Nov 20 2012


The magazine version of  Emancipation & Liberation has contained a Republic of the Imagination section, which has provided articles about  historical and ongoing cultural resistance against capitalism and other class-based societies.

Our blog intends to look at the cultural debates which have arisen, and which will arise in the future, within a Scottish society looking for greater self-determination, and examine them in this context. This realm of ideas allows us to make a leap now, and enter the ‘republic of the imagination’. These can then take on concrete form in the course of future economic, social and political struggles.

We hope to encourage a discussion on the wider meaning of these debates. Allan Armstrong has written the first article, which explains the thinking behind developing politics in the cultural arena.

One of these cultural debates has centred upon the role of Creative Scotland. We asked Leigh French, editor of Variant, a Glasgow-based avant-guard magazine, to write a response to the letter signed by a 100 Scottish artists in opposition to Creative Scotland’s “lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture”.

Later we hope to deal with the debate around the introduction of compulsory Scottish texts in the English-language exam for the new Curriculum for Excellence, currently being imposed on schools here.

1.  Cultural Debates and the over the Wider Meaning of Self-Determination in Scotland – Allan Armstrong

2.  Creative Scotland – Distinction Disrupted  – Leigh French



Noam Chomsky after the Power and Self Determination event in Govan in 1990

The creative arts have played an important part in the struggle for self-determination in both its collective (including national democratic) and individual forms. The deep-seated desire to create art, or to take part in shared cultural activity and celebration, reflects our desire  to lead a more fulfilling life than that we experience under the alienated conditions of capitalism.  Such striving can also lead to a deeper questioning of this current socio-economic order, and to hopes that we may transcend capitalist social relations altogether.

The state has found it harder to police resistance in the cultural sphere than it has to enforce its control over the economic and social aspects of our lives. This is one reason why resistance often manifests itself first in the cultural sphere. No matter how hard the ruling class and its state tries either to stop or to marginalise cultural resistance, it is still possible for us to find, or to make spaces for artistic production and cultural celebration, both collectively and individually. Notwithstanding continued capitalist exploitation and oppression, the human spirit is fairly irrepressible.

Thus, the growing demand for political self-determination for Scotland has been reflected in a number of important  cultural debates recently. However, whenever the issue of national self-determination becomes divorced from the wider struggles for social and individual self-determination, there is a strong danger that the alienation we experience today will just be reproduced in new forms tomorrow.

The Radical Independence Conference, on November 24th, is likely to see the largest ‘ecumenical’ gathering of the Left in Scotland for some time. However, it is worth looking back to an earlier well attended, three day gathering, the Self Determination and Power event [1], held in 1990, in the Pearce Institute in Govan. Its name highlighted a wider understanding of the meaning of self-determination than is often invoked in Scotland today.

Significantly, this event was organised in the context of the then Labour Council’s attempts to promote a new Glasgow. Glasgow had been chosen in that year to be the European City of Culture. For the council, this meant turning its back on the city’s heavy industrial past and its Red Clydeside image. This was to be done through the neo-liberal restructuring of the city’s economy and local politics. It involved a shift from Glasgow’s traditional heavy industries to new service, media and culture based industries, and a new managerialist approach to city governance, adopted from the world of corporate business.

The organisers, and others participating in the Self Determination and Power event, such as Workers’ City, challenged Glasgow Labour council’s approach. They linked their opposition with the wider socio-economic and political struggles going on at the time, including the battles over the poll tax. They drew in people from beyond Glasgow and Scotland, on what could be termed an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. In particular, they attracted people like the late John La Rose, who had been influenced by C. L. R. James.  These two people emerged from the vibrant West Indian migrant worker tradition. Cultural resistance was seen to be central to a wider struggle for self-determination.

Many of those attending the Self Determination and Power event would have understood why Marx linked both the social and individual aspects of self-determination. In his understanding of a possible future communist society, “the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.” In such a society, both our exploitation (under wage slavery, domestic labour and debt peonage) and our oppression (with the state’s denial or curtailment of democratic rights, e.g. of workers’ self-organisation and of racial, ethnic minority and gender equality) could be overcome through our emancipation and liberation. To achieve this it would mean creating a society  organised on the basis of  “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

We need to hold firmly to such a vision when relating to those cultural debates that have arisen recently in Scotland in response to a growing demand for political self-determination. A far-sighted Scottish internationalist approach can help us overcome sterile debates between those adopting a British unionist or a Scottish nationalist stance. Quite often, these two apparently opposed camps share an underlying acceptance of the cultural management models promoted by corporate capital today. Sometimes, they are only divided over the particular ‘national’ content, which they would disseminate within such a framework.

