Variant Affinity Group
The Summer issue of Variant mapped
the breakneck privatisation that resulted in the creation of Culture and
Sport Glasgow (CSG). It also detailed the business interests of the board
members of the twin companies which took over the management of culture
and sport from Glasgow City Council. The New Bohemia by Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt did not set out to be particularly controversial. Rather, in analysing how consolidated private interests now operate, it was pursuing the basic principle of good journalism investigation. CSGs
immediate response was to threaten Variant with legal action, accusing
the article of supplying inaccuracies and potentially defamatory statements.
Perhaps most worryingly, CSG removed the edition from the cultural venues
it now controls. CSG had not in fact put the article to any legal scrutiny
and, as a subsequent list of their grievances showed, the objections were
largely trivial and easily rebutted by evidence available in the public
domain. This effort to regulate Variants content came from
CSGs PR officer, James Doherty, and leaned heavily on his rejection of previous newspaper articles as reliable source material. Taken together with CSGs
banning of Variant, this attack on journalism is especially worrying
as Doherty is currently President of the National Union of Journalists. (Please
see online for a fuller account. Variant also has three unacknowledged
Freedom of Information requests with CSG, casting doubt on its commitment
to public accountability.)
Significantly, however, none of CSGs objections related to the main thrust of the article, namely, the harnessing of the citys
culture to tourism and regeneration agendas and the intrusion of private
interests into what was previously a public sector domain.
The fact that this new private company seems not to prize freedom of expression
very highly and acted quickly to stamp out freedom of communication should set
alarm bells ringing amongst the citys creative communities. Intra-institutional press and marketing departments operated to hold a political line through various control techniques, only one of which was censorship. CSGs
disproportionate reaction to criticism seems designed to distract from,
and suppress, questions about the basic premises on which culture is being
privatised and the restrictions inherent within that process.
One point raised in The New Bohemia is particularly pertinent
given recent developments in Scotland, namely the relationship between
the local manoeuvrings of CSG and the cultural reappraisals being undertaken
at a national level. Most significant here is the proposed creation of
Creative Scotland, a merger of the public bodies, the Scottish Arts Council
and Scottish Screen, into a private company.
When Jack McConnell was First Minister of Scotland, Culture was made a priority. His wife, Bridget McConnell, then at Glasgow City Council, is now head of CSG. A Cultural Commission was launched in 2004 to undertake a thorough review of cultural provision over a one-year period, paving the way for its radical overhaul as part of a generational opportunity to
look seriously and maturely at our culture and decide the framework for
its support in the future.
It was widely reported at the time of the Cultural Commission that Bridget
McConnell wished to exert some influence over the process, with fears being
expressed that the Commission was a thinly veiled bid to axe the Scottish
In September 2008, the SNP-led Scottish Government announced that it would
be following the recommendations of the Labour-led Commission to set up Creative
Scotland, a private company limited by guarantee, as a replacement for the
Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, to pursue a creative industries agenda.
Creative Scotland : Shake n Bake
If Creative Scotland represents the victory of private managerialism over
culture, with CSG as its corporate precedent, it is worth recalling that
the Cultural Commission grew out of the National Cultural Strategy, published
in 2000, which placed the creative industries centre stage. Former Minister
for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Frank McAveety, took up this theme in the
Cultural Policy Statement which launched the Commission. This considered how to use public spend to lever growth in the cultural and creative industries, whilst framing creativity in entrepreneurial terms aimed at giving Scotland a competitive edge.
Predating the Cultural Commission by four years, a Joint Implementation Group
had been set up with the National Cultural Strategy to realise its strategic
objectives, with James Boyle attending the inaugural meeting in his capacity
as Chair of the Scottish Arts Council. The Group was later informed of a
letter, dated 18 December 2002, from Bridget McConnell, proposing a national
review of local government cultural and leisure services. Mike Watson, Minister
for Tourism, Culture and Sport at that time, set up separate meetings with
representatives of the creative industries and at its last meeting the Group
was asked to consider a paper arising from this forum: In particular, comments were invited on the proposition for an agency Creative Scotland, combing [sic] a number of responsibilities currently residing with a number of different agencies. That the creation of the hybrid Creative Scotland was mooted in January 2003, well in advance of the Cultural Commission, makes a mockery of the subsequent consultancy which cost the Scottish taxpayer £487,000
and robbed the arts communities of the valuable time they took to respond.
Like so many consultative efforts, the basic terms were highly questionable,
and the outcome a betrayal of the public.
Disinvestment : Scotland PLC syndrome
Addressing the AGM of the Scottish Artists Union in September 2008, MP and SNP Culture spokesperson, Pete Wishart, argued there was consultation fatigue and the need to move on from sterile structural debate to justify the subsequent lack of public discussion surrounding the rush to form Creative Scotland following its initial parliamentary rejection. But the Bill to form Creative Scotland didnt
fail because of politics, but because the Scottish Government could not
answer basic questions about the cost, function and purpose of the new
body. Evidently, there is continued uncertainty about the powers, status
and responsibilities of Creative Scotland. However, the Government seems
determined to escape the sort of critical scrutiny that led to the Bill
being previously rejected. The formation of Creative Scotland is now being
smuggled through as part of the Public Services Reform Bill, itself a disinvestment
in public services set to cut the number of public bodies by 25% by 2011.
