Brian Ferguson: Ramifications for creative sector not apparent yet

A Night For Scotland featured Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit among others. Picture: JP
A Night For Scotland featured Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit among others. Picture: JP
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ALEX Salmond was surrounded by a sea of happy, smiling faces as he posed for pictures on the steps of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. But it was not a gathering of SNP supporters with the First Minister just over a week ago, but some of the nation’s leading musicians, including members of Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit. It was all so different two years ago. Back then, just days before the historic Edinburgh Agreement signed by Mr Salmond and David Cameron, Scotland’s artists appeared to be on the brink of rebellion.

The SNP’s Year of Creative Scotland, a heavily-subsidised celebration of national culture, was plunged into chaos when 100 of the country’s leading artists published an open letter condemning the running of arts agency Creative Scotland. By the end of the year, its chief executive, Andrew Dixon, had gone.

Since then, of course, a host of Scotland’s artists have gone on to play a major part in the pro-independence movement, culminating in that sell-out concert last Sunday.

But to many observers, the debate among artists seemed hopelessly one-sided, with only a handful supporting the Union prepared to speak out publicly. A common theme among critics, including composer James Macmillan and author Ewan Morrison, was that artists had become almost cult-like in their support of independence.

With culture already devolved, there was little focus on the potential impact of independence on the country’s artistic scene, with many artists simply focused on the wider picture. The fate of BBC Scotland was one of the few genuine talking points. Now, a key question is what the impact of the No vote on the cultural sector will be in the years to come.

I suspect many artists will simply return to creative work and trying to make a living. The campaign is likely to have been a major distraction and an energy-sapping experience. Others will realise they have divided their audience by speaking out.

National Collective announced at the weekend that its campaign work will continue in some form. It has even pledged to “seek to secure a date for a new referendum” if further devolution fails to transpire. I would be surprised if its influence is not felt for years to come.

It is perfectly possible that the referendum campaign will lead to the creation of a major new body of politically-motivated work from emerging artists over the next decade.

But there are also those who fear the No vote will inflict long-lasting damage on the nation’s cultural confidence. And then there is the question of whether there is an age of austerity looming for the arts in Scotland.

I suspect it could another couple of years before the picture becomes clear.