Such a limited understanding of cultural debate and struggle is frequently linked to an equally limited understanding of the deep-seated nature of the capitalist crisis we face today. This crisis is marked by the ongoing austerity drive, continuous wars and mounting environmental degradation. One indication of the depth of this crisis is revealed in the ‘solutions’ offered by the current ‘lords of the universe’. The capitalist crisis was triggered by their neo-liberal hubris. Yet, all they can come up with are even more neo-liberal measures – greater austerity, more deregulation and further privatisation. This is a bit like those Incas, in Peru, who demanded a daily sacrifice  – ripping out someone’s heart – to make the sun rise again!

However, many of those opposing such capitalist ‘bloodletting’ today seek only superficial reforms. These do not deal with the very deep nature of the crisis we face. They confine themselves to such neo-Keynesian measures as recommending increased public spending and more redistributive taxation to ameliorate people’s lives.  Keynesian economic measures can help to overcome shallow economic recessions, but not the type of global depression that we now face. Increasingly, it looks like the only way capitalism can regenerate itself is through an unprecedented devaluation of existing human and fixed capital (with an increased likelihood of major wars), in order to recreate the conditions for profitability to be restored.

Those advocates of neo-Keynesian reform are quite right to point out that both the human capabilities and the resources already exist to meet our needs. However as long as capitalist profitability remains the criterion for their mobilisation, these needs are not going to be met. This is why we need to openly promote a complete social transformation, where the drive for profits is no longer the motor for society.

Just as those involved in the earlier Self Determination and Power event appreciated the wider socio-economic and political context in which cultural debates then took place, so we need to appreciate that the demand for Scottish self-determination today takes place against a  backdrop of capitalist crisis. The multi-facetted nature of this crisis means that Socialists have to advocate a viable alternative social order. This means re-engaging with that vision of communism that Marx first outlined, but which later became marginalised, then crushed, under the official Communism of the Party-state.

Marx linked his clear vision with the necessary practical steps to achieve it. Understanding the contradictions of capitalism, and the possibilities this opens up, was central to this. For us today, this means creating our own independent class organisations – independent of both the employers and the state – within which the need for an another society is appreciated, debated and acted upon. Only then can we begin to shift the balance of class power in our favour, preparatory to our class making a bid for power, with the aim of completely transforming society.

Therefore, Emancipation & Liberation intends to look at the cultural debates which have arisen, and which will arise in the future, within a Scottish society looking for greater self-determination, and to examine them in this wider context. This realm of ideas allows us to make a leap now, and enter the ‘republic of the imagination’. This could then take on concrete form, in the course of future socio-economic and political struggles.

 Allan Armstrong , Emancipation & Liberation Editorial Board, 16.11.12

Allan Armstrong attended this event with Elaine Murray (both members of Lothian Rank & File Teachers), as  delegates from the Edinburgh EIS Local Association. Allan was also chair of the Lothian anti-Poll Tax Union at the time. Norman Bissell  was delegated by the North Lanarkshire EIS Local Association. He was also a member of Workers City at the time.
There was a great deal more to this event. The following article locates Self Determination and Power  in a post-1960’s series of alternative  cultural events in the USA, London and Scotland.
This is a replacement for a posting by T. la Palli on the  Edinburgh Anarchists website on 10.11.12 which is no longer available.
In 2013 bella caledonia posted an article by Murdo Macdonald, which included the role of Scottish philosopher, George Elder Davie, at the Self Determination and Power event. Davie, author of The Democratic Intellect, was a strong advocate of Scottish Common Sense philosophy, which has been an inspiration to Noam Chomsky and James Kelman.

also see:-

The Red Cockatoo – James Kelman and the Art of Commitment, Mitch Miller and Johnny Roger, 2011




or maybe not!

Recently, a letter signed by 100 of Scotland’s cultural ‘great-and-guid’ complained about Creative Scotland to its Chair, Sir Sandy Crombie (Senior Independent Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland) for its “lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture”.[i] Yet the stance taken is ‘this isn’t political’. The disruption being contested by this new ‘interest coalition’ is, instead, an issue of management competency – of CEOs being from outwith an intimate construction of ‘community of belonging’ – and not something more purposeful. For them, in public at least, such disruption is certainly not indicative of the neoliberal policies of the devolved Scottish state “in the service of global economic competitiveness”.[ii]

In what should have been a discussion concerning equitable distribution of public resources, much creative labour is inevitably absented.[iii] Worryingly, what’s advocated as underpinning state administration of Culture is a move from a system of faux-meritocracy (‘talent’) to a lodging of authenticity (‘Scottishness’)…

In 1994 the Scottish Arts Council launched ‘Towards a National Cultural Strategy’. Fast forward through waves of consultants’ graft, chaperoning by bankers [iv] outwith regulatory oversight [v], much ‘sectoral’ hand-wringing, and we arrive today at Creative Scotland (CS).