Culture Minister, Linda Fabiani, recently insisted of Creative Scotland: We all want to get this up and running. After all the froth about cultural entitlements and rights, it is seemingly just a question of who pays the estimated privatisation costs of £7m to form Creative Scotland and the rest will take care of itself. In truth, this apparent urgency conceals a major ideological fault line between public and private provision in Scotland. And it is likely the £7m
projected transition costs will pale into insignificance compared to the
inevitable cost of running an organisation on a business model with staff
recruited on a competitive market, rather than public service, basis.
This is a significant moment in arts organising in Scotland, marking a fundamental
shift from public investment, towards the outright economic instrumentalisation
of Culture by lashing it to an explicit agenda of neoliberal reform. The
Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) model of the Scottish Arts Council was
always problematic, as frequently documented in the pages of Variant.
But it is the whole ethos of turning provision away from a public body to
set up a limited company and what this portends that needs to be questioned.
In rewriting the very idea of public funding for the arts just what formal
procedures for the assessment of Private Public Partnerships have there been?
What independent research has been carried out and what guarantees are there
that private provision will be cheaper than the existing model of public
procurement for the same level of outcomes, not to mention more democratically
accountable to its community base? At a time when the effects of marketisation
could not be more discredited, what we are witnessing is a renewed wave of
neoliberal restructuring with no real opposition of any substance from any
quarter. The Scottish media is complicit in its silence.
Although we are told that the company will [also] be given a statutory function,
this is probably mainly to ensure the retention of Lottery Fund distribution.
Rhetoric aside, a company has obligations to deliver according to its memorandum
of association, nothing else. What we have been told is that the company
will be created, its board and CEO appointed and that it will then be left
to determine its own functions. It will not be constituted as a charitable
body. Alex Salmond, interviewed in Total Politics magazine, recently
stated: One of the reasons Scotland didnt take to Lady Thatcher was because of that [not having a strong social conscience]. We didnt mind the economic side so much. But we didnt like the social side at all. Rather
than addressing these issues directly, which means above all a declaration
of commitment to the public funding of the arts, they are simply being
swept under the carpet. Is it because Salmond fears a backlash against
the PLC syndrome? Just why is the Scottish Government ploughing ahead with
an already rejected privatisation of contemporary culture in Scotland?
Creative Industries : Assault on Culture
Details remain hazy, but what weve been told so far is that Creative Scotland will receive the £50m grant in aid of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. The Scottish Government announced an additional £5m in June for an Innovation Fund to support Creative Scotland over its first two years a figure matching inflation. An estimated £100,000
currently provided by Scottish Enterprise to the Cultural Enterprise Office
would also transfer to Creative Scotland as would its enterprise role.
Fabiani has said: If formed, Creative Scotland will add to the range of funding sources available to artists and creative practitioners. As well as grants, it will develop a wider portfolio of funding methods including loans and investments.
Creative Scotland will offer specialised advice and information services for creative enterprises.
In fact, rather than consultation fatigue, there has been significant activity behind the scenes to define Creative Scotlands function, not least in the activities of the Creative Industries Working Group a body comprised almost entirely of NDPB enterprise agencies and a Think Tank facilitated
by John Knell, Strategic Advisor to the Creative Scotland Transition Project.
Knell is the lead investigator on a new £80k research project funded by NESTA [National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts] exploring interdisciplinary innovation. Knell, joining Demoss Charles Leadbeater, also wrote a treatise for Arts Council Englands The 21st century programme on organisational development, intended to influence [ACE] thinking and to help develop new practice. Coincidentally, Knell was an expert speaker invited to contribute to the Scotland: Creative Nation, Cultural Summit in February 2008, a three-day affair on the development of Creative Scotland. Leadbeater made an appearance in March 2008 at Culture & Sport Glasgows Aye Write! festival to plug his new book We-Think: the Power of Mass Creativity, and appeared again as a keynote lecturer at Engage Scotlands flatteringly titled What do We-Think? conference
in September. The reformers of Arts Council England have certainly been
preparing the ground in Scotland!
