By Barry Gordon
It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in a busy Leith café.  To pass the time, I pick up a copy of The Scotsman and read an opinion piece by Joyce McMillan where she talks of fear driving the No campaign; that the creative heartbeat of Scotland is ready to chance a Yes. 

It reminded me of a recent meeting I had with a folk musician where we talked about our views on Scottish independence.

“What about the fear of saying No?”  she said.
“I know a lot of people (artists) that want to remain part of the UK, but they’re just too scared to speak out about it in case they lose more work.  I just say I don’t know how I’m going to vote.”

I thought about it and realised she was right; among practicing artists, it had been a long time since I heard anyone express a definite intention to vote No – in public.  Why? Fear.

The No supporters I encounter tell me they fear being ostracised, fear losing work, fear losing out on funding, fear being categorised, fear being bullied, and – if the fanatical element of certain Yes supporters increase – fear of maybe ending up with a sore face one evening should their willingness to remain a part of the Union be expressed in any way after one too many drinks down the pub.  Their words, not mine.

Take Andy Murray for example: after his off-the-cuff comments about supporting any football team that plays against England a few years ago, he currently sits on the fence when it comes to the subject of Scottish independence.  Who could blame him?  As someone who lives in London and who is supported by English tennis fans as well as Scottish, he’s probably never going to come out and publically state his wish to see an independent Scotland – because he, too, is aware of the potential hassle that would, more likely than not, come his way. 

Think about it.

There’s not a single Scotland-based folk musician with the balls to stand up in front of a Scottish audience and literally sing the praises of being part of the United Kingdom, let alone opine that independence may be a bad thing.

They know which side their bread is buttered on: the publicly-funded Traditional Music Forum for instance (a network made up of folk clubs, musicians, promoters, agents, publishers, etc.) are, if their website content is anything to go by, pro-independence, so rocking the Yes boat is something, they tell me, they steer away from.

It doesn’t appear to just affect No voters within the Scottish folk scene, either.

Rock Yes – a celebratory series of concerts to support the Yes vote via Scottish music of all persuasions – fills their bills with Scottish-based flair that actively promote Scottish independence.  Would they provide a platform for talent who are Pro-Scottish but unsure about Scottish independence?

Would a Scotland-based poet who is known to support the Union feel confident that the Scottish Poetry Library – or any other artistic organisation that receives its funds via the Scottish Government – has their professional love and support? Could they really be a hundred percent sure?

Would a known No-voting playwright feel assured in approaching the National Theatre of Scotland (who, unsurprisingly, are producing touring plays centred on Scottish independence) with a piece that lampoons/challenges Scottish politics/independence unless they had been invited to do so first?

On the subject of securing funding for their work, some No voters I know, or have at least talked to, are now trying to figure out how to fit Gaelic (however tenuous) into their application forms, memorising the important buzzwords of Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s most recent speech on the government’s support of artists, and how to be diplomatic should the Indy-Ref topic ever come around in a workshop full of arty, Yes-voting pals.

In any case, it would be unfair to directly or indirectly deter a Scottish resident who works within the Scottish creative sector (arts world, creative industries, call it what you will) by setting an agenda that may exclude their artistic abilities purely on the grounds that it doesn’t fit their view of post-referendum Scottish independence and how that should look.  Art is meant to be challenging, regardless of political persuasion, too, right?

I suspect some who declare their intention to vote Yes (in public) will, within the safe, private confines of the ballot box, vote No.  Maybe they will and maybe they won’t – yet what is certain is that no-one can claim to speak on behalf of all Scottish creatives.

And this is the crux of why I’m writing this; not necessarily as a freelance journalist, but as a Scottish musician.

For while I am in personal agreement with Joyce’s reasons on why it would be in my interests to vote Yes – and I will be voting Yes in case anyone was wondering – it would be amiss to claim the majority of Scotland’s creatives are ready to vote Yes without having spoken to each and every one of them, and then watched them cast their vote, first.

How the future pans out after 2014 – should Scotland become independent, Joyce maintains – is for all of us to determine and build.  I know a lot of people, proud to be Scottish, who detest Westminster and the Tories with a passion, but aren’t entirely clued up yet on the implications of what Scottish independence would mean for them.  It’s not that they don’t intend to vote Yes – they just want some sensible, honest answers to their questions… without fear, of course.

On telling a good friend that I’d planned to write this piece, I was asked if it would “really be worth the hassle?”  I admit that I felt discouraged, but had I turned it down due to that fear, then I’d be allowing myself to be intimidated for shedding light on the genuine feelings of those who happen to go against the seemingly populist Yes vote.

Barry Gordon is the reviewer, previewer and arts news reporter for the Daily Record and Sunday Mail


2013-07-02 04:50

The late, great Joe Strummer said “The future is unwritten”.

We can create a new inclusive Scottish society with a “YES” vote 😉
2013-07-02 07:57

I’m afraid that I just don’t get this article.

If someone feels that their future is more assured under Westminster rule and wants to vote No then that is their right.

Alternatively, if you feel that your future would be brighter under Holyrood rule and want to vote Yes then vote for Independence.

