Scottish independence: Alasdair Gray slams BBC

Alasdair Gray hit out at the BBC in the debate. Picture: Greg Macvean
Alasdair Gray hit out at the BBC in the debate. Picture: Greg Macvean
Share this article
Have your say

ONE of Scotland’s leading artists has told a major debate on the independence referendum about his fears of deep-rooted bias within the BBC.

Alasdair Gray, the veteran author, painter and playwright, said the BBC was not interested in balanced debates and was more likely to set up a grilling for an interviewee with “radical ideas.”

The Glasgow-born artist, who is to be honoured with a major exhibition in the city to mark his 80th birthday next year, said the BBC no longer offered an “impartial” service and its opposition to Scottish independence could be traced back to the 1930s.

Gray, a leading artistic voice in favour of independence, was speaking at the first of a series of independence debates being run by the social networking firm Kiltr, with the first focused on the arts and creative industries.

Gray said: “A couple of friends of mine say, and I agree with them, that if you want to get a more honest view of world events one had better listen to Irish radio because the BBC’s broadcasts no longer give impartial views.

“The usual level of debate is to set up someone with whom the BBC doesn’t agree and have them solidly grilled for their radical ideas.

“It was made plain in the 1930s that they got rid of one head of BBC Scotland because it was felt they allowed too much voice to the Scottish independence party.”

The debate heard differing views on whether there was a major of artists in Scotland in favour of independence.

Although the “Yes” campaign has its own vocal artistic movement, National Collective, very few artistic figures have gone public with views against independence, thus far.

Stuart Braithwaite, founder member of the rock band Mogwai, and a leading figure in the artistic movement for independence, said: “I think there are a lot more people in the arts who are pro-independence.

“I’ve a theory as to why that is. When you make art you are willing to go into the unknown. Independence is going to be a leap of faith.

“The unknown frightens people. Scottish people are quite cautious, but not in the arts. You are willing to take a leap of faith, to imagine a better Scotland and a better future, take a blank canvas and imagine something wonderful on it, rather than a problem.”

Mark Hogarth, creative director at Harris Tweed Hebrides, said it would be “stupid” for anyone to try to politicise the artistic movement in Scotland and raised concerns about growing state intervention in the cultural sector in the event of an independence vote.

He told the event at the CCA arts centre: “I work in branding. There’s nothing that strikes a greater chord than something that is new and nostalgic. “Independence is both of those things. Of course it’s going to strike a chord. It’s easier to get behind than the status quo.

“But there are artists and other individuals out there who have maybe not come to a conclusion yet. Perhaps the fact they have not been quite as voluminous as the independence campaign is no representation of how the artistic community actually lies.

“Most things in culture happen outside of politics. Bringing up a border at Carlisle is not going to help us to become more creative and it’s going to help us become more productive in the arts and wider creative fields.

“My biggest fear is that in an independent scale there would be an inevitability of the state becoming far too close to the artistic community.”

However Braithwaite said he did not think the outcome of the referendum debate “would matter a jot” to the arts in Scotland and the work that was produced by artists.

He also bemoaned the “phoney war” of way the debate had been conducted in Scotland so far, “where the no campaign says the sky is going to fall in and on the other side the yes campaign imply that the streets are suddenly going to be paved with gold.”

Gray, who sparked controversy with his “settlers and colonists” essay last year, launched another attack against the appointment of “Englishmen” to key positions in the arts, including the head of Creative Scotland, without having enough knowledge of Scottish culture.

He said: “Why do Scots - because after all the people that chose them are Scots - choose people who say they are ignorant of the subject?”

Hogarth said there was a “distinct anti-English feeling” about the open letter signed by 100 artists protesting against the running of Creative Scotland last year. Chief executive Andrew Dixon was forced to quit two months later.

Hogarth told the event: “There are Scots around the world leading institutions, artistic and otherwise. They don’t get that same treatment.

“There were six Scottish football managers in the English premiership three years ago. I didn’t see 100 other managers saying ‘get rid of these Scots, they shouldn’t be there. It should about the best qualified individuals filling these positions, regardless of where they are from.”

However former Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, who was arguing for the status quo at the event, said: “Creative Scotland has lacked leadership and the Scottish Government should have been more hands on. It was sad to see the arguments that there have been.

“But all credit to the 100 artists who came out and vocalised their worries about Creative Scotland. But for that we would still be stuck in a rut.”

And Braithwaite added: “I didn’t sign the (Creative Scotland) letter, I wasn’t invited to, but from my understanding of it the objections were to do with some pretty baffling policies and nothing to do with the birthplace of Andrew Dixon.”


Matt Qvortrup: Alex Salmond reveals true heart

Peter Jones: Preparing for the unexpected

Leaders: Grangemouth problem requires co-operation

• The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit