Exiting theatre boss Vicky Featherstone ‘suffered at hands of anti-English bullies’

Former National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone. Picture: Robert Perry
Former National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone. Picture: Robert Perry
Have your say

A NEW row has erupted over senior positions in the Scottish arts world going to anyone from south of the Border, after the outgoing director of the National Theatre of Scotland claimed to have been the victim of anti-English bullying during her tenure.

Vicky Featherstone, who is about to leave her post eight years after launching the company, said she had been left “really, really upset” after coming under fire for not programming enough classic Scottish plays.

She admitted to feeling “embattled and defensive” when criticisms became public three years ago, and that she began to question whether she could continue in the role.

Her revelations emerged after she was named by writer Alasdair Gray in a critique of the number of English “colonists” who take influential and powerful positions in Scotland then leave after advancing their careers.

As the row deepened yesterday, the Scottish Government intervened to say ministers “disagreed” with Gray’s sentiments.

However, Ms Featherstone, who is to become the first female artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London, told The Scotsman she found it odd that so many jobs in the Scottish arts scene went to people from England. She said: “Could I have moved to another job in Scotland? Well, in theory. But in practice, I don’t think Scotland has seen much of that kind of sideways movement in top arts jobs.

“In terms of the Scottish scene in general, I think boards are often not very confident about appointing people whose main experience is in Scotland.”

Mr Gray has come under fire for being “anti-English” in his attack, which emerged just two weeks after Creative Scotland’s chief executive Andrew Dixon, who had a long career in arts administration in England, was forced to step down.

Ms Featherstone said of the criticism she faced three years ago: “It really, really upset me, because, as with all kinds of bullying, you don’t have a voice.

“When people are criticising the programme because I am English, that is indefensible.”

There has been fierce debate on social media sites since Mr Gray’s views, in an essay in a new book on Scottish independence, were revealed in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend.

Actor Tam Dean Burn said there was a “perverted, twisted logic” behind Mr Gray’s views.

He said: “It is ridiculous to say that someone cannot know enough about Scottish culture because they are English.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Recruitment policies are a matter for the individual organisations to decide on, based on the best person for the job, wherever they come from.”

SNP MP Pete Wishart added: “Alasdair Gray’s comments appalling. Let’s leave the language of “colonists” and “foreigners” behind.

“Vicky Featherstone has done an amazing job at the National Theatre of Scotland.”

Mark Cousins, former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, who is from Northern Ireland, said: “Alasdair Gray is a great artist but his recent comments have made many of us feel like foreigners here.”

Another playwright Rob Drummond said: “Without Vicky Featherstone I might not be making a living as a writer. Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”

However, the writer and publisher Kevin Williamson said it was “important” to question why a disproportionate number of people in senior positions in the arts were not Scots.

In an article published yesterday, he said: “For decades there’s been an underlying assumption by many in positions of authority influence and commerce that if you’re from here you can’t be any good, and if you’re not from here you’re probably better.”

On his twitter profile, he wrote later: “Time has come for a social audit of institutional Scotland.

“Who are these people? Who do they speak for? What class, demographic, ethos?

Author Irvine Welsh said of Mr Gray’s criticism of Ms Featherstone’s appointment: “There’s obviously a point to be made but the rhetoric deployed and the naming of individuals was just plain wrong.

“It’s also ill-informed. Thanks to Vicky Featherstone I can see Scottish plays like Prudencia Hart and& Black Watch in Chicago.

“Demonizing people by using emotive terms like colonist doesn’t advance his (legitimate) argument.”

Mogwai musician Stuart Braithwaite wrote on twitter that Mr Gray had raised a “good debate.”

He added: “I don’t think discussing how few Scots hold high positions in the arts should be a taboo discussion.”

Meanwhile, in a new intervention Gray said major Scottish theatrical achievements were being “utterly ignored” as English theatre directors working in Scotland did not even know they existed.

He said: “I think somebody administering the arts in Scotland should know quite a lot about the arts in Scotland.

“In France, Germany, Russia and China, a lot of the senior arts administrators happen to be local. Not here.”