My friends, colleagues and acquaintances all express varying views on the matter and I’m not aware of any negative, work-related consequences in doing so.

Maybe artists are of a more sensitive disposition 🙂

I would be surprised, though, if the artistic community could not see the wonderful opportunities that Independence presents.

The future is ours to shape and we have wonderful resources and people to make it work.
2013-07-02 07:58

Interesting piece. I suspect the artistic community is not representative though of society as a whole, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly there is a different relationship to the state: arts funding is strongly devolved already, and at least partly driven by “nationalist” objectives, regardless of the party in power.

Secondly, although related to the above point, it’s a sector where it is easier to “come out” for Yes consistently and loudly.
Mad Jock McMad
2013-07-02 08:49

What is the message of this piece?

That all ‘Yes’ supporters are ramping, see you jimmy, nutters?

The reality is it appears ‘Operation Fear’ only achievement is to scare its own supporters. There are idiots posting on both sides of the fence and on ‘Yes’ campigning days I have seen the spittle spumed hatred of the ‘No’ supporters up close and personal – again their’s is a response to ‘fear’ and potential loss.

The difference in attitude and psychology is simple, the ‘Yes’ side has a lot to gain and nothing to lose; the ‘No’ side has a lot to lose and nothing to gain. Mr Gordon’s friend is scared but not, I suggest, from the mythical ‘Yes’ bogeymen – the cybernutters are just easy to hide behind.
The Laird
2013-07-02 09:13

Well, wouldn’t it be nice if the No campaign were able to articulate their arguement in a coherent fashion without resorting to “Operation Fear” tactics. Then perhaps the No supporters would be able to counter the Yes side of the argument without feeling the need to hide their light under a bush. It’s the fault of the Unionist Parties that people feel unable to support them in public. Its all doom and gloom with them and the people have seen through their smoke and mirrors tricks. Time for them to up their game if they think they have a point.
2013-07-02 09:47

Characteristics required to step out on to a stage, or to try and eek a living from the “Creative Arts”
confidence,opti  mism and maybe a bit of courage mixed in.
All the ingredients required to embrace change and vote YES.
It’s up to us to help our fellow Scots take on the positivity of our Artists.
The exact opposite tactic of the NO camp
2013-07-02 10:03

I’ve never come across a prospective No voter feeling intimidated by pressure the YES campaign. If I was to place myself in the shoes of a No voter, I suspect my greatest anxiety would be someone asking me to articulate my reasons for wanting to retain the Union.
The irony is, if these artists and creatives want reassurances that YES is not hostile toward their concerns, then articulating their concerns is the very thing they need to be doing. Frankly, constructive discussion of genuine misgivings is something which is needed to elevate the whole debate to higher plain than the present scaremongering, disinformation and denials. That’s the noise which currently drowns out reasoned discussion.

Speak freely Artists and creatives; your input IS valued and you might never have a better chance to be heard.
2013-07-02 13:26

Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance.

Just seems apt:-)
Edward Harkins
2013-07-02 15:14

Commendable Barry. I was at the recent Creative Scotland Open Sessions & the subsequent ‘Who owns Scottish Culture etc” event in The Tron. At the Tron event I said that what I heard had me asking “is that it? Are diatribes against a dead reactionary from the 1980s (Thatcher & a discredited war leader (Blair) what passes for a discourse on Scottish Culture?” The responses from at least one panel member was an loud unqualified ‘YES! It came with vitriol about ‘neo-liberalism’ and such like. From informal chat afterwards with some other participants it was plain that they cringed at this sort of political narrative being used to represent ‘Scottish Culture’. But just as striking was that those individuals felt it was ‘just not worth the hassle’ of offering any counterpoint in such debates.This is an unhealthy scenario that bodes badly for the ‘Yes’ campaign. It also bodes badly for the UK if the Referendum result were to be a fear & negativity based ‘No’. Wherein ‘Scottish Culture’?
Mad Jock McMad
2013-07-02 16:44

Scottish Culture clearly does not lie in a politicised ‘Creative Scotland’ style quango.

Who owns Scottish culture?

The sovereign Scottish people, who are bye and large centre left, conservative, but see Scotland as the proud birth place of Hume, Burns, Grassick-Gibbon, Clerk-Maxwell, Prof Higgs, Keir Hardy, Hugh McDairmid, Oor Wullie, Jimmy Reid, Ian Banks or Ian Rankin as a few examples of Scottish ‘culture’ with a global reach.

I doubt there are many who would agree with the narrow opinion expressed by the top table at your meeting because in expressing these narrow opinions they are no better than the very people they seek to harrangue in their Stalinistic view of Scottish ‘culture’.
2013-07-03 02:28

I totally agree with you MJM. It seems to me that a lot of these so called “creatives” seem to think that they’re the ones who own Scottish Culture, whereas I’ve always believed that Scottish Culture is, and should be, owned by the Scottish people. Just because I can’t hold a tune, write a poem or paint a picture doesn’t mean I don’t contribute to our culture and I find it offensive and insulting that anyone should suggest otherwise.

