EVEN at a time when politics is a hellish morass of mendacity, corruption and moral turpitude, the business of funding the arts in Scotland still attracts attention on The Herald’s pages of readers’ letters and noisier pockets on the boundless reaches of social media.

Most recently there has been the revisiting of the question of how the screen industries are supported, with film-maker Annie Griffin’s suggestion to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament that the new unit being set up under the auspices of Creative Scotland to look after the interests of the sector should be an independent body.

It is not overstating the case to point out that such a move would undermine the case for establishing Creative Scotland in the first place, as it was originally conceived to bring together the functions of the Scottish Arts Council, Scottish Screen, and responsibility for “cultural sector” industries like computer gaming previously under the aegis of Scottish Enterprise. Economies of scale were suggested, but the creation of a new autonomous, forward-looking body in charge of distributing money for the arts was the main aim. The authority and autonomy of that organisation was once again being questioned, as it has been on successive occasions.

Less obviously, it happened again at the start of Glasgow International (GI), the festival of visual art currently underway across the city, when Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop used the opening event at Glasgow City Chambers to announce that GI would become eligible for an award from the Scottish Government’s Festival Expo Fund.

This money, which is not part of Creative Scotland’s budget, was once restricted to Edinburgh-based events to support the capital’s Festivals. For example, a little under £200,000 has been earmarked from the Expo Fund to support the programme of music at Leith Theatre that is a feature of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival programme. Within the past year the practice of it only being awarded to events in the capital has ended. It has now been extended to Celtic Connections, which has £100,000 labelled for its use, pending an application to underwrite a suitable project or strand of the festival, and now GI, for its event in 2020.

Without explaining exactly how those organisations qualify, Ms Hyslop said: “After opening Expo to Celtic Connections, this is another recognition of the international reach of festivals in Glasgow, enhancing Scotland’s global reputation for excellence in culture and creativity.”

There remains a clear question about who is making these judgements, and what hurdles an arts event has to clear to meet the criteria to qualify for Expo Fund support. As the Scottish Government’s announcements of these things have been careful to include approving quotations from Julia Amour, director of the capital’s umbrella body, Festivals Edinburgh, and from Creative Scotland executives like Head of Visual Arts Amanda Catto and Multi-artform Manager Lorna Duguid, there is evidently an awareness at Holyrood that an appearance of consensus is A Good Thing.

I would, of course, be the last to suggest that extra money for the arts is in any way A Bad Thing, and recognise the Scottish Government’s good track record on maintaining arts spending in hard times. But just as Creative Scotland was undermined in the recent funding round when decisions it had made were effectively reversed, so Expo Funding, like the direct funding of our national companies by the Scottish Government, is unarguably an erosion of the “arm’s length” principle that has ruled all arts funding since the Second World War. That principle exists not just to prevent censorship by government, but also to guard against the targeting of resources towards artistic endeavour that somehow serves the political agenda of those in power.

When First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in China recently, we learned, a full year before we might have expected the news to be released, that a Chinese production of the ballet scored by Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring will feature in the 2019 Edinburgh Festival. Unlike the reported reaction at that work’s premiere over 100 years ago, the revelation provoked no riot, but it would be naive not to recognise when sacrifices are in danger of being made by creative people to stay on the right side of their paymasters.