Staff and board members of Scotland's national arts body felt "undermined" by former First Minister Alex Salmond's unprecedented intervention into arts funding, it can be revealed.


Last year, in a controversial decision, Creative Scotland decided that Scottish Youth Theatre (SYT) would not be one of its three-year funded arts bodies.

It led to a storm of criticism and, within a fortnight, a surprise £1m package for the theatre, and other youth arts bodies, was announced by Mr Salmond in his main farewell speech as First Minister.

The Herald has uncovered a series of internal emails under Freedom of Information which show the intense disquiet at Creative Scotland over the intervention.

Read Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government's emails about Scottish Youth Theatre here

Creative Scotland, like other Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB), operates at "arms length" from government.

The messages show the intervention was viewed as compromising and undermining the quango's independent decisions.

One says: "This clearly has implications for our credibility as a non-governmental public body."

Another from Iain Munro, deputy chief executive, warns that if the £1m is not also shared with other youth bodies "it undermines the entire Regular Funding process and Creative Scotland's status as an arms length NDPB."

Last night Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, said that her board and senior staff were now happy with the arrangement, which saw the money go to several youth arts organisations.

"I think that was a very particular moment in time," she said, when asked whether such an incident could happen again.

The £1m funding package is a 3-year investment programme to support the national youth performing companies - the National Youth Choir of Scotland, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, YDance and SYT.

However internal emails clearly express concern over how the £1m package affected the position of Creative Scotland.

They also show the personal interest taken in the funding of SYT by Mr Salmond, who was, at one point, "speaking directly to [Fiona] Hyslop [culture secretary] on a daily basis to ascertain progress."

Aileen McKechnie, the then-director of culture and heritage at Scottish Government, writes to the hierarchy of Creative Scotland on November 8, a week after the regular funding decisions were published, says: "You'll be aware that the FM was disappointed at the result of the recent funding round for SYT.

"He is meeting the CEO [Mary McClusky] tomorrow to discuss further...

"I am keen to offer a brief note in advance of that meeting which provides some assurance for the future of SYT...if we are unable to provide such assurances, I'd be concerned about the outcome of such a meeting."

Before and after the government's subsequent funding announcement on November 14, the discomfort and unhappiness within Creative Scotland is clear.

On November 13, Mr Munro argues that the £1m package should form part of Time to Shine, and not be purely seen as a special fund for SYT.

In an email to Ms McKechnie, Ms Archer and Sandy Crombie, the former chairman of Creative Scotland, he writes: "If the £1m package is available only to SYT the risks are significant: it will be perceived as inequitable and will lead to substantial unrest across the cultural sector, from both successful and unsuccessful applicants."

He notes that unless the money was made part of Creative Scotland's youth strategy it could "undermine the entire Regular Funding process and Creative Scotland's status as an arms length NDPB".

On November 14, board member Barclay Price wrote to Ms Archer and Mr Crombie: "While the £1 million is is of course good news as all extra money for the arts is, I still think this undermines the decision of the Executive and Board...

"It is quite clear that this is in response to the SYT decision - and will be widely seen to be so by the wider world - and thus if I were an unsuccessful applicant to the three year funding round I would wonder whether a campaign to the Government might bring them money as well.

"I can well understand Janet that you were in a difficult position re: this and clearly unable to refuse £1 million!"

In Crombie's reply he praises Archer's handling of the situation, but admits: "Clearly we all need to ponder whether this is undermining."

Board member Ruth Wishart writes on November 16: "I assumed that the collective decision finally taken would be just that. Final.

"I watched the FM's speech on iPayer [sic] last night and clearly, on the basis of his personal experience, he chose to give NYT favoured status and therefore second guess the CS process.

"As a result I find myself in the paradoxical position of being relieved that a solution has been found for NYT...while being simultaneously uneasy that there has been direct political intervention of a kind explicitly excluded by our terms of reference."

She adds: "This clearly has implications for our credibility as a non governmental public body.

"There is too the tricky question of precedent, and how other unsuccessful applicants will choose to react."