ANOTHER week, another cultural jamboree launch in the Dear Green Place. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was rather more to grab hold of at the unveiling of Celtic Connections’ 25th Anniversary programme than there had been at visual arts biennial Glasgow International, although if GI director Richard Parry is unlike Nicholas Serota as I suggested last week, Donald Shaw similarly in no way resembles Leonard Sachs (look him up on YouTube, whippersnappers).

The festival’s director may specialise in undemonstrative drollery in his delivery of his jubilee delights for January’s dark days, but there was nonetheless plenty to become excited about. As agent Loudon Temple pointed out to me, it would have been unsurprising if the programme had focussed on celebrating the event’s heritage, but that aspect of the 2018 bill-of-fare is balanced with much that is fresh, or links with past glories in new ways. Shaw joked that people had now stopped asking him what qualified such-and-such an artist to feature in a “Celtic music” event, so he had involved daredevil cyclist Danny MacAskill as an excuse to hear the question again. That was a nice pointer towards the underlying political significance of what is now unarguably Glasgow’s single most significant global cultural event.

Shaw has been vocal about the dangers presented to his sphere by Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. There is the usual substantial international element to the 2018 festival, as Rob Adams outlines elsewhere in this issue, and the partner country which will feature in the crucial Creative Scotland-supported showcase element of the programme is Ireland. Irish Consul General in Scotland Mark Hanniffy told Tuesday evening’s gathering that this will be the start of a year-long charm offensive by Culture Ireland on the UK. A fortnight ago it was announced that the promotional body had been awarded a 14% hike in its funding, targeted specifically at “a major Irish Culture Programme across Great Britain in 2018 to build on the unique cultural relationship between the two countries and expand the reach of Irish culture to new audiences.” Hanniffy told me that this had been in the organisation’s plans before the UK’s Brexit vote, but obviously the Irish government has decided that the time is right to back the initiative with hard cash. There are, as Shaw explained to The Herald, sound musical reasons for selecting Ireland as the partner state in Celtic Connections’ silver jubilee year, but there are equally pressing political ones as well. The Consul General was very clear to his Glasgow audience on that point.

The outward-looking impetus behind both the Irish initiative and the ethos of the programming of Celtic Connections that is inherent in its name could hardly be more essential than they are today. At the same time as Britain lurches towards an uncertain future, Spain, one of the countries that is a crucial link in the festival’s musical diaspora, is struggling with the independence aspirations of some of its people, a phenomenon now in danger of being mirrored in two of the wealthier regions of northern Italy. Scotland’s contemporary sense of its self as a place that takes more care of all of its people, by democratic consent, than is perceived to be the case in selfish, better-off parts of the UK might look more admirable, but it still carries with it a risk of insularity. Fortunately it seemed this week to be a temptation our elected representatives are not seduced by.

Holyrood Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop and Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken both spoke alongside Hanniffy on Tuesday and both departed from the script to reminisce enthusiastically about fun festival nights past, in which visiting musicians featured alongside our native talent. No offence meant to some of our venerable city fathers (and mothers) of past administrations, but it was refreshing to hear Aitken talk with such knowledge and passion about the music. She was clear that Shaw’s festival had supplied rewarding experiences that have shaped the person she is now, and that is also true of many she now represents. The ethos of Celtic Connections is all the more important when we can so easily identify the forces that seek to contradict it.