The strength of Scottish culture should give us the confidence to continue to connect with our neighbours
It is clear that we have much to celebrate together and a wide range of emerging new talent to encourage
The strength of Scottish culture should give us the confidence to continue to connect with our neighbours in every possible way and cherish the links that exist, says List publisher Robin Hodge
It is often said that decisions need to be taken by the head or the heart. In the debate leading up to the referendum in September, the discussion has so far mainly focused on the economic and political issues. What exactly would independence mean in terms of currency, financial regulation, the head of state, membership of the EU, defence, and so on?
These are all valid questions and I think that, contrary to some expectations, the tone of the debate has been much more respectful than was feared. It is clear that there are those on both sides putting forward genuinely held beliefs as to what they consider to be in the best interests of Scotland. The zealots and abusive cyberbullies who initially seemed determined to close off debate and shout down their opponents have thankfully faded into the background.
This has enabled the focus to be on substance – whether it is better to stick with the structures that have generally served us well over the past three centuries, or whether to cast them aside and start again. These are issues primarily of the head.
But there are other matters – ones closer to the heart – beyond economics and politics that need to be considered, as they too will be significantly affected by the outcome of the vote. Primary among these, it seems to me, is the future of the arts and culture.
Given the historic achievements of those such as David Hume, Robert Adam, James Boswell, Henry Raeburn, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Neil Gunn, Naomi Mitchison, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sorley MacLean, Muriel Spark and Joan Eardley (to name but a few), Scottish culture has clearly flourished since the Act of Union.
And it is generally agreed that the last 30 years have seen a further remarkable flowering of the arts across Scotland. Rarely have there been so many writers, artists, musicians and others based in or hailing from Scotland whose work has met with critical acclaim and / or commercial success. The depth and breadth of the creative talent is impressive, ranging from Douglas Gordon to David Shrigley, from Alasdair Gray and Carol Ann Duffy to Irvine Welsh and JK Rowling, from James MacMillan to Emeli Sandé, from Billy Connolly to Armando Iannucci, from Tilda Swinton to Lynne Ramsay.
At the same time, the scale, reputation and impact of our festivals have grown far beyond the most optimistic expectations. The Edinburgh Fringe last year hosted over 2700 shows and is clearly established as the biggest arts event in the world. In Glasgow, Celtic Connections is marking 21 years of success in expanding the reach of traditional music making. And there are many more successful festivals spread across Scotland each year.
It is clear that we have much to celebrate together and a wide range of emerging new talent to encourage. This growing sense of confidence makes it hard to believe that once there were some afflicted with a feeling of cultural cringe or beset by a mood of aggrieved injury through the supposed neglect of Scottish culture by the wider world.
The question now is, which way forward should we choose: Is it, as some would argue, the time to pull away from our neighbours, to leave shared cultural institutions, and to emphasise what divides us? Or should we nurture and enhance the links and connections we have – links and connections that help us participate in the wider development of contemporary culture and contribute to the better understanding of the human condition.
It can be said that the role of the artist is to create work that expresses their unique vision of the world and then present that work to the world. For those of us in the cultural sector who are dedicated to supporting artists and enabling as many people as possible to experience their work for themselves, the more channels of communication there are, the better. Authors want their books to be available to as wide a readership as they can be, performers to attract as big an audience as possible, and so on. This involves connecting, reaching out to one another and sharing human experience.
In contrast, those who advocate independence and the associated disruption to the wider cultural communities across the UK, are underestimating the strength and quality of the arts in Scotland. This unwillingness to connect with those around us, actually displays a lack of confidence, a fear of participating and engaging.
Surely it is time to cast aside such apprehensions; we have no need to withdraw from relationships. We should cherish the connections that have been developed and use them to inspire each other at all levels.