THE “poisoned chalice” metaphor is regularly trotted out for positions at the head of cash-strapped arts organisations or managerial roles with beleaguered sports outfits, but rarely for jobs like that of leader of a fractured government where the actual odds on someone slipping a lethal concoction into a nightcap look very much higher. Nonetheless, the cliche is pretty much unavoidable for the announcement of the appointment of visual art champion Robert Wilson as the new chair of Creative Scotland.

The fact that Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s statement about his appointment was delayed until Tuesday of this week – after the furore around the quango’s new list of regularly funded organisations and its partial volte face regarding some of the exclusions from that revision – suggests that someone foresaw the possible reaction and decided it would be better not to have the new titular head of Creative Scotland tarnished by a decision made by his staff and ratified by the board he now chairs. Mr Wilson can now ride the rescue, new broom in hand, and restore the reputation of Scotland’s “public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.” Best of luck with that, sir.

That remit, from the Creative Scotland website, is quite broad, and interpreting it has proved a challenge for the two chief executives of the organisation so far. The bolder, more ambitious, strategy of the first of them, Andrew Dixon, ran into a sustained campaign of opposition from artists in Scotland – now regularly belittled by coothie Scoticisms like “stooshie” and “stramash” – until he was eventually, and unhappily, forced to fall on his own sword. Dixon has since gone on to advise the successful UK City of Culture bids by both Hull and Coventry.

It seems unlikely that the same fate in Scotland will befall his successor, Janet Archer, who is rather less enamoured of the limelight. For the organisations which won reinstatement of their regular funding, however, the narrative that led to Dixon’s departure must look startlingly similar. For others – the Edinburgh Fringe, the Hebrides Ensemble and Fire Exit theatre company for example – the opaque strategy of Creative Scotland remains a poor one, or at least one that impoverishes them.

The conception of Creative Scotland, back in the early years of this millennium, included an important recognition that the world had moved on from the patrician egalitarianism that gave birth to the Scottish Arts Council after the Second World War. The name itself was an acknowledgement that the creativity of the people was an important engine of the economy, a crucial muscle in education, and vital to the physical and mental health of the nation, both individually and as a diverse community. It was admired and copied in a global rebranding exercise of state support for the arts as far away as New Zealand. If only the detail of the programme had lived up to the billing.

The incoming SNP administration was happy to run with what began as a Labour initiative but became a pantomime of a process of change. The gestation of Creative Scotland makes the current commuter-frustrating electrification of the railway in central Scotland look like a pacey project. A decade ago The Herald was home to many a despairing column and truculent letter as a transition organisation handed over to the board of an interim company while the remit of neither seemed to extend to filling in the broad outline of what was expected of Creative Scotland, beyond it being rather a lot, with screen and the creative industries added to the remit of the old arts council.

Within the organisation itself, once it existed, the belief appears to have been that all this would sort itself out once the right people were in the right posts. Less than eight years on from the day Creative Scotland eventually came into being, very few of those at Waverley Gate ever worked in Manor Place, but Wilson’s stated enthusiasm for “working with my fellow colleagues from across all aspects of the sector to celebrate and champion the vibrant cultural scene that belongs to Scotland,” still looks a leadership role that comes with a goblet you’d be asking an expendable vassal to taste first.