Brian Ferguson: The jury is hung over new awards schemes

Basil Fawlty bashing his car. Picture: PA/BBC
Basil Fawlty bashing his car. Picture: PA/BBC
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I WAS doing my best Basil Fawlty impression on Friday – in a kilt. Despite a day away from the chalkface of truth, the labyrinth of logistics involved in trying to get to the west end of Glasgow for VisitScotland’s Thistle Awards seemed to involve a lot of haring around at both ends of the M8.

Missed trains, missing shoes and a demented dash down Buchanan Street – a seeting mass of bodies at tea-time on a Friday, even before the festive season properly swings into gear didn’t offer the relaxed run-up I’d envisaged.

After a week of mounting controversy about a certain other ceremony, there was an inevitability about Creative Scotland boss Andrew Dixon being the first person I ran into at the opening reception.

I didn’t take the chance to ask, but had been wondering for days whether Creative Scotland regretted ever agreeing to instigate an awards event to mark the end of the government-backed year of cultural celebrations which share the agency’s name.

Creative Scotland could well have done without being engulfed in another wave of controversy as it grapples with an artists’ rebellion that shows no sign of loosening its grip on those at the top of the quango’s tree.

To many observers, the last thing Creative Scotland should have been doing this year was setting up its own awards ceremony, particularly when some of the oddly-described categories emerged, along with the “black tie” nature of the event and the £100 price tag, despite a hefty public subsidy.

For it then to emerge that the shortlist of winning candidates had been drawn up entirely by men – after the withdrawal of three female panelists “at a late stage” – was a gift to the many critics waiting to put another boot into Creative Scotland.

Even if you take out of the equation the fact - as many have pointed out - that the Creative Scotland Awards seem to be about celebrating “Scottishness”, the key question is probably whether there was a need for this event in the first place.

I have to confess to a sense of confusion and bewilderment at the number of awards ceremonies that are now peppered throughout the diary. VisitScotland itself brought back its own Thistle Awards scheme in a revamped format this year, which saw four major regional events staged before the final shindig in Glasgow on Friday. “You’re all winners,” declared VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay. It was hard to disagree.

Paul Brannigan, the star of The Angels’ Share, a winner at the Cannes Film Festival, is a contender for a Scottish Bafta this weekend, but is also in the running for a Creative Scotland award, where he’ll be competing against the Glasgow Film Festival.

Despite being staged on a remote island, the tiny Tiree Music Festival has already landed one honour at the Scottish Event Awards and is also shortlisted for the Scots Trad Awards next month. It also mounted a big campaign, ultimately unsuccessful, to make the shortlist for the UK Festival Awards. The Enchanted Forest in Perthshire, shortlisted for a Thistle Award on Friday, after winning two Scottish Event Awards on last year, is now up for a Creative Scotland Award too.

If you are running a hotel, restaurant or bar, the opportunities seem positively endless. It would probably need the whole of this column to list the number of schemes that now exist.

How on earth does anyone find the time to run an event or business while this never-ending process of submitting applications and rallying of your supporters goes on?

If there are more and more awards, is the impact of the long-established ones not simply diluted by the pesky newcomers?

Yet at a time when the tourism industry is struggling, festivals are struggling to sell out and punters are choosing carefully where to divert their spending, surely any kind of marketing initiative is a welcome one? Is there also any harm in having a bit of competitive edge between events, visitor attractions and business owners?

Simon Thoumire, the organisers of the Scots Trad Music Awards, is now having to grapple with the prospect of a live television broadcast of the event on BBC Alba – an unthinkable prospect when the event was launched a decade ago.

There was a gaping hole in the calendar when the Scottish Baftas were rested a few years ago, likewise with the Thistle Awards last year.

The raising of profiles, the feelgood factor generated, the PR opportunities and the chance for networking mean most awards schemes are probably worth having. Even Creative Scotland’s.