Scots authors warn of '˜disastrous consequences' over arts cuts

More than 100 of Scotland's best-known writers have joined forces to warn that planned government cuts to arts budgets would have 'major consequences for the future health of the nation'.

Picture: Jayne Wright
Picture: Jayne Wright

In an open letter to the Scottish Government, authors including Janice Galloway, Liz Lochead, Kate Atkinson and Irvine Welsh said that “all the signs” suggest that culture could face what they described as “devastating cuts”.

It is the latest protest against what many believe are likely to be significant cuts to Scotland’s art and literature spend when the Scottish budget is announced on 14 December.

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Last week, Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon called on authors to protest the expected cuts, while playwright Rona Munro, writer of the acclaimed James Plays for the National Theatre of Scotland, created a petition to urge the Scottish Government to protect the budget of Creative Scotland.

In today’s letter, the authors, who also included Sir Tom Devine, writer of The Scottish Nation and musician and poet James Yorkston, pointed to the grants available to struggling writers and training and mentoring schemes which were available early in their careers.

They said: “The Scottish Government is preparing a budget which will have major consequences for the future health of the nation. All the signs suggest that culture in general could face devastating cuts. Supporting literature is not a drain on the country’s resources: books make an enormous contribution to the country, financially and reputationally. Our writers tour the world, talking about Scotland and its culture at book festivals from Guadalajara to Jaipur and from Reykjavik to Auckland.

“Our books are an advertisement for Scotland, attracting tourists to visit the landmarks they’ve read about, and foreign students to come on summer schools here – not to mention the visitors who come especially for our festivals.”

They added: “Of course there are difficult budget decisions to make in times of austerity, but the cost of supporting literature only amounts to a tiny fraction of the overall money the government will spend. When it comes to the arts and literature, for a modest investment from the government our work generates enormous financial and cultural dividends.”

The letter pointed to the great literary works to have come out of Scotland, including the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.

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It said: “Will future generations look back on the early 21st century and lament the absence of the next Muriel Spark, the next Robert Louis Stevenson, the next Edwin Morgan? We can’t be certain. What an irony we could be facing: a country which trumpets its First Minister’s Reading Challenge on the one hand, but which cuts funding to new writers on the other.”

A reduction in available funds from the National Lottery, which has struggled for market share as other rival lotteries have sprung up, has already hit arts funding, Ben Thomson, chairman of Creative Scotland, recently warned.

According to the Society of Authors, Scotland has more than 100 publishing houses, which produce over 3,000 new books a year, employ over 1,600 and generate an annual turnover of £150 million.

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A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We are committed to supporting and protecting Scotland’s culture and historic environment, to ensure our diverse and evolving culture scene and rich heritage continues to thrive.”