Scottish Lib Dems’ Joe McCauley criticises SNP over Angus Robertson book event

It’s been an embarrassing weekend for Scotland’s Culture Minister Angus Robertson. The SNP MSP has pulled out of a promotional event for his new book which had been paid for by a grant for his own department.

From the Sunday Mail: 

But Angus Robertson cancelled his appearance last night – after the Sunday Mail started asking about the £30,000 handed to it by a group under his remit.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture had been due to appear at the Borders Book Festival to plug Vienna – The International Capital.

The event was awarded the significant grant in August from Creative Scotland – a government- funded and accountable body ­falling under Robertson’s brief.

He has now cancelled the lecture and an advert was quickly removed from the festival website after this newspaper began asking questions about it.

In the newspaper’s report, the first opposition party quote, and it was a blistering one, goes to Scottish Lib Dem Culture Spokesperson Joe McCauley. The SNP’s cutting of cultural services in Glasgow was not lost on him:

“At the same time as the SNP takes a scythe to cultural centres in Glasgow, the Culture Secretary is trying to plug his book at a taxpayer-funded literary event.

“Sadly, anyone who can’t afford the £25 recommended retail price will be out of luck because his council ­colleagues want to close the libraries too. Scottish arts and culture ought to be for everyone.”

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  • Brad Barrows 31st Oct '21 - 7:22pm

    I’m not sure that Angus Robertson’s book about Vienna counts as ‘Scottish Arts and culture’. However I am sure he will have acquired in-depth knowledge of the subject matter while working as the BBC’s Vienna correspondent. For those keen to buy the book, it is available in hardback, online, for under £18 rather than the notional £25 quoted. On the serious point, questions should be asked as to why any public money was contributed to this book launch as it appears is being claimed.

  • There are two things that jump out here.

    The first is that there’s a lot of public money being spent to support events like this that are disproportionately attended by middle-class people having a nice day out. Meanwhile, years of disproportionately large cuts to local authority budgets means facilities poorer people rely on, including libraries are being closed.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love a literary festival, and I accept that they contribute to the local economy as well as being a nice day out, but when so many libraries (that are still open) are operating on restricted hours it feels distasteful.

    The second bit is how on earth no-one at Creative Scotland thought it was dodgy. As an organisation it’s often been accused of cronyism, and realistically that’s hard to avoid when so many people know each other. But all the more reason to be alert to this stuff.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Nov '21 - 12:08pm

    It is an important story about a subject very few understand, is linked to the entire public funded crony kind of culture we have in this country, and have indeed not realised , for years!

    Arts funding throughout the UK is often as a result of who you know. The “in cowd,” is rife. These bodies, like the Arts Council who are similar, have their agenda. They want you to fit into it.

    I have, myself, and my wife, with disabilities, and with genuine projects to help utilise creative talents for the greater good, been turned down several times. Projects have to be a very direct fit with their plans. Public funding organisations should only have two criteria, are you in the arts, is this going to benefit anyone. Other than this, you should explain and extol the virtues of your intended idea. Instead they know what they look for, you must meet that. In this case it is a joke. The event is priced at £11 pounds ,for a talk!

    Robertson is typical of these types , just as into that crony way of doing things, merely far more likely to criticise it if by others!

    There is way too much emphasis on the elite. The real elitism was never exposed by Brexit. It is these types. And our party ought to criticise it. It is rife at the BBC, though old school Lib Dems, Labour, never tell you,, because they, do not know how much of it is like their own inability to realise how locked out so many, are.

    Liberalism should be pro government, but against bureaucracy.

    Tell that to some parliamentary adherents for a corrupt system.

  • The funding for the Borders Book Festival is from the Culture and Business Fund which match funds from businesses to encourage new and different partnerships between the arts and business. This link shows some of the partnerships supported:

    Performances in small halls, bringing theatre to schools and so on. This year the focus is on covid recovery.

    A moment’s research will show that the BBF is primarily funded by businesses and the CBF grant is a small element of a much bigger package. The BBF was delayed from April 2021 so before our new group of MSPs had been elected.

    It is pity to see that some Lib Dems think book festivals are “elitist” and grants to support more business involvement, community outreach and covid recovery in the arts is an example of elitist “cronyism”.

    As far as libraries are concerned the large cutbacks in public expenditure introduced by the Conservative Lib Dem coalition to reduce the size of the state are the root cause of that.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Nov '21 - 10:29pm

    Hireton is accurate and gives a good description of the intention of this. But it in no sense negates the way money is spent by and for elitists who are well connected and do not need it or rate its use.

    This festival is not the problem. There is a problem others do experience and this piece reveals. It is that some take advantage and are often rewarded.

  • @Lorenzo Cherin

    Could you please link to your evidence that a small grant to a local successful book festival is evidence of elitism and cronyism? The programme for the festival seems to be very inclusive as well as promoting Scotland’s literary tradition and current success.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '21 - 11:51am


    As a thoroughly sensible way of approaching things, evidence is useful. But experience is too.

    I do not, at all, here, say this festival is elitist.

    I say there is elitism. I base it on my own thorough experience involved in the arts and culture as a professional.

    And I explain that here as well.

    The article reveals an attitude not evidence, involved in one person, booked with public money, to promote his book, and he responsible for the activity!

    It is a minor issue. But behind it is real waste and even more so, an often , yes indeed, elitist agenda. And the idea that being on paper, inclusive, is more than merely window dressing, is not always so. That is not a scathing comment, nor generalising, as I did not imply, it is thus only. Of course there are decent and helpful people and this is reflected in their programmes of activity. But the level of input that those who work in the administration and organisation of arts funding , is too great, and they are not accountable enough.

    Artists, be they in performing or visual, have , like those in literary arts too, to spin through hoops, often not fathomable because they are indeed absurd.

    This book festival is not absurd and as it is not organised by the writers, of course it is worth attending by them, glad to promote a book. It is, more or less though, mainly or in part, a commercial event. Therefore my criticism is mainly against those that see public money as their own preserve to allot to their own hobby horses!

  • I hope nobody objects to the fact that the Borders Book Festival (Chaired by Michael Moore, ex Lib Dem MP for the Borders) will feature over the next week, Hilary Mantel, Robert Peston, James Naughtie, Ian Rankin, Gordon Brown, Teresa May’s former aid Gavin Barwell, Jonathan Dimbleby, Rory Bremner, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, and Scotland’s Rugby great Gavin Hastings.

    As someone who has attended the Festival for many years, I can say it is a great community effort in the wonderful grounds of Sir Walter Scott’s old home Abbotsford. Tickets are still available for many of the events.

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