Rude Awakening

Few indeed are the subjects that would tempt me from the splendid isolation of my hillside redoubt and back into the echo-chamber of cyberspace, but since the Government has, after a year of due consideration and purposeful engagement, decided to publish it’s response to the Literature Working Group Report – hereafter referred to as The Stushie – I’ve decided to end my hibernation early. And let you know what to expect hereafter. The first thing to say about the Response to the Stushie is that it’s taken a year. The second thing is to say “this has taken a year?” A year is a long time, ranging, in my experience, anywhere between 365 and 366 days. A lot can happen in that time, such as the election of a Coalition Government of Right-Wing Ideologues, the systematic undermining of the public library sector, the closure of three major Scottish publishers, the formation of a new arts bureaucracy, the move to Curriculum for Excellence, the loss of Borders, the achievement of parity between e-book sales and paperbacks on the world’s largest online books retailer, and a Great Big Recession. So many of the proposals put forward during the Stushie are already hamstrung by a rapidly changing set of situations. Nevertheless: the default position of the Response – “that’s a matter for Creative Scotland” – seems inadequate. They may acknowledge there is a thistle to be grasped, but merely saying that they are fairly sure they know who might have the requisite gloves to do any future grasping is not enough. The headline grabber was the nixing of the proposed Scottish Academy of Writers. The excuse was the emptiness of the coffers. Now, there were various questions that needed to be addressed about an Academy – the process of election, the nature of their role and so forth – and it may be that the Academy can be resurrected when there’s (a) more money and (b) a fully worked out proposal. However, to say the new Makar, Liz Lochhead, will do all the Ambassadorial Stuff is limiting. She’s only one writer. She only represents one strand of contemporary Scottish literature. As for the idea of a National Book Week, my anxiety is that it’s a great way to not think about books for 51 weeks of the year. When will it even happen? From March to October there are literary festivals across the country anyway. Who will deliver it? Ah, there’s a consultation to decide all this. The Mills of God grind slow, and exceedingly fine. The future of Publishing Scotland is a matter for the members of Publishing Scotland, quoth the Response. That’s a rather two-edged phrase. It is indubitably true, but there is the slight matter of Public Funding. If a group of Scottish bakers want to have an Alliance for the Promotion of Potato Scones they are liberty to do so, and nobody can tell them to cease and desist. But nor is the Government required to provide money for them to continue in promoting potato scones, even if they decide to give money to the best potato scone producer. We await the Flexible Funding decisions with no small degree on interest. Once you strip away all the “over to you, Creative Scotland” stuff, there are a number of areas which will still require attention. There is much praise for the Live Literature Scheme, and rightly so: but remember, folks, it’s a match-funded scheme. More money going in means nothing unless schools, libraries and community groups have the money to access it. And guess what the Coalition is putting under threat? Err, that would be schools, libraries and community groups. Rather than providing direction, the Response is another yawning void of expectation. Since I’m now re-awakened, here’s a few teasers for the next while: What is Project Ararat? Should 1981 have been different? McShandy vs The State of Nature – only one will survive!

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