CALLING out the Scottish Government’s arts funding cuts flip-flops does not make you a traitor.

A thriving culture sector is paramount to the wellbeing economy, so why has the Scottish Government imposed £6.6 million in cuts?

Growing up listening to recordings of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and now Grace Petrie, I have come to appreciate how powerful the art of song can be in conveying key messages. Emerging and established creatives have long been the bedrock of successful social and political movements. From the civil rights movement, Stonewall, to climate change; artists articulate themselves in accessible, innovative creative ways and in turn, their messages often reach a larger cross-section of society, than say, a minister appearing on a morning talk show.

Although I was 16 years old and in secondary school during 2014, I became aware of the powerful grassroots organisation of artists and creatives called National Collective, which was described as “the most significant cultural voice to emerge in the referendum debate so far” by Andrew Whittaker. Artists, poets, playwrights, theatre makers, actors, musicians and writers are the people who document our human existence through art, who lend their voices to social and political causes, and who bolster movements. And yes, those creatives can, at times, be in recipient of project grants provided through Government funds, but that doesn’t mean that those creatives shouldn’t be able to criticise the Government without onslaught of social media comments calling them a “traitor” to the cause of independence.

READ MORE: Union leaders warned 8500 arts jobs are at risk due to funding cuts

Independence and SNP supporters should be able to critique policy, the party and the Scottish Government itself without being accused of “turning” on the Scottish Government. Scrutiny and critique are a fundamental part of a healthy democratic system. This is why I feel compelled to write that I am so disappointed in the Scottish Government’s decision to break its promise on arts funding.

Earlier this year, 15,401 signatories publicly opposed plans for a £6.6m cut to Creative Scotland. As a result of massive backlash and the petition campaign, led by Campaign for The Arts, ministers u-turned to abandon the hugely unpopular cut. But this week, as part of the autumn budget review, the Scottish Government has re-instated the £6.6m cut to Creative Scotland’s 2023-24 annual budget – a cut of around 10%.

Cultural spending is a bone of contention for many outwith the arts. Why fund art when we need to make sure children have school meals and are not experiencing food poverty? Time and time again, explaining to internet trolls that there are “different pots of funds” fall on deaf ears. They don’t want to listen; they don’t want to understand. Instead, they want to falsely spread the narrative that Creative Scotland is some sort of corrupt body that the Scottish Government uses to funnel funds to artists who are “loyal” to the party of government. Absolute keech.

The National: Creative Scotland CEO Iain MunroCreative Scotland CEO Iain Munro (Image: Holyrood TV)

To try to explain the gravity of the situation, the Scottish Music Industry Association emailed their membership of over 4000 people working in across all music genres and industry subsectors. This funding cut relates to Creative Scotland’s Regular Funding Network, comprised of 119 organisations, called Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs). These organisations are important because they often have many cross-artform projects on the go and will employ workers on full-time and part-time contracts and freelancers for project-based work – contributing to the infrastructure and delivery of Scotland’s culture sector.

One of these organisations is Fèis Rois, a music RFO based out of Dingwall which delivers projects across Scotland. To highlight the massive scope of the organisations work - within 13 weeks in 2021, during the height of the pandemic - Fèis Rois paid fees to 95 freelancers, engaged 2844 pupils from 84 Highland Council schools in weekly live online music-making workshops, created music resources for pupils and teachers at Dumfries and Galloway council engaged 64 classes at home and in school, provided 1-2-1 fiddle lessons to care-experienced pupils, and engaged 46 freelancers to deliver 2630 sessions to 6200 primary school pupils across three local council areas. This was within 13 weeks and is only a select few examples of projects undertook by Fèis Rois, which begun in 1986. It’s successful Ceilidh Trail project has employed hundreds of early-career musicians and given them some of their first touring experiences.

Organisations like Fèis Rois are the lifeblood of community outreach and music-making. So, what's going to happen to organisations such as Fèis Rois? As a short-term measure, Creative Scotland is utilising its National Lottery reserves to plug the gap to avoid the cuts being passed on to members of the RFO network. If Creative Scotland did not take this measure, then in two weeks’ time when the next RFO funding payments are due, each of the 119 organisations would face around 40% cut to their projected funding.

The National:

Whilst this immediate measure is a very temporary band-aid of sorts, this funding cut will be replicated in January, when the final RFO payment is due. With depleted reserves, Creative Scotland will not be able to plug the gap again, which truly means the end for some organisations. Both freelance contracts and full-time jobs will be lost, and organisations will have to abandon projects they have developed for years.

I cannot imagine a traditional music sector in Scotland without organisations such as Fèis Rois. Whether we know it or not, we all face the real-life consequences of art cuts. As pointed out by Robert Kilpatrick, interim CEO of the Scottish Music Industry Association, these funding cuts do not align with the Scottish Governments aspirations to create a wellbeing economy – which aims to serve and prioritise the collective wellbeing of those in Scottish society. In my opinion a healthy, thriving culture sector is paramount to the aspirations of the “wellbeing economy”.

This week, many workers from the arts sector took to social media to voice outrage against the cuts, which I look at as a double U-turn. When you impose cuts, then U-turn on the cuts and call it an "uplift" then reimpose the cuts, you lose faith in the sector which faces the economic brunt of your decisions.

In a statement provided to the BBC, Angus Robertson stated that he expects the funding "will be able to be provided as part of next year’s budget", but workers in the culture sector will undoubtably have already lost faith. Arts journalist Brian Ferguson described the cuts as “the biggest betrayal of Scottish culture, artists and performers in modern times”.

The Campaign for the Arts has yet again resorted to mounting a petition calling on the Scottish Government to honour its commitment to provide “an uplift of £6.6m for Creative Scotland for 2023-24”, scrap any proposal to cut funding from the 2023-24 autumn budget revision, and commit to maintaining and increasing investment from 2024-25.

I believe that fulfilment of all three objectives is the only way to regain the trust of vital art sector workers and organisations, that often operate on shoestring budgets, yet still have the best interests in delivering projects whilst employing other workers.

Culture spending is not something to flip-flop over. It feeds into workers and consumers livelihoods', their mental health, their community. We are all richer for engaging in the arts and we must stand up against cuts at all costs. The Campaign for the Arts Petition can be signed here.