But what is clear is that the Highlands and Islands Enterprise model of
business support for creative enterprises, and collaborations with NESTA,
are explicitly promoted. (NESTA was set up with Lottery funding to help people turn bright ideas into products, services or techniques with social and commercial benefit, and advocates its retention of patent rights for intellectual property resulting from publicly funded work and the wider exploitation of IPR.) In fact, NESTAs definition of creative economy is lifted wholesale. The approach to culture, as might be expected, is one of integrating cultural policy and economic concerns and of fostering a culture of informed risk. Unambiguously: Public support must therefore aim to increase levels of creative economy activity, in terms of enterprise and business model formation, and work at all times to ensure that an increased rate of creative ideation in Scotland leads to a tangible increase in the creative economys contribution to Scotlands
Rather than funding cultural producers, it seems determined to spawn a
committee of vultures to service creatives. Producers will be the object for exploitation, leading to more of the vacuous training and development agendas artists are already familiar with. We have just discovered that the Scottish Arts Council has been tasked with exploring the replacement of artists grants with loans a good job the Scottish financial sector is in sufficiently rude health! The Creative Scotland Taskforces Ray Macfarlane Senior Director of Corporate Banking at Bank of Scotland before HBOS was rescued by Lloyds-TSB may now have more time on her hands to advise. You would have to be naïve,
reckless, or set to make a killing out of the additional financialisation
of public services to contemplate throwing cultural provision, wholesale,
to market precarity right now, given its thoroughly discredited and toxic
But then The New Bohemia article warned of worrying similarities emerging between Glasgows Trongate 103 cultural quarter development and the demise of the Lottery-funded Lux Centre in London. It now comes to light that additional £1,500 service charges for each tenant have magically appeared for the upkeep of communal spaces;
these charges may well be bankrupting for some, especially when compounded
by the fact that VAT is for the first time being introduced on rents, to
say nothing of the five years lease time-bomb. As Mute magazine
said of Lux, this too looks set to be another instance of public money subsidising private gain in which the alibi of service rapidly succumbs to mismanagement and congenital unviability.
Arts & Business (who court creative partnerships between business
and the arts) lost a third of its grant in the last round of Arts
Council England cuts, but didnt want this to be seen as a vote
of no-confidence in business. In Scotland, corporate welfare is getting
a much softer ride. Arts & Business is inviting organisations
who deliver arts activity to make a pitch for sponsorship at a Dragons Den-style
event. The business sponsors (at £7,500
a time) and presumably judges, are Elphinstone, of Leith gentrification;
ScottishPower, who just increased gas prices by a massive 34%; [Standard
Life, who were attacked by staff and unions at its first annual meeting
as a listed company in 2007 over the negative effects of demutualisation
in March 2007 Standard Life announced it would cut 1,000 jobs to
yet one month later it was highlighted that three of Standard Life's top
executives were awarded more than £5 million (Standard Life
replace Scottish Widows who were initially flagged and who were
recently accused of miss-selling pensions)]. Three
successful organisations will receive £15,000 each towards arts projects
which help to divert young people (10-19 year olds) from becoming involved
with crime and anti-social behaviour. Arts & Business is in receipt
of public funding of £600,000 over two years from the Proceeds of
Crime initiative where seized money and goods from crime are invested
in community projects aimed at alleviating the effects of crime.
Arts & Business is explicit: Engaging
with the arts is a proven way for business to promote their services and
On the rescue takeover of HBOS by Lloyds-TSB, the Guardian reported
Edinburghs arts scene also faces a period of unexpected austerity. Both HBOS and Lloyds-TSB a bank itself created by the merger of Lloyds with another Scottish financial institution, the Trustee Savings Bank are essential players in sponsoring the citys international festival, theatre and art galleries. The fear is that Lloyds-Halifax will slash its arts funding in parallel with its branches. The festival will be concerned because the contribution from both banks is significant, said one senior figure in Edinburghs
If the arms-length principle is maintained, as claimed, then what guarantees are there that Creative Scotland will support artists organisations
that do not subscribe to the financialisation of culture? A private company
is far less able to fully represent the public interest and properly protect
our human rights in the cultural field.
Sterile structural debates are anything but sterile they are
about holding the Scottish Government to account.
Financial Mania & Systemic
For the past decade and a half we have seen an unprecedented financialisation
of the economy resulting from deregulation and neoliberalisation, and the
spread of privatisation to previously unaffected areas. The increasing hegemony
of this myopic economic outlook poses the single greatest threat to free
expression and to liberal society today. These are the systemic factors which
are poised to bear down upon free speech and meaningful cultural communication.
Corporations are legally mandated to do just one thing: make money. Creative
Scotland, if allowed to go ahead, would mean the infiltration of our very
speech and thought by the economic that is, economically determined
values and judgments about worth and appropriateness. But we are told
by SNP Culture spokesman, Pete Wishart, that there is no alternative to
the financial modelling of culture.
One would hope that the failed orthodoxy of the market as god is over,
as flagrantly demonstrated by the ongoing financial global meltdown. It
is evidently massively unstable, and it has come unstuck in a way that
represents a woeful failure of institutional politics. The collapse of
finance capital is not a blip not
when the most capitalist US administration ever decides to nationalise
the two largest financial institutions the world has ever known. It is a
It is time to stop corporate privilege, deregulation and privatisation
of public services and to reflect on the kind of society we have become,
and on the kind of society we want to be. It is time to dispel the myth
that there is no alternative to this grossly unfair economic model. As
the wheels come off the capitalist bandwagon, what further evidence is