CS is the merger and re-organisation of Scottish Screen and Scottish Arts Council following a Europe-wide ‘creative industries’ policy script. Historically contingent, this mobile script does not manifest itself the same everywhere, but we can recognise it as not being unique to Scotland either. It concerns the strengthening tendency of an overly celebratory transformation from cultural to creative enterprise – whereby the processes of arts and culture are harnessed as a competitive factor of national economic growth. What emerges is the fuller integration of the aesthetic disciplines into the nation’s economic production of value.

Other countries’ experiences of these processes might then be relevant to understanding the structural reorganisation now occurring in Scotland – not least countries undergoing contested and reformulated nationalist assertions of identity in a contemporary European context. Experiences such as:

• the role that assertions of national identity have in informing the economising of culture and the policies that shape it;

• the impacts on cultural equality and on communicative freedom, in the context of the cultural-economic policy approaches of ‘competitive nationalism’ (whereby aspects of life and identity, including education, arts, sports and culture, are harnessed as factors of national economic advantage).

Signposting the shift to a ‘service delivery’ model of provision and ‘single purpose’ realignment of culture to enhance the economy, CS was legislated for via the Public Services Reform bill (2010). Through this, the state structure necessary to protect certain interests, and which was responsive to and generative of those interests, is being recast. But no single policy script acts alone. CS sits across and is responsive to different policy influences, like those the Arts Councils had to address, e.g. ‘Social Inclusion’.

Underpinning reorganisation is the assumption that Scotland’s institutions are not competitive enough; that they are, in part, the reason for economic stagnation. What’s needed therefore is some ‘flexibility’ and ‘innovation’ in the system – the freedom for the state to experiment with different ideas of institutional organisation in practice. In popularist narrative this gets shortened to ‘creativity’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’, the magic bullet to stagnation. These are necessarily attributed positive attitudes, values and behaviours.

In order to ‘stimulate innovation’ in the economy, CS seeks to induce competition so as to ‘positively’ disrupt what are perceived as too-closed ‘constellations of opportunity’. This disruptive competition will enable wider market access to resources, which are thought to be held too tightly by too static a set of interest groups. What’s needed is a different set of gatekeepers in order to dislodge the existing ones and free everything up. This is the overt managerial authority CS will take on, overseeing ‘tendering processes’, ‘franchises’ and ‘strategic commissioning’ of services. In the name of market freedom, inevitably we experience increasing state centralisation as regards ‘culture’.[vi] This marshalling of state production of symbolic value uniquely chimes with the forthcoming independence referendum – helping to make-concrete assumptions of a nation-state ‘oneness of will’ in the context of nationalist production of space. “Through the structuring it imposes on practices, the State institutes and inculcates common symbolic forms of thought, social frames of perception, understanding or memory, State forms of classification or, more precisely, practical schemes of perception, appreciation and action.”[vii]

Not all institutions need be shaken up in this way. The large National cultural institutions had already been removed from Scottish Arts Council charge in 2006 by the (then) Scottish Executive and placed under its ‘direct responsibility’. More importantly, activity bundled together through cross-party support under the moniker of Traditional Arts in 2010 is exempted from such overt market competition under the protection of ‘cultural Scottishness’ – though still very much governed within a tourism nexus.

CS is both the manifestation of policy and the mechanism through which policy is projected. It performs to and also shapes policy within the bill’s legislative framework. Its definitions “task Creative Scotland with making real and bringing to fruition the value and benefits of the arts and culture in Scotland [including] in terms of unlocking creative and entrepreneurial potential … for example, by encouraging commercial banks to better understand the economic potential of the arts and culture.”[viii]

CS is doing what it’s set up to do – as has been seen in Finland [ix] for example. There is an international travelling set of policy concerns, which we might learn from. This means looking beyond our own opportunism and constructions of victimhood with regard to wider struggles for social and economic justice.

But whatever the actual international experiences of this competitive ‘solution’ to economic stagnation, paradoxically CS does identify a very real set of conflicts in inequality of cultural provision and communication. This sits in contrast to those who have self-pronounced their guardianship of ‘Scottish culture’, and foregrounded a positive consensualism attributable to a unified set of common interests.

This is about the social and economic relations of cultural production, where special interest groups of unequal power do compete over scarce resources of society. This is done, consciously or not, to gain advantages over others, including advantages of distinction. Such groups are not fully static but are more dynamic and overlapping constellations formed around accruing cultural capital and labour opportunity; “products of rationalized social construction [that] lack [fully] social solidarity”.[x]

Those who residually dominate now face disruption of their intra- and extra-relations, and seek the continuity of their previous, comparatively stable, forms of patronage. Yet there’s a self-flattering misunderstanding in ‘the arts’ that CS remains solely or even primarily an arts funder; assigning value judgments in contradiction to what CS is tasked to do by Scottish government.[xi]

Partly it’s a question of the processes by which whose creative labour gets valorised, whose is defended and expanded, and whose is devalorised in struggles for distinction. The state is no neutral arbiter disinterestedly representing everyone’s interests. In the past the business of the state was more fully that of those cultural brokers and producers who are still in a relative position of authority to aggregate and voice disaffection. In doing so, ‘arms-length’ state agencies facilitated a particular dominance in the means of cultural production and communication. It is these class-structuring effects of state power which are being recomposed under the vision of the competitive nation.

