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The stage is set: but where next for the art and soul of a nation?

Nations evolve and are shaped by differing circumstances. But their soul is surely represented by the fruits of their creative labours.

Nations evolve and are shaped by differing circumstances. But their soul is surely represented by the fruits of their creative labours.

These, too, are subject to the vagaries of time, place and polity.

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It would be curious if our cultural hinterland was not a by-product, in part at least, of 300 years of interaction with our nearest neighbour. Yet, taking the pulse of contemporary creative Scotland, you might argue the resumption of a national government just seven years ago has impacted on the arts in important ways.

The fact of Holyrood has made us question more thoroughly who we are, and inquire more urgently what we might yet be. For John Wallace, the inspirational leader of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, "devolution has given a new generation a new story to tell".

He suggests what the world regards as "a land of myth and mystery" is in the process of re-inventing those myths and says that, post-1999, national traditional music has enjoyed "a massive uplift in popularity". The mainstream strength of that sector is annually underscored by the immense success of Celtic Connections but Wallace also cites "pure distilled Ceol Mor, the last indigenous classical music to be appreciated as such in the western world".

Of course, the reputation of his conservatoire must rest on broader foundations; on the teaching of global classical music, international drama and opera. Yet the more conversations you have with those concerned with the health and wellbeing of Scotland's arts, the more you recognise that, as a nation, we have yet fully to repair the residual fault-line between the indigenous and the imported. Barely disguised funding tensions between national companies and the traditional music fraternity re-surface with depressing ease.

At a deeper, more political level is the tension between the indigenous and the international. Devolution and the possibility of independence have brought that debate into sharper focus. This week, the National Theatre of Scotland has a new appointee in charge of its corporate affairs. It's interesting to hear the take of Roberta Doyle, given her similar incarnations with the Citizens' Theatre, National Galleries and Scottish Opera. "I don't think the words Scottish or national in themselves offer any guarantee of quality or creativity," she says. "If you think what the directorial triumvirate did at the Citizens' by being determinedly European and non-parochial, you can see what an extraordinary contribution they made to Scotland's dramatic reputation."

That avowedly international profile is one sought by groundbreaking companies such as Theatre Cryptic. "What's invaluable for us is not the title but the level of investment," says Doyle.

In Doyle's view, the non-national Scottish Dance Theatre is as deserving of respect and support as Scottish Ballet, and Kelvingrove as important as the National Gallery - a sentiment echoed by Lesley Thomson after a 10-year stint on the Opera and Ballet boards. "What matters is the product, and that the company is international in both make-up and outlook, benchmarking itself against the world."

Sir Brian McMaster, former director of the Edinburgh International Festival, has uncompromising views on the intertwining of politics and the arts. "I have a hatred of narrow nationalism and was absolutely opposed to the concept of a national theatre; the theatre is about transforming lives but not in a narrow, political way."

In contrast, John Wallace considers our fledgling national theatre adventure "just as important as anything going on in music, constructing itself in a peculiarly democratic Scottish way. And with the play Black Watch, it created about the only informed deconstruction of the Iraq debacle."

Interestingly, McMaster chooses to cite Catalonia as a region that still respects and values the arts, since it's an example also much utilised by proponents of Scottish independence. On a recent visit, he found the main Catalan paper giving away operatic CDs and bilingual copies of classic English literature, ventures he suggests are unlikely to be replicated in Scotland. "In places like Catalonia and Quebec and Scotland, if you artificially promote the sense of place, you encourage a narrow, inward-looking agenda."

To a limited extent, that sentiment is echoed by Doyle, who contends we look for trouble "if we become too preoccupied with Scottish product and prioritise in that way". Nevertheless, few of the major players share McMaster's bleak assessment that most Scottish arts are in the doldrums - he excepts only the visual arts - and likely to be mired there if the future brings further political self-determination. Catherine Lockerbie, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and one of the moving spirits behind Edinburgh becoming the first Unesco City of Literature, is adamant Scotland punches far above its weight. "We have poets who regularly take the major prizes, a golden age of crime writing and a rich, diverse and mutually supportive literary community," she says. "In Lockerbie's view, "confidence has blossomed since devolution, with hardly a trace of either cultural cringe or over-emphatic grandstanding remaining. Our literature is self-assured, feeling no defensive need to paint a crude saltire over itself. Contemporary Scottish writing has nothing to prove to anyone."

That sense of burgeoning self-confidence is cited by many across the Scottish arts; the interesting corollary is to what extent that upward swing reflects the new political order. Has the RSNO hit a rich seam as a result of the zeitgeist or because of Stephane Deneuve, its charismatic new principal conductor, and streetwise chief executive Simon Hughes? Has Glasgow's visual-arts scene sped to international acclaim and opportunity buffeted by more favourable prevailing political winds, or because a critical mass of talent has located there and provided mutual inspiration? Indeed, are these two propositions linked? And what if Scotland strides further along the road to self-determination?

Traditional music diva Sheena Wellington cheerfully predicts artists will always argue the toss, regardless of how the political chips fall. It is, after all, what they're for, she suggests; to provoke rather than create comfort zones. John Wallace concurs: "James MacMillan is only one among many contemporary composers whose works have deep political undertones. Artists question; artists don't conform."

Lockerbie was more aware of that political edge in the run-up to devolution; "a deliberate assertion of the Scottish voice a clear statement that literature could issue from its own community as much as from more establishment, anglicised models."

However, with writers such as James Kelman, she says, the concerns are about class and exclusion rather than Scotland's relationship to England. "But if one argument for independence is about maturity and confidence, about playing a full and proper role on the world stage, an enlightened internationalism as much as an introspective nationalism, then our writers are well ahead of the game."

These sentiments find an echo with many; the need for Scotland's creative landscape to provide a textured mix of the indigenous and the international; to import and export excellence. "Confidence," says Doyle, "comes from presenting the best of everything and allowing our audiences to form their own judgment." It also comes from politicians providing the commitment and wherewithal to serve that menu.

The Cultural Commission argued for another £100m investment. In the event, Creative Scotland has been given a £20m christening present. Scottish Screen might cast envious eyes at Northern Ireland, where the comparable organisation receives £9m from the enterprise budget for a population of one and a half million and can also piggyback on Eire's more generous tax breaks for inward film investment.

Yet what matters ultimately is not just the financial climate but the atmosphere we generate. A Scotland where people are convinced soul food is as vital for stimulating growth and wellbeing as more tangible nourishment.

Wallace, whose performing career was worldwide before his repatriation at the helm of the RSAMD, believes "Scots sleepwalked through the twentieth century blaming all and sundry, anybody but themselves for their woes. I've been all over the place looking because I used to be a twentieth-century Scot. I came to the conclusion Scotland is an absolutely brilliant place to work and put your energies into. If you love Scotland, it gives you love back. Scotland's creativity and confidence have been enhanced by devolution. Independence? It would skyrocket."

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