When Jack McConnell was First Minister of Scotland (November 2001 to May 2007), ‘Culture’ was made a priority. McConnell's wife, Bridget, then at Glasgow City Council, is now head of Culture and Sport Glasgow (an insidious organisation you can read about elsewhere on this blog). In 2004, a Cultural Commission was launched 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 Arts Council.
In September 2008, the SNP-led Scottish Government announced that it would be following the recommendations of the Labour-led Cultural 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.
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.