Scottish composers fear independence split

Scottish composers fear independence split


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2014

A group of leading Scottish musicians, most of them composers, have published a letter in the Herald warning that a Yes vote could cost them valuable support from the BBC. The signatories are:

Rory Boyle, composer; Helen Grime, composer; James Loughran, former Principal Conductor, BBC SSO; Eddie McGuire, composer; John McLeod, composer; James MacMillan, composer; George McPhee, organist and Master of the Choristers, Paisley Abbey; Stuart MacRae, composer; Paul Mealor, composer; Hugh Macdonald, former director, BBC SSO, 4 Balvie Road, Milngavie.

Read the full letter here.





  • SVM says:

    An independent Scotland would, in all probability, do far more in terms of arts funding per capita than either the UK or the current government at Holyrood currently does. Of course there will be questions about the future of the BBC, but what of the bigger picture? On the basis of what some Scottish composers of my generation have told me, opportunities to get works performed are already better north of the border (in any case, they have had more performances than me). Given that arts funding will continue to be threatened by the shock-doctrine of austerity in the UK, the Scots must consider whether they really want to stay on the sinking ship, when they could seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be rid of the parasitical Westminster establishment.

    • Anne says:

      “An independent Scotland would, in all probability, do far more in terms of arts funding per capita than either the UK or the current government at Holyrood currently does.”

      There seems to be an expectation in some quarters that an independent Scotland would do far more in all types of funding per capita than the current UK government or Holyrood.

      Grip on reality a bit tenuous, I think.

      • Alex Prior says:

        That’s right, because Scotland pays in far more into the UK exchequer than it gets back. Logically, when all funds are in the hands of the people of Scotland, there will be more money for everything. The SNP have prioritised arts funding very high in their list, and there is an appetite for that amongst the Scottish people.

        • Anne says:

          Depends on which figures you choose and how you interpret them, but “far more” is really pushing it.

          As usual, it depends on the inclusion of tax from North Sea oil revenue, a proportion of which is only Scottish by virtue of the continental shelf division having being ‘flattened’ along the 55th parallel north instead of extending the land boundary. Apart from the fact that this is a declining asset, page 38 of the Expenditure and Revenue Revue illustrates just how widely the income can fluctuate. A lot of eggs in one basket.

          As far as I can see, the SNP’s prioritisation of arts funding is very generous in its use of warm words but whether this would stand up to competition from other demands following independence is debatable.

          If people really believe there will be “more money for everything”, there’s no argument. The lucky people will vote for independence – it’s is a dead cert.

    • Will Duffay says:

      “An independent Scotland would, in all probability, do far more in terms of arts funding per capita than either the UK or the current government at Holyrood currently does.”

      And why do think that is the case?! Unless you expect Salmond’s best pal Donald Trump to fund the Trump Center for the Performing Arts, or something. But seriously: what leads you to expect the independent country to fund more?

      The Scottish orchestras and Scottish opera seem to do very well artistically, and are apparently better supported by Scots (in my limited experience) than many in the rest of the United Kingdom. There seems to be more pride in Scottish arts than in England.

      Of course, the BBC Scottish would need to be scrapped when the Union is divided, but there are other Scottish orchestras. The question is whether a Scottish government would match the current £35m which Creative Scotland gets from the UK National Lottery (out of a total budget of £88m). Would it?

  • Chris Manvell says:

    This was my response to the Herald article and to the comments it inspired. I notice that it was removed. The first part addresses the slagging off of the BBC.

    “Strange, isn’t it. The Yes supporters of my acquaintance slag off the BBC for its bias towards Better Together (which is evident on occasions) and the No supporters of my acquaintance slag off the BBC for its bias towards the Yes campaign (which is evident on occasions). But that is not the point of this article which about the BBC’s support for the arts, especially music, in Scotland. I, for one, am very worried about the future of ‘classical’ music of all types following separation. It will be the same for many of the good things of life. An orchestra costs the same whether it is supported by 5 million or 50 million people, a museum ditto, an art gallery ditto, everything that requires money to make it operate ditto. Yes, I am really worried.”

    • Fred Parry says:

      I read the letter in the Herald yesterday and was not surprised by the signatories. They have all done pretty well out of the BBC. There are many more and younger composers who have not expressed their opinions.
      People have to remember that the BBC SSO has come under threat at numerous times throughout their existence and none of them were from a Scottish Government. In 1980 ( another time of austerity) it proposed to disband the orchestra along with others in the Midlands, N. Ireland and London. A protracted and bitter strike ensued which resulted in the SSO being saved but the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra being disbanded. It has long been known that top management in the BBC in London would love to get rid of their “in-house” orchestras as they think of them as burden imposed upon them by Lord Reith.
      There is nothing to stop this happening again and especially if more pressure mounts on the BBC to save money.
      Perhaps an independent Scotland would be the safer bet if you look at the history. I would hate to see a wonderful cultural gem such as the SSO being lost to Scotland but to believe that voting no will guarantee that is just as much of a risk.

  • John Kinsella says:

    Stand on your own two feet , guys, like we have to do here in Ireland. Have some self respect and confidence.

  • Alex Prior says:

    I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of above named musicians, and neither should anyone. I would, however, like to point out that one of THE biggest movements within the non-partisan levels of the YES campaign is The National Collective, a moving and exciting movement of artists of every kind, and it’s numbers are huge. From my personal experience the prevailing sentiment within the artistic community is Yes, more so in the non-orchestral world, but not exclusively so, of course. If you look at what one of my favourite artists Jlkie Fowlis has to say about independence and the opportunities it offers for culture (language included), it sums up those sentiments beautifully.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    The idea that some tiny handful of Scottish composers might be somehow “persecuted by the BBC” if the YES vote prevails strikes a new note of desperation among the English Public Schoolboys! 🙂

    One would hope that the Beeb supports composers who are good, rather than composers who are ‘British’….

    The sight of Miliband, Prescott and Straw being shown around Auld Reekie by the local cops… because they didn’t know where Princes Street was… made amusing TV viewing. Funny how their policies coincide exactly with the Tories on this… and on everything else…

  • Martin says:

    Maybe they should compose some music that actually sells instead of relying on their good relationship to the BBC. Not saying non of their music is worth listening to.