Just when it began to look like there were no more friends left to turn into enemies, Westminster’s ugly and undignified pursuit of Brexit has created a climate of such frustration and disdain among people who used to be our partners that these have banned British cities from the European Capital of Culture competition in 2023.
As ill luck would have it, that means Dundee. And suddenly the ramifications of Brexit have ceased to be abstractions that may or may not affect us directly at some unspecified date years away; suddenly they have landed on our doorstep with a leaden thud.
The result? Anger. Ill-temper. Hostility. Hubris. Oh, and we want our money back. And an event designed to foster international harmony through cultural exchange that waltzes blithely across national borders has been tainted with the sour stench of political gangrene.
The message? Brexit is going to HURT. We have reached the point in this ignoble procession of political incompetence beyond which Britain can only lose. At the end of the line is a Brexit that fails to achieve a deal with the EU, an outcome that looks ever more likely as that political incompetence achieves new depths on a regular basis.
Suppose, however, that Scotland, as the most resolutely pro-European of the nations of Britain, were to mount a counter-culture to the relentless drift of Westminster towards a friendless future cast adrift from a Europe that first of all lost patience then lost interest.
Suppose that the Brexit rebuff to Dundee’s cultural aspirations could be transformed into an opportunity. You could argue, for example, that Dundee is in a unique position of strength, that we can afford to trade shamelessly on our unique circumstances, rise above Brexit, look past it, disavow its stultifying burden of Little Britain small-mindedness, and demonstrate to as much of Europe as cares to listen that the city has nailed its colours of cultural innovation to the mast regardless, that it’s about to throw a party and Europe is invited.
There is no longer any need to wait until 2023, no need to compete with other cities (and just possibly lose out at the end of that expensive process). With the unique phenomenon of the newly unwrapped V&A for a flagship, why not redirect the energy that has fuelled the European Capital of Culture 2023 bid so far into the Dundee Festival of European Culture 2020 – and every year thereafter?
What is to stop a resurgent Dundee from becoming a permanent festival city for European culture?
And while we’re at it, why not use the international publicity and profile which has radiated out from the advent of the V&A to transform the cultural landscape of Dundee so that it reaches far beyond the waterfront?
Why not begin what should become a Scotland-wide process of pro-European cultural exchange by highlighting the culture of a different European nation every year? Ireland would be a good place to start, a significant gesture towards a great friend of Scotland, and one which is of particular significance to Dundee given how many Dundee families owe their place on the map to Irish families who came here in the 19th Century.
Mine was one of them? So was Michael Marra’s. Speaking of whom, as part of this city-wide process, why not build the Michael Marra Arts Centre in Lochee? Isn’t it about time? There can be no more definitive Dundonian, no greater contributor to the city’s cultural voice – some would say (and I wouldn’t argue) that he is THE cultural voice. So, let’s build an arts centre in his name in his part of town that can be a music venue, an art gallery, a community cinema, and an outstation of Dundee Rep; and with the twin ambitions of using culture as a tool of urban regeneration where it’s needed most (and I would argue that Lochee is more in need of a benevolent regenerating force than anywhere else in Dundee), and the beginning of an internal cultural revolution all across the city to match the internationalist ideals of a Festival of European Culture.
It’s amazing what can happen when culture in all its myriad forms is given a helping hand and folk get the idea and lap it up, then they want to participate in it and, before you know where you are, everyone is caught up in it and wondering why it all took so long to come about.
As Michael put it himself in his song Reynard in Paradise:
‘And there on the field what
appeared to be
A working model of the one big thing
They could dance and sing
A working model of the one big thing’
Maybe that’s a better name for the whole enterprise: The One Big Thing Festival.