SCOTLAND’S Makar Liz Lochhead was facing calls for her resignation last night after she announced she had become a paid up member of the Scottish National Party.
Lochhead, who took up the post of Scotland’s national poet three years ago, after the death of Edwin Morgan, said she had been “inspired” by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and wanted to “challenge” the status quo of the Union.
But senior cultural figures claimed yesterday the Makar should step down. Her membership was declared in an official SNP announcement yesterday.
The poet was selected as Makar by a cross-party panel made up of then-first minister Alex Salmond and former Labour first ministers Lord Jack McConnell and Henry McLeish from a shortlist compiled by representatives of Scottish literary organisations.
She receives a £10,000 annual stipend of public money from Creative Scotland.
Composer James MacMillan voiced his opposition on Twitter. “The more I think of this, the more serious it appears,” he said. “The ethical step would be for Liz Lochhead to relinquish the post.”
He added: “There may be a problem. Creative Scotland regard this post as non-political and she was appointed by a cross-party group of the first minister and former first ministers. There is public money involved.
“On the other hand, artists should be free to express their views, even political ones. There should be a debate about this, and perhaps some sort of investigation since the stakes are higher than many have previously thought. It could be argued that our national culture is devalued when it becomes the creature of a partisan section of society. Is she now simply the Makar of “the 45”? That would be a shame.
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Author Catherine Moorehead added: “If the Makar is for all Scots, and you’re committed to one section, does your role not become untenable?”
Lochhead, who spoke at the second annual SNP Women’s Conference in Ayr yesterday, where she held up her SNP membership card to cheers from the crowd, said she had been a long-term SNP voter.
“I’ve been inspired by Nicola Sturgeon talking about a new style of leadership and a new inclusive type of politics. I think she has a very real chance of achieving that,”
She had made her Nationalist views public, after she added her voice during the referendum campaign to the National Collective – a group of artists and cultural figures in support of independence.
The First Minister said: “I am delighted that Scotland’s Makar Liz Lochhead has joined the SNP. During the referendum campaign, Liz was an inspiration to many across the movement and I have no doubt she will have helped bring many undecided voters over to Yes.”
It is not the first time that Lochhead has come under fire for voicing her political opinions. During the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, she joined a group of 50 artists to call for a boycott of a play called The City which had funding from the Israeli government – sparking claims a cultural figure should not become involved in politics.
Scottish Conservative culture spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Liz Lochhead is an esteemed poet and playwright and she is absolutely entitled to join any political party she likes. But as Makar, and someone in receipt of Creative Scotland funding, she has a duty to reflect all of Scotland.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party said: “People are, of course, free to join any which political party they choose. The role of Makar, however, doesn’t belong to any one person or any one political party.”
A Creative Scotland spokesman said: “Creative Scotland does not seek to influence the political views held by the individuals and organisations we fund in any way, nor do personal political views influence our funding decisions.”
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