New contest proposed to crown Scottish culture towns

It is an honour that has already transformed Wigtown into a haven for literary lovers.
Wigtown has been Scotland's book town since 1998.Wigtown has been Scotland's book town since 1998.
Wigtown has been Scotland's book town since 1998.

Now Scotland could soon become home to a network of new cultural destinations.

Plans are being drawn up for an open competition aimed at creating a series of National Towns of Culture across the country.

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The initiative, proposed in the SNP’s Holyrood manifesto, is aimed at building on the success of Wigtown’s status as a National Book Town.

The designation, secured in 1998 after the town had suffered the loss of a distillery and a creamery, inspired the creation of the Wigtown Book Festival, which now attracts upwards of 220,000 visitors to the town and is worth more than £3 million for the local economy.

Around half a million books are believed to be stocked on the shelves of more than a dozen bookshops in Wigtown.

West Kilbride in Ayrshire is also officially known as Scotland’s Craft Town, while Dumfries recently became home to a new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling.

Other possible culture towns include Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, which has attracted artists from all over the world for residents thanks to the Deveron Projects initiative, which was set up in 1995.

Adrian Turpin is artistic director of the Wigtown Book Festival. Picture: Colin HattersleyAdrian Turpin is artistic director of the Wigtown Book Festival. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Adrian Turpin is artistic director of the Wigtown Book Festival. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Musical towns could include Ullapool, which hosted the Loopallu festival until recently, Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, Auchtermuchty, the Fife town which was home to Jimmy Shand and The Proclaimers.

Adrian Turpin, artistic director of the Wigtown Book Festival, said: “Without the book town title Wigtown wouldn’t have the book festival and we wouldn’t have a festival to bring people into Wigtown, but also to project out.

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"We’re not just promoting books and the festival but all the other great things happening around us.

“It’s about looking out and telling the world that you’re there but also about helping people identify their place and see what is special about this. In a world that is becoming more homogeneous I think the more things that we can do to show us that there’s something special about our own individual communities the better.

Scots Trad Music Awards Simon Thoumire said: “I don’t think you could have just one traditional music town in Scotland, but I could see it moving around and towns bidding for it every couple of years.

"Places like Lerwick, Dingwall, Inverness and Kirriemuir have done so much for traditional music over the years and it would be good to put the spotlight on them.”

Music tourism expert Olaf Furniss said: "The effectiveness of these designations is really dependent on how well they’re resourced and what already exists, such as venues, museums, statues, festivals and – most importantly - the individual residents who serve as the cultural dynamos.

"Ullapool immediately springs to mind but the success of Susan Boyle, Lewis Capaldi and now The Snuts, has given rise to a new West Lothian question - is there something in the water spawning all these stars?"

SNP candidate Joan McAlpine, who was chair of Holyrood’s culture committee in the last parliamentary term, said: “Creative activity can transform how communities see themselves and are perceived by the world, as well as aid economic regeneration.

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"I’ve argued for a long time that cultural spend shouldn’t be in a silo because it can positively impact on health, wellbeing, education and the environment.”

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