Culture House Daily

Would Scottish independence compromise its museums and galleries?

1 September 2014

1 September 2014

This article first appeared on Apollo Magazine’s website.

The Scottish independence referendum takes place on 18 September. What would a ‘Yes’ vote mean for the country’s museums and galleries? Would it lead to a loss of funding streams? And if it did, would an independent Scottish government be prepared to increase its investment?

YES: James Holloway

There’s one thing I’ve never heard in more than 40 years in the arts in Scotland, and that is ‘money is no problem’. It has always been a problem, often the only problem. There’s no lack of ambition or inspiration, but money has always been hard to come by. And it could be a great deal harder to come by after 18 September, the day Scotland decides whether or not to leave what has been the most successful political and cultural union in history. For over 300 years Scotland has been a distinctive part of a united kingdom and during that time its artists and architects have flourished, alongside her soldiers, engineers and entrepreneurs, on a British stage. Think of Robert Adam in the 18th century or David Wilkie in the 19th, or all the Scottish Turner Prize winners of recent years. Their successes were won on a British playing field. This could all change if we Scots pull up the goal posts and leave the pitch.

And what about Scotland’s museums and art galleries? Let’s look at the position as it is at present. The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh must surely house the most impressive national collection of old master paintings of any similar-sized country in the world. Think of those countries with a population of some five million – Denmark, Norway or New Zealand for instance – Scotland’s national collection is in a different league to theirs. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has one of the finest 20th-century collections in Europe. Add to them the wonderful galleries in Glasgow – Kelvingrove, the Hunterian and the Burrell Collection – and the rich and varied collections across the country from Stromness to Dundee, and it is easy to see that Scotland has an extraordinary wealth of great works of art in public ownership. Independence won’t change that, but it must surely make adding to those collections much harder.

At present, acquisitions are funded by a combination of state, local authority and private money. While the Scottish government has been generous in supporting a few high-profile individual purchases, they no longer provide the national galleries with an annual purchase grant. Local authority-run museums and galleries are in a worse situation. The whole sector depends on the generosity of an independent charity, the Art Fund. Its contribution is often vital. Yet only 3 per cent of the members of the Art Fund live in Scotland, while last year Scotland got 15 per cent of all Art Fund donations. Will the Art Fund continue to give grants to Scotland if the country elects to leave the United Kingdom? Why should it continue to support the collections of a foreign country? It doesn’t give grants to Cork or Dublin. Perhaps that 3 per cent of Art Fund members north of the border will try and set up their own fund. If so the money won’t go very far.

And what about the National Lottery? Scotland has done far, far better pound per head of population from Britain’s lottery than it strictly deserves. I can’t see that continuing. And would the great London-based charitable trusts continue to fund Scotland? They have supported acquisitions and capital developments across the whole of Scotland’s museum sector with stupendous generosity. Some may wish to continue giving grants at least for a few years ahead. But others will certainly decide that they must stick to the wishes of their original benefactors and save their funds for what remains of the United Kingdom.

At present Scotland benefits from the British treasury’s scheme of Acceptance in Lieu (AiL). In recent years alone, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has acquired its first miniature by Nicholas Hilliard (of the 2nd Earl of Essex), the Scottish National Gallery an exquisite double-sided Watteau drawing, a flower painting that many consider to be Jan van Huysum’s masterpiece and a Constable portrait that used to belong to Lucian Freud. Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums recently acquired a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, and the Hunterian works by Rembrandt, Cambiaso and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – every one of them from English estates. These works of art, worth millions of pounds on the international art market, came without any cost at all, from private collections in England to the people of Scotland. I can’t see George Osborne letting that continue after independence!

The situation is uncertain and worrying. What is sure is that Scotland’s present position in regard to arts funding would not improve with independence, nor would it remain the same. It would be certain to get worse.’

James Holloway was Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from 1997 until his retirement in 2012.

NO: Sandy Moffatt

The biggest visual art event of many a year has just been launched in Scotland: Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. With, according to the blurb, ‘over 100 artists, 60 venues, 1 country, from Orkney to Dumfries, from Stornoway to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Generation spans the country, offering everyone a chance to experience art that has been celebrated worldwide’. Unthinkable even 20 years ago when contemporary art was met with incredulity and often hostility, the exhibitions and events tell us a great deal about the transformation the country has undergone, especially since devolution. The growth of new galleries and the rebirth of older and neglected museums has been astonishing. It now seems that the entire country is involved in a thriving cultural renaissance. Scotland’s cultural position within the British context has moved on from former times when issues of small versus large, and inferior versus superior stifled our ability to represent our art and artists properly.

