Scotland will lose an orchestra ‘the morning after independence’

Scotland will lose an orchestra ‘the morning after independence’


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2014

Warnings are being heard across the classical music business that the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra cannot survive a ‘Yes’ vote in the independence referendum.

The BBCSSO is funded from London to provide broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 from concerts and studio sessions that take place in Scotland.

If Scotland left the UK, the BBC would have no duty or desire to maintain an orchestra north of the border. The next head of Radio 3 will come under immediate pressure to ‘rationalise’ an orchestra. Abolishing the BBC Scottish would relieve pressure on other ensembles.

That’s the political scenario as seen from London.

Here’s a journalistic view from Scotland. It does not markedly differ.



  • Mark Mortimer says:

    How depressing- a tragedy. What more can one say

  • Neil McGowan says:

    More BBC gerrymandering 🙁

    • Will Duffay says:

      How exactly is it ‘BBC gerrymandering’? I’m sure the BBC Scottish would not be cast adrift the morning after independence (it would take a while to sort out the details), but why would Scotland expect still to have the orchestra supported by the broadcasting corporation of another country?

      • Fred Parry says:

        It wouldn’t “expect” to be supported by the broadcasting corporation of another country. You are assuming that Scotland would not be able to have it’s own broadcasting corporation. I’m really tired of hearing these scare stories re the BBC SSO. As I stated in another article, the only people who have a history of trying to get rid of this and other orchestras i the BBC are the powers that be in London. A Scottish government has never attempted such a dreadful act. Just as a bit of balance to this dreadful article read this. from two eminant Scottish composers;

      • Neil McGowan says:

        I’m sure the BBC Scottish would not be cast adrift the morning after independence

        Yes, Will, and I’m sure too. The BBC’s claims that it would be cut off are just more fear-mongering. Auntie has been identified – by the Yes campaign – as giving an extremely biased version of events. Westminster – which hands the Beeb its Licence Fee cash, by dint of Charter renewal – has been going into overdrive to salvage the situation in Scotland.

  • Peter says:

    There would presumably be some kind of transition period. When the BBC closed their orchestra in Northern Ireland, resulting in the formation of the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC were a major funder for some time of the ‘new’ orchestra and, I believe, continued to take programme content. Ok it’s not the same, NI is not a different country, but it’s a model by which a transition could be managed, if it comes to pass…!!!

    • John says:

      Hopefully it won’t go to Pass. How is one supposed to vote YES since a Self Governing Scotland was never experienced in our lives, how sure could one be that it would suffice? And all of those jobs put in jeopardy? A dream that could easily turn into the worst nightmare!!

  • David Pickett says:

    To quote H. M. The Queen: “I hope the people of Scotland will think carefully about the future”.

  • Diarmid Weir says:

    Sorry. All meaningless speculation.

  • Nick says:

    Under Donald Runnicles, the BBC SSO has emerged as a superb orchestra. We should perhaps note, though, that independence does not represent the first threat to its existence. At the beginning of the 1970s, the BBC mandarins in London produced a Report which recommended the abolition of no less than 3 of its house orchestras, the SSO being one. Such was the public outcry that the threat came to nothing.

    But if the vote is in favour of Independence, I fear it may be the new Scottish government which may follow the lead of the present bunch of philistines in the Scottish Executive. This after all was the body which thought nothing of all but emasculating the once excellent Scottish Opera by forcing it to dissolve its chorus, make its orchestra part-time and close down operations for a full year.

    I suggest it’s worth recalling that the BBC SSO has been an excellent training ensemble for many of its Assistant Conductors who went on to become very senior figures in the international music business, including Sir Colin Davis, Sir Andrew Davis and Sir Simon Rattle. And as far as Scotland is concerned, its most devoted alumnus was undoubtedly Sir Alexander Gibson.

    As William Sweeney’s rightly infers in the last paragraph, music in Scotland and Scottish music was not well served until Gibson returned to his native land to take over the Scottish National Orchestra in 1959. Gibson then led a veritable renaissance, not just with the rapid development of the SNO and its commitment to Scottish composers, but with the founding of Scottish Opera and, as a direct result, the founding of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The SSO has continued that commitment. It will indeed be a sad day indeed if it is allowed to fade into the mists.

    • Fred Parry says:

      Nick. I agree a lot with what you say but let’s not confuse the issue of Scottish Opera with the BBC SSO. Scottish Opera was/is a very badly managed organisation but unfortunately the Orchestra and Chrorus were the easy targets. The management should have been cleaned out years before. A new Scottish goverment, if it happens, has given an undertaking to preserve the wonderful SSO and that is more than the BBC in London has given. BBC will be coming up for more austerity cuts and as history has told us they often look for a target outside London. If the BBC could have got rid of it’s orchestras in 1980 it would have. They couldn’t because of public pressure. I feel the same would happen if a new Scottish Government attempted something similar. Let’s not be the prophets of doom so many people seemed to have turned into.

      • Nick says:

        I don’t know enough about the management of Scottish Opera in the 2000s to judge how good or bad it was – although the Ring cycle I saw (2004?) had also been presented at the Edinburgh Festival and was certainly what almost all seemed to agree was a major success. I was basically referring to its heyday in the 1970s when Gibson was also at the helm.

  • Nick Simpson says:

    Since iScotland’s income will decline (higher mortgage rates and less tax-generating housing market activity, fewer tax payers as financial services jobs drift south, flight of capital as investors fear currency uncertainty, declining oil revenues, end of Barnett formula) and expenditure increase (“better society”, disproportionately unhealthy population, disproportionately increasing number of pensioners, higher interest rates because it won’t have its own central bank) Holyrood is going to have to have to make cuts somewhere.

    And since UK struggles to support BBC spending with a population of 60 million it doesn’t sound completely implausible that iScotland would struggle to sustain its own state broadcaster with a population of, er, just 5 million.

    Ultimately choices have consequences, and for Yes not all of them are good.