The Year of Conning Scotland has officially begun – The Patriotic Week: Part I


By Kenneth Roy

There is a possibility that I have unwittingly become a tiny part of something called the Year of Creative Scotland 2012. I was unaware of the year in question until yesterday when one of its first manifestations – an opinion poll – was published.

A thousand Scots were asked to name their favourite poem for Burns Night. It is scarcely necessary to add that this unnecessary extravagance, and the idea of the Year of Creative Scotland in general, came from Creative Scotland itself – the publicly-funded quango with an obsessive market-driven approach to the arts and literature ‘sectors’ (as they are now known).

Theatre companies are going to the wall, good people in the arts are struggling for survival; the insecurity is fairly general. Yet Creative Scotland is somehow able to throw £6.5 million of lottery money at a year fashioned and named in its own image. The SNP government, which ought to know better, and its culture secretary Fiona Hyslop are avidly supporting the vainglorious enterprise. If it is not careful, this administration will go down as the most philistine in the history of post-war Scotland.

There is very little that is actually new about the Year of Creative Scotland. The handful of listed ‘highlights’ are events taking place anyway, including the Edinburgh ‘Festivals’ (the number is so vast that the word ‘Festival’ is simply no longer enough to encompass them) and Celtic Connections. Which reminds me that I still haven’t been paid for the gig I did at last year’s Celtic Connections. They asked me where to send the fee, and I nominated a charity, giving them the bank details of the beneficiary. That was the last I heard from Celtic Connections; the charity never got the money.

Maybe that is how the arts in Scotland will be funded from now on. I’m serious. Maybe the artists themselves will do it all for nothing, allowing Creative Scotland and its chums to squander what loot is around on meaningless PR and marketing wheezes.

I have, however, discovered at least two initiatives in the Year of Creative Scotland which do appear to be new. A ‘bespoke’ train – what they used to call a speshul – will leave King’s Cross Station (London) to take rock music-goers all the way to the Highlands to some festival – yes, another one; and the Celtic Connections bunch have acquired the resources to send a delegation to America for the sporting equivalent of world war III, the horribly debased Ryder Cup golf match. No doubt half the Scottish cabinet will find it convenient to accompany them to this odious spectacle.

Now, what has this five-star joint in Princes Street done to merit a free ad by BBC Scotland? Or was this, as I suspect, lifted straight from a press release issued by Creative Scotland or VisitScotland?

Apart from these minor intrusions, neither of which adds measurably to the cultural or spiritual wellbeing of the natives, the Year of Creative Scotland is essentially promotional. Nothing is too marginal to be excluded. Even Hogmanay – which we used to observe informally under town hall clocks without the assistance of the state – has been designated as part of the never-ending festival known as Scotland.

Burns Suppers too. The BBC and the rest of the Scottish media have been faithfully regurgitating some fatuous guff about ‘traditional Burns suppers’ – please, take me to a non-traditional one – being held ‘across the country this week to honour the Bard, including at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh’.

Now, what has this five-star joint in Princes Street done to merit a free ad by BBC Scotland? Or was this, as I suspect, lifted straight from a press release issued by Creative Scotland or VisitScotland?

As it happens, I have an Immortal Memory to deliver at Perth Burns Club on Saturday night, when I shall tiptoe in the footsteps of George Reid (2010) and Mike Russell (2011). So help me, I expect the Perth Burns Club supper is also part of the Year of Creative Scotland whether it likes it or not. In this way I am giving my tacit support to the wretched year.

It will not be long before getting on the bus in the morning is renamed a festival – the National Festival of Boarding, perhaps. This ‘unique’ experience – everything must be ‘unique’ and preferably ‘exciting’ too – will lead us to our ultimate destination of the National Festival of Alighting (or ‘Aff the Bus’ as it will be ‘branded’ in Glasgow, which already boasts ‘Aye Right’).

Do I exaggerate? Not a lot. Even going to the pub is officially part of the Year of Creative Scotland. We are invited to ‘sit back and enjoy a drink in the famous pubs that were once the favourite haunts of literary greats such as Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’. But why stop there? If you admire the work of Norman Mc Craig, make your way without delay to Milne’s Bar; if you fancy a wee goldie and a civilised chat about Lord Leveson with Jack McLean, Heraghty’s is the place; and if Willie McIlvanney’s your man, hing aboot the Goldberry Arms in Killie.

You see what I mean? We can all be part of the Year of Creative Scotland. It’s unique. It’s exciting. It lasts all year. And it sure as hell beats the boring old business of supporting artists.

Tomorrow: Part II of The Patriotic Week


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review