The main players in the organisation of Generation, the National Galleries, Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland, all maintain a close working relationship with the Scottish government. As a result, Scottish government investment in culture has been extremely generous given the current economic problems that afflict the UK as a whole. A new National Strategy for Scotland’s Museums and Galleries was put in place in 2012 and the government’s commitment to funding the sector cannot be doubted. There are important reasons for this, both cultural and economic. If we ask the question about what competitive advantages does Scotland have, or might have, that would enable Scottish businesses to compete as effectively as Swiss or Finnish businesses, firstly within the European Union and then in a worldwide market, tourism would be one of the first to come to mind. The connection between tourism and museums and galleries is a crucial one, with more than 25 million visitors each year. This simple fact ensures that any future Scottish government will surely seek to prioritise funds to sustain and develop museums and galleries. They are more important than shipbuilding in growing the Scottish economy.

Those opposed to a ‘Yes’ vote point to the significant financial contribution made by the National Lottery to Scotland’s arts sector. The former prime minister Gordon Brown has stated that lottery funding would not survive independence, while the SNP government argues instead that cooperation among the nations of Britain will continue to flourish, including the lottery arrangements. This is all part of a daily process of claim and counter-claim that has dogged the referendum campaign. One would assume, however, that when the dust settles, finding ways of working together across the UK would be the preferred choice of most reasonable people.

There are many reasons to fear that funding for museums and galleries may be under threat, both in Scotland and in the UK. In an age of austerity, public spending across the Western world is continually being reduced. Even in Germany, renowned for its serious approach to cultural matters and where public spending on the arts is roughly four times the British level, cuts in federal and Land budgets are being introduced. It was therefore encouraging when in a major speech in June 2013, the Scottish cabinet secretary for culture Fiona Hyslop veered away from the economic justification for the arts that Westminster holds to, saying ‘We actively support the case for public subsidy of the arts. We understand that culture and heritage have a value in and of themselves.’ For a small nation, cultural exchange with the world is vital and this offers new challenges and opportunities for our museums and galleries. There will be an incentive to export our art as never before and what we have to offer in terms of a vast, inherited file of cultural achievement is far greater than many of our similarly sized European neighbours.

Independence is about the long view – what might be achieved when the cultural priorities of Scotland begin to take on a different shape from those at present. There are a good many models, especially if we look to our northern neighbours. Denmark was a pioneer in creating museums such as the Louisiana and Arken museums of modern art, where art, architecture and landscape combine to offer visitors an extraordinary experience. Oslo’s new opera house, soon to be joined by a new building for the Munch Museum, is another example, while in Iceland, despite the financial crash of 2008, the Icelandic people were united in their determination to complete the magnificent new concert hall, Harpa, in Reykjavik.

In an independent Scotland there would be a much sharper focus on our own cultural achievements. It should not be difficult to come up with new educational priorities that can indicate the range and richness of what our artists do, have done and are capable of doing. It is the only way to ensure parity of recognition, dealing nation to nation as equals.

This is where cultural investment and institutional foundations are required: museums and galleries, schools and universities, the entire state-organised system that structures cultural appreciation and helps to provide a sense of self-worth and dignity. Rather than diminish their role, independence offers museums and galleries an enhanced sphere of influence at the centre of the nation’s cultural life.

Sandy Moffat is an artist, curator and teacher. He retired as Head of Painting at the Glasgow School of Art in 2005.

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Show comments
  • ucl

    Scotland would NOT be a ‘nation’ of Britain if it decided to leave the Union. It would be an independent state…

  • The Masked Marvel

    Never mind, the BBC’s economics and finance guru Robert Peston says the oil fund will take care of everything. More importantly, what will happen to the price of single malt?

    • Iain Hill

      Hopefully it will be cheaper in Scotland.

      • biggmee

        no it wont,remember Salmon wanted to price alcohol by the % of alcohol which would make it dearer

      • The Masked Marvel

        That doesn’t help those of us who don’t live there. And one shouldn’t be too sure. Salmond is going to need all the revenue he can get until the magical oil fund is put into place.

    • Derick Tulloch

      If there is a currency union, malt will be the same price
      If there is no currency union but a 1:1 peg, malt will be the same price
      If there is an independent Scottish currency it will appreciate relative to Sterling due to the natural resource underpinnings, and malt will be more expensive. Unless you live in Scotland, in which case it will be the same price

      • The Masked Marvel

        You haven’t addressed tax increases or any duty which may be imposed in the quest for much-needed revenue until that magical oil fund kicks in. Even if there is a currency union, you cannot claim there will be no change in price, either within Scotland or without.