2013-07-02 16:17

Oh dear! Has the author never heard of having ‘the courage of one’s convictions’? Everyone in a democracy is entitled to have an opinion – and to express it! However that also means both sides should be willing to debate with and respect the other’s clearly and strongly held views, does it not?

We all own Scotland’s Culture – no one section of society has an outright claim, each one of us contributes to it by our preferences of what we watch/listen to or go to see in the theatre. We ‘pays our money’ buying books, tickets etc to pay your wages.

One of the most important aspects is that everyone will have differing political positions (even on the same ‘side’) within the debate; whilst I hope they ALL at least have open minds and can listen to others arguments and points of view (and reasons for them) in an unbiased way without denigrating them or appearing supercilious or, to be frank, a culture snob.
red kite
2013-07-02 18:03

Well that’s a whole new experience.
Many of us remember a time when to express support for the SNP – and thus for Scottish independence – was to have all sorts of scorn, insults, and ridicule thrown at you. Indeed it could have jeopardised your job, in some places.
So have the tables turned then ?
I have to say I haven’t noticed it.

It is wrong that there should be any victimisation or favouritism because of political, religious or any other beliefs.
Trad Music Forum
2013-07-02 19:17

We can’t see anything on our website that indicates a preference on this question one way or another, nor has anyone in an official capacity spoken to the author.

In any case, the Traditional Music Forum, as a network of organisations, would not take a stance on the issue without a unanimous endorsement from every member organisation. This won’t happen for two reasons: first such a consensus is extremely unlikely, second the question would never be put as it lies well outside the Forum’s remit.
2013-07-03 07:16

Good morning TMF

It would be a shame if you all held your tongues in the most important decision regarding our futures that we will ever make.

You may represent traditional music but your future direction and funding will be affected by the outcome of the referendum.

A No vote will mean, by the UK government’s own admission, 20 years’ of austerity and, dare I say it, a fairly grim and bitter existence.

A Yes vote opens up enormous opportunities for Scotland and, hopefully, a blooming of the creative arts.

It excites me just to think about it!

Embrace the future!
2013-07-03 10:35

I echo that. I also said in my own earlier comment that people might not get a better chance to talk about their concerns. I didn’t mean for that to sound oppressive along the lines of speak now or forever hold your peace, but if you do have concerns or fears about independence, it will be somewhat academic discussing them after the referendum. Discuss it now, and test the fears, and be fully informed about the decision you’re going to make.
2013-07-03 13:00

Members of the Traditional Music Forum and members of the organisations it represents do indeed take part in debate and campaigning, Louperdowg, mostly, but not exclusively, on the Yes side. What TMF does not do is take an editorial stance on the matter and in this it is entirely correct.
Sheena Wellington
2013-07-03 17:21

Do read what TMF wrote, Louperdowg!! Individuals involved in TMF and in the organisations it represents can and do make their voices heard in the debate, on both sides, but it’s not the job of the TMF to express a corporate view.

2013-07-03 18:26

“The purpose of the day’s discussions was not about channelling a particular point of view, however. As a natural response to the day’s conversations, our panel came out quite vocally in their support for independence. While it was acknowledged that there will be people in the trad arts community who will not hold the same views, the strong feeling among the speakers was that we all have a responsibility to be ‘open’ about what we think, and why.”
From “Summing up Tradfest’s first conference”.…/

2013-07-02 19:24

I know, not the kind of artists and musicians the author had in mind. But this Saturday, after being granted permission by North Lanarkshire Council, ten thousand Orangemen will descend on a local park next to a housing estate in Coatbridge.

There will be flautists, percussion and accordian players present. I wonder what kind of reception a vocal supporter of Scottish independence might receive from such a gathering.

I have it on very good authority that local residents are dreading the gathering in what is a predominatly Catholic area.
call me dave
2013-07-03 11:32

For anyone who’s interested.
A Scots history of Britishness.
Starting today: Playback BBC 13:25hrs…/b0369xt9
Episode 1 of 5
Duration: 28 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 03 July 2013
In the first of a new series, Richard Holloway embarks on a personal quest to understand more about the Scots-British identity. His journey takes him to Skye on the trail of Flora Macdonald where he attempts to solve the seeming conundrum of how Scotland’s most famous Jacobite heroine could have become a loyal subject of the Hanoverian British state in later life. He asks whether the concept of national identity we have today would hold true for a Scot living through the wars of the 18th/early 19th century, and he explores the role the Scots played in inventing ‘Britishness’. But was there also a dark side to all this – profiting in the miseries caused by empire?
2013-07-03 14:03

Both Flora MacDonald’s stepfather and her husband were Hanovarian supporters and were on the winning side during the ’45.
The Loyalists in America thought the Revolution was doomed to failure and laid their bets accordingly, no great conundrum.

Edward Harkins
2013-07-03 12:23

In the interests of fairness and balance, and given what I posted above, I should also mention an excellent initiative drawn to my attention. The aim is to facilitate a mature & rational discussion on the referendum. It’s the ‘project don’t yet know or imagine Scotland’. It’s maybe for those in the culture/creative sector but ought to be replicated across all sectors:…/…

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