Narrating Scottish Devolution: Literature, Politics and the Culturalist Paradigm

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This paper sketches out the ways in which visual artists based in Scotland developed their own infrastructure in tandem with the devolution of state arts patronage from London to Edinburgh from 1967 onwards. It demonstrates how the Keynesian arms-length principal generated a productive tension with Artist Run Initiatives. With limited state support, artists successfully developed and run their own platforms while the Scottish Arts Council developed and ran more generously funded (competing) national and civic arts organisations. Following political devolution in 1999, Scotland's Governments have revoked JM Keynes' arm's length Patron State model in favour of the New Labour experiment with structuration and creative economics that is Creative Scotland. A cross-party bonfire of the quangos fuelled by a populist revolt against 'expertise' and layered government per se in 21st century Britain has rapidly depleted the number of arms length bodies (ALBs) both in Scotland and the rest of the UK. This has meant that the centrist creative economy model has been continued by both SNP governments, to disastrous effect. The ALB bonfire has led to the centralisation of the arts (as well as local government and policing) in Scotland, meaning that this aspect of post-devolution Scotland are less devolved than they were in 1994 and, also, less democratically accountable. Since the arts have been fully devolved to Scotland since at least 1994 (or 1967 as some might argue) further devolution of powers from Westminster would have no more or less impact upon this situation than independence. Rather, remedying this situation would involve Scotland's Government rejecting duplication of the centralising tendency of UK Government (in the form of miniature versions of Union State apparatus) and listening instead more carefully to artists in order to better financially support the measures that artists have developed themselves to support their practices. Description of the project within which the paper was presented: - ‘Before/after’ structure of workshop series: first event just before the independence referendum, with the second a year later. How might the meaning and trajectory of devolution seem to alter between summer 2014 and summer 2015? - pedagogical and cross-disciplinary observations behind project: There’s something of historical interest about the fact that we seem to have quite separate accounts of devolution that work perfectly well within their own spheres, and rarely intersect. Paradox of ‘cultural devolution’? The political circumstances which made a Scottish “cultural revolution” legible and significant included the sudden mass appeal of a nationalist party with almost no cultural programme, and apparently very little “cultural” impetus [in the 1970s]. Pap
Period31 Aug 2015
Event typeConference
LocationStirling, United KingdomShow on map


  • Scotland
  • Devolution
  • Culturalism
  • Federalism
  • Keynesian
  • Structuration
  • Artist Run Initiatives
  • Scottish Arts Council
  • Creative Scotland
  • Scottish Independence Referendum
  • Art History
  • Art Theory
  • Arts Management