        • Derick Tulloch

          Now you’re just being silly. What will the price of fish be in 2032? Will I be attacked by a bear on the way to the shops.
          We just don’t know.

          There is no need for tax increases (in Scotland at least) because the oil revenue is not a basis, it is a bonus. Every single drop of it. Whistles cheerfully
          How’s the pound doing today?

          • HJ777

            According to Salmond and Swinney, they would borrow more to avoid ‘austerity’ in a seceded Scotland.

            Why would they need to do that if “oil revenue is not a basis, it is a bonus”?

  • MichtyMe

    Surprisingly what has been ignored here is the claim that Scotland has on a share or the value of the priceless contents of the British Museum etc, that should resolve some of the possible negatives.

    • monty61

      It’s not a CD collection ….

      • MichtyMe

        Yes, they are Public Bodies and their assets are included in UK Government accounts.

    • FF42

      It will remain a claim. Azerbaijan didn’t get a couple of Rubens masterpieces from the Hermitage when it left the USSR

      • ChuckieStane

        So you believe England is comparable to Tsarist or Soviet Russia?

    • Andrew Smith

      According to this logic, the rUK would have a claim to assorted bits n bobs in Scotland. Say a few Robbie Burns manuscripts and a few hectolitres of oil for the Rosetta stone.

      • Iain Hill

        Alas, Scots say Robert or Rabbie.

  • Wessex Man

    I don’t believe it would, this seems another tacky scare story to frighten the Scots from voting yes.

    • Derick Tulloch

      You have to give the No campaign some credit for the inventive variety of their ‘You’re all doomed’ scare stories. My favourite was the 14,000 treaties we were supposed to have to negotiate, including many with African kingdoms that no longer exist, and with Austria Hungary. Or possibly announcing we would face cross border mobile roaming charges, the very day theat the EU announced they were to be abolished. Mind you, the wet behind the ears interns at the Treasury taking Professor Dunleavy’s estimates of the cost of Whitehall reorganisations and multiplying them by 12 was also amusing.
      Scottish Tax revenues = £57bn pa
      Returned to Scotland £30bn Block Grant = £17bn pensions and benefits
      £10bn a year effective subsidy to rUK.
      For every time period for which we have records Scotland has put in more to the UK than we get out. Enough.

      • monty61

        Trite, naive, zero sum game thinking. The activity on which much of the tax raised wouldn’t be conducted in Scotland in the first place it it wasn’t for the Union. And since, from your own admission, Scotland is so successful within the Union, why risk it all on a pointless gamble?

        • MichtyMe

          When Scotland joined this “successful” union its population was about 20% of it, now it is just over 8%, now should we explain this, drained of resources perhaps?

          • monty61

            So which is it then? Monaco-sur-Clyde or Shanty-town Scotia? Like all Gnats your answer will depend on whether you are talking to ‘low information voters’ like the Motherwell mob above, or someone you consider to have at least half a brain.
            Salmon’s message has been consistently aimed at the ‘missing million’ underclass who he thinks are the key to victory. Overwhelmingly, the better educated you are the more likely you are to tell him to take a hike. (with all the usual exceptions blah blah oh look I’ve got a PhD and I’m voting yes blah blah)

            • MichtyMe

              Well, if as in your words, Scotland was so successful within the Union, I would have expected it to have retained that 20% population ratio.

              • monty61

                Why? You really think Scotland would be a better place with 12m people living in it?

                • MichtyMe

                  No, I was imagining a better England with a population of 20m.

                • monty61

                  From what I observe down here I don’t think many English would disagree with that!

          • HJ777

            And its GDP per head (the figure that matters) was half that of England. Now it is almost exactly the same.

            • Jambo25

              Hmm and it only took 307 years.

              • HJ777

                In fact, it took much less than 100 years.

                Not bad considering the state of Scotland in 1707. Scotland enthusiastically benefitted from being part of the union – and still is. And long may it do so.

                • Jambo25

                  Actually, Scotland while being poorer than England wasn’t that much of a howling wilderness in 1707.

                • HJ777

                  I didn’t suggest that it was a howling wilderness.

                  i merely said that it was much poorer, which it was. So it can hardly be argued that Scotland has suffered economically as part of the UK. The contrary argument, can, however, be made.

            • ryongsong

              Actually I’d say GNI per head was more meaningful. Why is GDP the one that matters to you?

              As for the arts, I think quite a number of the better off Yes supporters like me realise there may be a need to increase our support during what could be a difficult transition period.

