Brian Ferguson: Will Brexit pull the rug from under Dundee’s city of culture ambitions?

The Scots Trad Music Awards brought festivities to Dundee

The Scots Trad Music Awards brought festivities to Dundee

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The clock was ticking towards 1am in Dundee’s Caird Hall when the ceilidh band struck up Auld Lang Syne.

Eight hours after the official start of proceedings to mark the Scots Trad Music Awards there was little sign of the festivities ending. The fun and games were only just about to begin for the many hotels putting up the hundreds of musicians, their extended entourages and other guests who flocked to the event for the second year in a row. Dundee has embraced the chance to twice host the event, and it was notable how many local politicians and cultural figures from the city turned out in their gladrags.

Time ran out during BBC Alba’s broadcast for awards organiser Simon Thoumire’s speech, but one of the biggest cheers during his belated address was an announcement that the event is bound for Paisley next year. There was something symbolic about the handover to the Renfrewshire town, which hopes the event will bolster its bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. It has already secured the Scottish Album of the Year Awards for the second year in a row in 2017, when the British Pipe Band Championships will also return, and wants to bring the Royal National Mod back in 2021 after its debut in 2013.

Although rivals Perth have secured the backing of near-neighbours Dundee for their own 2021 bid, Paisley will no doubt also be learning lessons from the Tayside city’s failed bid to win the title next year. I’m sure many of those involved in the Dundee bid, which was pipped at the post in 2013, will look on enviously as a £32 million events programme unfolds in Hull, the eventual winner, in 2017 and perhaps wonder what more could have been done to land the title. However Dundee also has its sights set on a much bigger prize - a bid to be named a “European Capital of Culture” in 2023. That tantalising prospect has been the target of the ambitious local authority since the announcement of Hull’s triumph.

Its £1 billion waterfront revamp, and the V&A museum due to open there in 2018, will be at the heart of its efforts, but they have been left dangling frustratingly in limbo.

The result of the Brexit referendum was certainly not what Dundee was looking for. Concern is still mounting about the UK’s commitment to hosting the title, with the Government yet to fire the starting gun on the bidding process, and apparent cabinet division on whether it should be a priority in the face of the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

Now Dundee has found itself embroiled in a political spat on the issue, with the Scottish Government warning the bid team faces having the rug pulled from them if ministers “renege” on an agreement to run a competition. But there was a bit of a hollow ring to Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s intervention.

I cannot recall the Scottish Government saying much previously in support of Dundee’s 2023 bid, which has been in the offing for four years.

For a long time it was decidedly lukewarm about Dundee’s bid for the 2017 title. Only in the final few weeks of the nail-biting process did Ms Hylsop and then First Minister Alex Salmond offer heavyweight backing.

The fact that they were in the throes of a campaign to remove Scotland from the UK before 2017 obviously might have had something to do with it.

As ministers continue to talk up the prospects of a second independence referendum, it would also be useful to know how many of them fully supports the efforts of Paisley and Perth to host the UK’s biggest celebration of culture.

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