That the public funding of Scottish writing and publishing required root and branch reform is indisputable. The landscape is littered with bureaucratic reduplication – the “Literature Forum” has a staggering 24 bodies represented on it – gravy-train grants, bursaries that never lead to publications, publications so amateur they’re embarrassing (who can forget the slim pamphlet of poems about G8 that got a whopping £25,000?) and worse. The Literature Working Group has, on the whole, taken steps in the right direction. But if they’d told us how many steps, how long they should be and whether they should be taken at a gallop or an amble, it would have been far better. Unfortunately, unless you speak to bureaucracy in the idiom of bureaucracy, you leave yourself open to accusations of impressionism. It’s easier to cavil over details than principles.
The report at least hints at the Great Elephant in the Room: quality. In art debate speak, clotted with “access”, “entitlement” and “inclusion”, any idea that quality is a determining factor is treated as if you’d just advocated Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Access to literature comes via reading, not writing. Some books are better than others. Some publishers produce better books than others. Some organisations work better than others. Too often, arts bureaucracies operate like Police Academy, not discriminating on the grounds of race, creed, colour, gender or talent. Over the weekend, I’ll be discussing the Role of the Critic, and tackling the hand-wringers and their “But who are we to judge?” attitude.
Will the Report lead to change? Creative Scotland / the Scottish Arts Council / the Literature Development Office sometimes reminds me of the Bookman in The Gnome King of Oz. He turns over a new leaf every day, but it always the same.