Artists, Yes and Fear – A reply to Joyce McMillan

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  By Barry Gordon
 
It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in a busy Leith café.  To pass the time, I pick up a copy of The Scotsman and read an opinion piece by Joyce McMillan where she talks of fear driving the No campaign; that the creative heartbeat of Scotland is ready to chance a Yes. 

It reminded me of a recent meeting I had with a folk musician where we talked about our views on Scottish independence.

  By Barry Gordon
 
It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in a busy Leith café.  To pass the time, I pick up a copy of The Scotsman and read an opinion piece by Joyce McMillan where she talks of fear driving the No campaign; that the creative heartbeat of Scotland is ready to chance a Yes. 

It reminded me of a recent meeting I had with a folk musician where we talked about our views on Scottish independence.

“What about the fear of saying No?”  she said.
 
“I know a lot of people (artists) that want to remain part of the UK, but they’re just too scared to speak out about it in case they lose more work.  I just say I don’t know how I’m going to vote.”

I thought about it and realised she was right; among practicing artists, it had been a long time since I heard anyone express a definite intention to vote No – in public.  Why? Fear.

The No supporters I encounter tell me they fear being ostracised, fear losing work, fear losing out on funding, fear being categorised, fear being bullied, and – if the fanatical element of certain Yes supporters increase – fear of maybe ending up with a sore face one evening should their willingness to remain a part of the Union be expressed in any way after one too many drinks down the pub.  Their words, not mine.

Take Andy Murray for example: after his off-the-cuff comments about supporting any football team that plays against England a few years ago, he currently sits on the fence when it comes to the subject of Scottish independence.  Who could blame him?  As someone who lives in London and who is supported by English tennis fans as well as Scottish, he’s probably never going to come out and publically state his wish to see an independent Scotland – because he, too, is aware of the potential hassle that would, more likely than not, come his way. 

Think about it.

There’s not a single Scotland-based folk musician with the balls to stand up in front of a Scottish audience and literally sing the praises of being part of the United Kingdom, let alone opine that independence may be a bad thing.

They know which side their bread is buttered on: the publicly-funded Traditional Music Forum for instance (a network made up of folk clubs, musicians, promoters, agents, publishers, etc.) are, if their website content is anything to go by, pro-independence, so rocking the Yes boat is something, they tell me, they steer away from.

It doesn’t appear to just affect No voters within the Scottish folk scene, either.

Rock Yes – a celebratory series of concerts to support the Yes vote via Scottish music of all persuasions – fills their bills with Scottish-based flair that actively promote Scottish independence.  Would they provide a platform for talent who are Pro-Scottish but unsure about Scottish independence?

Would a Scotland-based poet who is known to support the Union feel confident that the Scottish Poetry Library – or any other artistic organisation that receives its funds via the Scottish Government – has their professional love and support? Could they really be a hundred percent sure?

Would a known No-voting playwright feel assured in approaching the National Theatre of Scotland (who, unsurprisingly, are producing touring plays centred on Scottish independence) with a piece that lampoons/challenges Scottish politics/independence unless they had been invited to do so first?

On the subject of securing funding for their work, some No voters I know, or have at least talked to, are now trying to figure out how to fit Gaelic (however tenuous) into their application forms, memorising the important buzzwords of Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s most recent speech on the government’s support of artists, and how to be diplomatic should the Indy-Ref topic ever come around in a workshop full of arty, Yes-voting pals.

In any case, it would be unfair to directly or indirectly deter a Scottish resident who works within the Scottish creative sector (arts world, creative industries, call it what you will) by setting an agenda that may exclude their artistic abilities purely on the grounds that it doesn’t fit their view of post-referendum Scottish independence and how that should look.  Art is meant to be challenging, regardless of political persuasion, too, right?

I suspect some who declare their intention to vote Yes (in public) will, within the safe, private confines of the ballot box, vote No.  Maybe they will and maybe they won’t – yet what is certain is that no-one can claim to speak on behalf of all Scottish creatives.

And this is the crux of why I’m writing this; not necessarily as a freelance journalist, but as a Scottish musician.

For while I am in personal agreement with Joyce’s reasons on why it would be in my interests to vote Yes – and I will be voting Yes in case anyone was wondering – it would be amiss to claim the majority of Scotland’s creatives are ready to vote Yes without having spoken to each and every one of them, and then watched them cast their vote, first.

How the future pans out after 2014 – should Scotland become independent, Joyce maintains – is for all of us to determine and build.  I know a lot of people, proud to be Scottish, who detest Westminster and the Tories with a passion, but aren’t entirely clued up yet on the implications of what Scottish independence would mean for them.  It’s not that they don’t intend to vote Yes – they just want some sensible, honest answers to their questions… without fear, of course.

On telling a good friend that I’d planned to write this piece, I was asked if it would “really be worth the hassle?”  I admit that I felt discouraged, but had I turned it down due to that fear, then I’d be allowing myself to be intimidated for shedding light on the genuine feelings of those who happen to go against the seemingly populist Yes vote.

Barry Gordon is the reviewer, previewer and arts news reporter for the Daily Record and Sunday Mail