Experts in literature and publishing should stick to their specialisms – the Literature Working Group Scotland report

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The Literature Working Group, set up by Scotland’s Culture Minister,  has delivered its report.  And, as befits a membership which includes writers, academics and publishers with impeccable literary credentials, the report is written directly and with technicoloured  arguments and some purple prose.

Its terms of reference wide ” To recommend a new approach to public sector support of literature, focusing particularly on writing and publishing, and to report to the Minister for Culture and the Chair of Creative Scotland”, the group has published what it describes as a Policy for literature.

The report is proudly partisan, arguing for a bigger slice of the public sector cake on the basis that more people read than attend the opera.  The group is not obliged to take into account the complexities of the cultural economy, the differences between creating live performance and writing, and the vast difference between the business models  and markets for opera and literature.  Rather, it waves the flag for literature and writers and advocates change.

The group comes up with some really sensible suggestions based on the extensive experience that the members have  and some of these could equally be applied  to other sectors under the aegis of  Creative Scotland, for example:

  • moving away from a purely grant-giving  financing model, including soft loans;  and  an investment model whereby a small royalty on profits from a successful publication be put back into the public subsidy pot, in the way that Scottish Screen invests in films
  • simplified systems for awarding, assessing and managing financial support
  • a far greater role for artists in selection, appraisal and promotional work than in the current system

It makes the case for minimum intervention from Creative Scotland in the influencing of  artistic ideas, railing against what it calls the ‘PR-driven models such as the Creative Scotland awards” . Rather, it recommends that Creative Scotland should direct its support to largely established writers.

Having made a robust case on policy and practical suggestionson policy on  funding, based on the group’s expertise, the report then strays into areas  of structures, both with regard to Creative Scotland and also literature organisations.

 It proposes a formal relationship between its own proposed Literature Academy, Literature Forum and Creative Scotland which blurs accountability. There has to be some clear water between Creative Scotland and the artists and agencies it supports.  Creative Scotland is an intermediary, balancing the needs of artists, audiences and government policy. So it can’t be tangled up in a structure whereby its staff report jointly to literature organisations which it funds, as well as reporting to the board of Creative Scotland.

The group further recommends the streamlining of the plethora of Scottish publicly funded support agencies in publishing and literature, in a fresh display  of arguments rehearsed over many years and in several publicly funded reports and consultancy projects.  All the players are aware that streamlining is required, but none will take the lead in change whilst all are funded to stay the same.  Creative Scotland should show leadership in sorting out these structures where the Scottish Arts Council couldn’t, or wouldn’t.  To do this, it needs to keep its head above the water and not tangled up in murky structures.

The Literature Working Group, as with its sister  Traditional Arts Working Group, have both delivered some good ideas  in their areas of expertise but both have become unstuck when looking at structures.  The problem is that the wide terms of reference for both groups has  tempted experts in the arts to stray into areas where they are not, largely in matters of governance and structures.

  1. Small publisher in the North said:

    With the greatest respect, this report is dreadful. It is poorly written, lacks evidence to back up its astonishing and strange pronoucements, has a conflict of interest with Rosemary Goring and the Scottish Review of Books, includes contributors such as Jamie Byng who are furious that they are included in the list and are demanding they be taken off this list.

    It is a shocking piece of work, and writers and publishers are rallying against it – see the Bookseller, and the Scotsman today.

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