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Saltire Society revamp in bid to inspire debate in run-up to independence poll

For more than 75 years, it honoured Scotland's finest writers and was supported by leading cultural figures.

FOCUS: Jim Tough is relaunching the Saltire Society, which has given awards to authors Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and Louise Welsh in the past.  Main picture: Stewart Attwood
FOCUS: Jim Tough is relaunching the Saltire Society, which has given awards to authors Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and Louise Welsh in the past. Main picture: Stewart Attwood

Now the Saltire Society is to relaunch itself in the heart of the artistic community with revamped awards, a new series of lectures and debates, and a return to the publication of pamphlets.

A recent report by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk found that the society, founded in 1936 in Edinburgh to "promote and celebrate the uniqueness of Scottish culture and Scotland's heritage", has a "lower public profile than was the case for much of its earlier existence". New director Jim Tough, formerly of the Scottish Arts Council, believes that, funded by a new endowment trust, the society can help a cultural stage dominated by the controversy over Creative Scotland.

The report said there was a lack of recognition for what the society does. Over the years it has given awards to figures such as Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, Louise Welsh, James Robertson and Liz Lochhead.

Mr Tough believes it can become a modern body that inspires debate in the run-up to the independence referendum.

Mr Tough said a new business plan has been written so that it is "ready to play an important role in our country at a time when we are looking at some fundamental questions about our future".

He said: "For 75 years the members and our expert panels have invested their time, their money, their passion into the cause of creativity.

"This plan seeks to build on that foundation and ensure it continues to serve new generations of Scots.

"If creativity can be seen as 'applied imagination' then the Saltire Society will celebrate the Scottish imagination in all of its forms."

Mr Tough is keen to emphasise the society is not positioning itself as an alternative or counter to Creative Scotland, the national arts funding body, but is an independent voice and forum for debate. Next year could see a revival of its pamphleteering, which used to be produced on key issues of the day, as well as The Saltire Series of debate and discussions, and a new award for Scottish Publisher of the Year.

Pamphlets used to be a key part of political and cultural debate but have fallen out of favour in recent decades.

The Saltire Society wish to explore whether they can commission writers to address contemporary topics in small publications which will be both printed and available online.

The Saltire Series will, the business plan suggests, "spark fresh thinking, ignite debate and challenge our orthodoxies".

Mr Tough said he is keen for the society to not take a political position.

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