attention from his leading role in the destruction of Scotland’s premier arts company.

As he desperately tries to salvage his discredited cultural commission, which hasn’t even held its first meeting but already lost its only bona fide artist member - along with all its integrity, he must wish he was back at Radio Four (scene of a former Boyle-ish demolition job). The resistance to his "novel way forward" there, though muscular, was nothing compared to what he is going to encounter from Scotland’s arts community.

THE "massive" 62 per cent rise in speeding fines in Scotland has led to howls of outrage from motoring organisations, which claim drivers are being penalised for ... driving too fast.

Talk about defending the indefensible. So what if speed cameras netted 11 million in fines from Scottish drivers last year? So what if the boy and girl racers fear that their law-breaking is generating extra money for the Treasury?

Do people who ignore the speed limit believe they should not be fined at all?

Far from motorists in Scotland "being abused", as the Association of British Drivers would have it, they are merely being prevented from "abusing" the innocent victims of their reckless driving.

Statistics show that the number of deaths and injuries at speed-camera sites had dropped by 40 per cent over the past three years, with 870 fewer people a year being killed or seriously injured.

Is this not an overwhelming argument in favour of installing more cameras? In particular, the figures add weight to the case for introducing speed cameras in busy residential streets, where many accidents involving children occur.

As the police are clearly unable to patrol our roads adequately, why shouldn’t cameras be used? In Scotland, they trap 500 motorists a day. Well done, cameras!

ON SUNDAY I saw a huge French flag flapping at the window of a house across the road. "Ooh," I said to my husband, "we have French neighbours."

He gave me a withering look which I quickly interpreted as "it’s the football, stupid". And, sure enough, it was. All over Scotland, the proportion of French inhabitants had not suddenly swelled overnight. Scots were merely exercising their right to fly the flag of whichever country happened to be playing against England in the European Championships. And on Sunday that was France.

During a football phone-in (very easy listening even if you don’t like football), a man was asked why he wanted England to lose. "I don’t want them to lose," he said, "I just don’t want them to win."

And I don’t either, despite England being one of my home sides. Treacherously, I long for them to be knocked out as soon as possible so I don’t have to suffer the drearily predictable whipping up of anti-Anglo sentiment here.

It’s only football (and therefore exempt from everything?), the football fans insist. Try telling that to the bottle-throwing thugs in the Algarve.

What is it tonight, Switzerland? Have you ever noticed what a lot of Swiss there are in Scotland at this time of year?

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