      • HJ777

        “For every time period for which we have records Scotland has put in more to the UK than we get out.”

        Prove it.

        • Derick Tulloch

          This article shows figures from 1900 to 1921

          The lowest subsidy from Scotland to ‘imperial services’ over the period was in 1909 when only 51% of Scottish tax revenues were ‘shared’.
          http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-historical-debt/
          Every one of those 21 years show a huge gap between tax revenue raised from Scotland and that spent in Scotland. The Treasury then stopped publishing the figures so until GERS was instituted we only have the occasional Parliamentary answer.

          Since GERS began, every year Scotland has put more in than we got out.http://archive.today/5Swry and http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/10-key-economic-facts-that-prove-scotland-will-be-a-wealthy-independent-nation/
          I personally think that GERS understates Scottish revenue as it is dependent on HMRC disaggregations which may or may not be accurate. E.g. Oil loaded directly on to tankers offshore and bound outwith the EU is allocated to ‘unknown region’, rather dubiously

          • HJ777

            Direct links to sources of data please – not to ‘Yes” campaign web site claims.

            • Derick Tulloch

              If you had bothered to read the article you would see that the source material is in the National Library of Scotland and is UK Treasury figures.
              Try the Financial Times of 02 February 2014. Is the FT a ‘Yes campaign web site’? http://archive.today/vcQ78

              • HJ777

                Then point me towards the source material, not the “Yes” campaign’s interpretation of the figures.

                The FT article does not remotely support your assertion.

  • monty61

    Interesting piece but unfortunately rather pointless. The disaffected lumpen chavs Salmond has aimed his dumbed-down, utterly disingenuous message at – and who will deliver his result if he gets it – really couldn’t care less about such things. What a few arty types think is completely irrelevant.

    • Jambo25

      I’m a Yes supporter so a disaffected lumpen chav who’s been a signed up ‘Friend’ of the National Galleries for a fair number of years now and spent much of a week last Sunday viewing the exhibitions at Modern 1 and 2. I saw a few people with Yes badges as well.

      • monty61

        A few arty types (such as your good self, no doubt) are not the constituency Salmond is aiming at with his pernicious dissembling.

        These are the intellectual giants that comprise the numeric bulk of the Yes campaign (sadly from my own native Lanarkshire):

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3LeeGx1baU

        • ChuckieStane

          Intellectual giants compared to Ms Lamont or Mr Rennie.

          Mr. Murphy seems to be able to dish out the screaming and bawling as good as anyone, as one might expect from a former Revolutionary Communist whose party supported violence in Ireland.

          • Iain Hill

            I did not realise he had ever displayed such conviction, however misplaced. However, be fair, he is mainly protecting his livelihood, now severely under threat.

        • Jambo25

          I just contradicted the snobbish and unpleasant piddle that you posted.

          • monty61

            No you didn’t. I don’t expect many of the rabble in the you tube clip read the Spectator. (I imagine many of them would struggle with the Daily Record, tbh.)

            • HJ777

              You don’t understand.

              Jambo25 assures us that it is only “No” supporters who behave like that. The video must be wrong. Probably staged as as part of a “No” campaign plot masterminded by MI5, as Jim Sillars has claimed.

              You really can’t understand these things properly unless you are paranoid – and you seem disturbingly sane (and therefore wrong).

              I hope you are clearer about things now.

              • Jambo25

                Paranoid much.

                • HJ777

                  You certainly are.

      • HJ777

        So what is your excuse for your behaviour and your hypocrisy?

        • Jambo25

          Having to reply to clowns like you.

          • HJ777

            Those insults again, I see.

            You know, the ones that you claim other people direct at you.

    • FF42

      ‘Arty types’ are overwhelmingly Yes. James Holloway is a refreshingly unusual No in bringing the whole thing back to money. As the rest of public finances will be squeezed in the post-independence economic depression, there’s no reason to believe Arts will be immune.

      I love arts but admit to being more concerned about the effect on our health service, education and poverty levels in general

    • Iain Hill

      Chavs like me? 69, 2 degrees, professional qualification, lifetime career at the top of a major local authority with a stunning record on arts funding, and definitely an arty type. Think before you write, and observe how we manage after the Yes vote. Sneering and arrogance may be typical, but are neither constructive or pleasant to observe.

      • HJ777

        So you’ve lived off the taxpayer and received most of your funding via central government (as local authorities tend to do).

        In other words, you’ve little experience of how the revenue to pay for your projects is actually generated, as most of it was handed to you on a plate after someone else had done the dirty work.

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