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ALISTAIR HEATHER: Scottish culture needs King Charles to splash some cash

If the new King Charles is keen to make his mark on Scotland and improve its citizens' lives, he should look to funding culture and the arts.

Photo shows King Charles at the Braemar highland games, talking to a group of men, some in traditional highland dresss.
King Charles is an admirer of Scotland and its culture - will he put his money where his crown is? Image: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock.

Kings used to organise and lead armies. The fundamental thing that Scotland needed fae a king was protection fae invasion, and after that some semblance of peace fae each other.

Beyond that, kingly responsibilities included good things like coins that were tradable, and a vibrant cultural life.

Scotland’s territory is fine now. We live in a time of peace at home.

Our currency has been looking a little tarnished lately, though luckily for the king that’s no his remit these days.

But Scotland’s culture needs King Charles.

image shows the writer Alistair Heather next to a quote: "The current king should cast his eye back and see how vital his predecessors in the role have been in funding great flowerings of the arts."

I’ve written previously about King Charles’ important role in promoting cultural venues and issues in Scotland.

His presence at, and his explicit endorsement of venues like the House of Dun in Angus, brings money in and draws attention to these places.

Now, as king, his ability to show leadership, and to draw down money from the super rich when it is needed most acutely, is heightened.

photo shows Alistair Heather in front of an old carriage, talking to a kilted King Charles at the House of Dun.
Alistair met King Charles on a recent visit to House of Dun, run by the National Trust for Scotland, in Angus.

And his responsibility to do so is increased.

Loss of culture makes all our lives poorer

The Belmont Filmhouse shut suddenly in Aberdeen last month.  Its sister screens at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh are boarded up, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival is at risk off the back of that.

Cultural organisations have been receiving clear instruction for a while: tighten your belt; hard times are coming.

Expect a lot more closures, far fewer shows.

Expect another generation of musicians, actors, writers and dancers to be stripped of their stages, and for the young creative folk to go without their role models.

“A reduction in arts funding” doesnae sound that bad. But the longer term impact is maybe no new The View, or Be Charlotte.

photo shows Dundee band The View playing musical instruments on a grassy area in the Dryburgh area of Dundee.
Dundee band The View shooting a music video in Dryburgh.
photo shows singer Be Charlotte at a microphone, playing guitar, in front of singing pupils from Our Ladys RC Primary School.
Dundee singer songwriter Be Charlotte performs with pupils from Our Ladys RC Primary School. Image: Steve Brown / DC Thomson.

Maybe there’ll be fewer good things like the big bonnie murals dazzling fae the gable ends in Coldside.

Maybe it’ll mean fewer dance classes for your son to explore his physicality, or the cancellation of a poetry event that would inspire your daughter.

Scotland’s stars are blazing trails – but costs are catching up

In Dundee art counts for a lot.

DJCAD is an outstanding art school. It attracts brilliant people to the city to study and teach, and gives local people a world-class facility on their doorstep.

And it provided a fair number of my early girlfriends. All vital public services.

Our arts scene was actually bouncing for a bit there. Up until Covid, Scottish acts were blazing trails across the world.

Photo shows actor Brian Cox in front of the Dundee Contemporary Arts building.
Hollywood legend Brian Cox returned to his home town Dundee to appear at the DCA. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

But we need money to be coursing round to keep the ecosystem living.

And the government doesnae have the money.

Scotland gets a block grant from England. Oor Union pocket money.

This grant is suddenly worth millions of pounds less, due to the interest rate rises that the last pair of prime ministers did much to accelerate.

The Scottish government have agreed pretty significant pay uplifts across the public sector.

All fair, and badly needed.

Lewis Capaldi performing at the party in celebration of the V&A opening in Dundee.
Scot Lewis Capaldi performed at two-day 3D festival for the opening of V&A and is now one of the biggest stars in the world,.

But it doesn’t leave much left in the pot for the artists and musicians and writers.

And this is where the king needs to come in.

King Charles is a fan of Scotland – can he also be a funder?

He has – I believe – a genuine love and appreciation of many aspects of Scottish traditional culture.

He loves Scots poems and song. And he patronises Highland Games, historic houses, gardens.

That’s been fine as prince.

But now he’s king we need to see the colour of his coin. And those of his cronies too.

Princess Anne with King Charles and Camilla watching the action at the Braemar Games
Princess Anne with King Charles and Camilla at the Braemar Games during their summer holiday in Scotland: Image: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock.

Just the other week, the new king sold off £1million worth of his old mum’s horses.

He could pony up and get that money handed straight to Creative Scotland.

And that’s just for starters.

What about getting mad heirlooms like the royal Faberge egg collection auctioned off.

That money could go a long way if it was handed to music schools and art galleries that are closing their doors.

Long tradition of royal backing for the arts

The recent excellent touring National Theatre of Scotland play James IV told the story of a king who oversaw a great flowing of courtly culture, where Scottish artists were raised high and our nation forged its identity anew.

The play was outstanding. But there is no earthly way it can tour Scotland and make a profit.

It can only travel around and tell important stories thanks to massive subsidies. Subsidies which are getting thinner and thinner on the ground.

The current king should cast his eye back and see how vital his predecessors in the role have been in funding great flowerings of the arts.

We don’t need him – thank god – to protect the borders.

He has no power over the economy, and he’s sidelined from political action.

If he’s going to be anything more than a lame duck who enters a stately decline over a decade or so, if he is going to do something that’s worth something, he must do it in the world of the arts.  And he must do it now.