The incestuous world of the people who run Scottish culture


by Kenneth Roy

Suppose, for the sake of a little weekend amusement, that the first minister accepted the following invitation, dated 4 February last year, from the person who was then editor of the Sun newspaper in Scotland and is now general manager of Murdoch’s operation north of the border:

Dear Alex

I would be delighted if you and Moira could join me for Scottish Opera’s La Boheme on Thursday 25 February 2010, at the Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 3QA

In the correspondence recently released of contact between Mr Salmond and News International, there is no record of whether the first minister did go to the opera. But let’s imagine he did. It would have been a long evening: drinks and canapes at 6, the performance itself at 7.15, a 20-minute interval with further refreshments, and a drinks reception at 9.40 once Mimi had breathed her last. At 10.30, after four and a half hours at G2 3QA, the first minister and his wife would have been released back into the community.

It is interesting to speculate the nature of the company he would have kept that night. The editor of the Scottish Sun, David Dinsmore, host for the evening, would have been accompanied by other opera enthusiasts from that newspaper; and perhaps, too, by such well-connected folk as John McCormick, former controller of BBC Scotland, who is not only vice-chair of Scottish Opera but chair of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, chair of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, a governor of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and a board member of Glasgow School of Art. If I have left anything out, my apologies.

In Mr McCormick we have living proof – if further proof were needed – that Scotland is indeed a small country with such a severely limited talent pool that people like John McCormick must work round the clock, going from meeting to meeting in the service of the nation, his bulging diary a constant companion.

The chairman of Scottish Opera would have been present also, no doubt, greeting Mr and Mrs Salmond at the door with a consoling canape. And who might that have been? Why, none other than Colin McClatchie, former managing director of News International in Scotland, who was once described in a newspaper profile as ‘a boisterous Ulsterman whose child is the Scottish Sun’. He is listed on the Scottish Opera website as chairman of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, a member of the board of Scottish Enterprise (that entry appears to be out of date), and chairman of the Scottish Society of Epicureans. If there is anyone in Scotland who is qualified to judge a Scottish Opera canape when he sees one, it is surely that renowned epicurean, the boisterous Ulsterman, daddy of the Scottish Sun.

I fear that men are no longer weeping; they are pouring lachrymose buckets. Could the National Theatre of Scotland not have discovered its own neglected Scottish masterpiece? There are a few around.

On another occasion, it was the first minister himself who did the inviting. He tried to persuade his friend Rupert (occasionally known at St Andrew’s House as ‘Sir Rupert’, aka God) to attend a performance of a play called ‘The Black Watch’ by the National Theatre of Scotland. It is not recorded in the file of correspondence whether Sir Rupert managed along.

Next month, the same company will be reviving a play by Ena Lamont Stewart. I confess I am surprised. ‘Men Should Weep’ was last produced less than a year ago by the (UK) National Theatre; and now, somewhat feebly, the (Scottish) National Theatre turns up as a tail-end Charlie. I ought to declare an interest here: I championed Ena Lamont Stewart’s work when everyone else in Scotland was ignoring her; I contributed the programme essay for the (UK) National Theatre production; I was a friend of the writer for years; we were close. But I fear that men are no longer weeping; they are pouring lachrymose buckets. Could the National Theatre of Scotland not have discovered its own neglected Scottish masterpiece? There are a few around.

Better still, could the National Theatre of Scotland not have launched its new season with a sharply contemporary piece? There is surely material – a drama documentary, perhaps – in the death of such working-class towns as Kilmarnock, where I write this; a few hundred yards from here, the Johnnie Walker plant is bottling its last after 150 years. If the National Theatre of Scotland requires some expert advice on the creative potential of this idea, it need look no further than its own vice-chairman, Allan Burns, formerly executive director for Scotland of Diageo, the company which owns Johnnie Walker. The same Mr Burns was chairman of the Homecoming Project 2009, another story rich in theatrical possibilities.

If the company fancied doing something bold about the recent lowering history of Scottish banking, it could turn to another of its board members, Peter Cabrelli, who was a senior director at HBOS – once more nobly known as the Bank of Scotland – at the time of the merger with Halifax. The same Mr Cabrelli could also advise on any satirical entertainment based on the pretentions of Creative Scotland, the funding agency on whose board he sits when he is not attending committee meetings at the National Theatre of Scotland.

If all else failed, it would not be difficult to cobble together a hilarious couple of hours on Scotland’s incestuous network of cultural movers ‘n shakers. It should not surprise regular readers of the Scotttish Review to learn that yet another member of the National Theatre of Scotland board is the one and only Dame Joan Stringer, who has done time on every board that matters apart from the high-dive.

The cultural commentator Joyce McMillan, visiting professor of drama at the institution of which Dame Joan was once principal, implied recently that the sort of media/business cosying-up we have been witnessing in London is not an issue in Scotland. Perhaps Professor McMillan could convert this novel point of view into a one-woman show at the Edinburgh International Festival.


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish review.