It might, then, be insightful to expose the artists’ (sic) letter to a critique of similarly liberal ‘anti-market’ ideology with regard to the exploitation of Higher Education:

“[Hayward] argued that that ideology appears by virtue of its enlightened sneering to oppose ‘markets’ and to resist their undesirable ‘social outcomes’; but that in fact the ideology does not oppose markets but instead contents itself with a polite request that the university be cordoned off from their operations. This doesn’t work. The ideology does not deserve to be repudiated because it is ‘reformist’ but because it has a class basis. That is to say, it assumes that the ‘values’ which it wishes to protect ought to be protected only within the university and therefore (if implicitly) only on behalf of those who have access to it.”[xii]

A convenient myth advanced for something called Scottish culture is of a left-field set of shared values. With this we’re increasingly seeing the notion of class ‘ethnicised’ – Étienne Balibar’s identification of the ignoring of class within ethnicity as if ethnic groups are not fractured by class like everyone else.[xiii] However, cultural leadership agendas [xiv] have taken a distinct turn in Scotland. Contra the notion put forward of damage being done to a pre-existing Cultural Scottishness, this leadership agenda has been formative in embedding an economic ‘elite’ in public institutions involved in state production of symbolic value (facilitating entrepreneurial behavioural reform through ‘infrastructural power’). This is nation-state formation at work – the reassuring of specific class interest through tying them in with the production of a ‘competitive’ Scottish nationhood.

It may then be revealing to consider recent disquiet as a conflict over relations of authority granted by the state to exercise sovereignty over property rights – to exclude, regulate, or attach significance to aesthetic practice. It’s a struggle over values and claims to status (prestige) and scarce resources. It’s about establishing a relationship of domination and subordination. This is the basis of conflict. The object of such conflict is the status quo and the consequences of change.

To take the position in this transformation that CS is something externally inflicted is to deny agency; to deny the self-interest, opportunism and politicking in the processes upon which CS is contingent. A weakly emotional narrative of injured or embattled ‘Scottishness’ doesn’t cut it. Neither do complaints of incompetent or insensitive management.[xv]

We are, rather, caught in the midst of various forms of neoliberal enclosure and restructuring. These are seen by competing individuals, networks and agencies to offer openings for a range of agendas, seeking to gain purchase on institutional structures. It is precisely these meshing of egoistic interests that effaces any significant debate about the underlying antagonisms in Scotland’s cultural policy: “how judgements of taste are related to the social position of actors and associated with struggles for distinction.”[xvi]

Leigh French, 26.10.12


[ii] ‘Competitive nationalism: state. class, and the forms of capital in devolved Scotland’, Alex Law, Gerry Mooney, Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy 2012, vol.30

[iii] Lending itself to ‘heroic originators’ – Bourdieu’s criticisms of a “charismatic ideology of ‘creation’”, which “directs the gaze towards the apparent producer and prevents us from asking who has created this ‘creator’ and the magic power of transubstantiation with which the ‘creator’ is endowed”.

[iv] Ewan Brown (Lloyds TSB) was chairman of the company set up to establish Creative Scotland when it had no regulatory oversight, along with Chris Masters (Wood Group) and current board member Peter Cabrelli (HBOS). Sir Sandy Crombie (Standard Life, RBS) is Chair of Creative Scotland.

[vi] Another facet is CS’s own cronyism in the absences of its asserted marketisation and personnel not disentangled from former collegial networks, including the retention of interests manifested in previous art form specialisms.

[vii] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations (Polity Press: Cambridge, 2000), quoted in ‘Competitive nationalism: state, class, and the forms of capital in devolved Scotland’, Alex Law, Gerry Mooney, Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy 2012, vol.30

[ix] Marita Muukkonen, ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place : The Possibilities for Contemporary Art Institutions to Function as Critical Political Spaces’, paper, Public Preparation, Translocal Express, Tallinn, Estonia, 2007

[x] Critical Art Ensemble, Observations on Collective Cultural Action, Variant 15 Summer 2002,

[xiv] Where greater emphasis has been placed on the centrality of ‘leadership’, and where ‘leaders’ increasingly move to manage the arts from the finance, insurance, real estate, and legal sectors. See also, Kirsten Forkert, ‘Artist as Executive, Executive as Artist’, Variant 35 Summer 2009,

[xv] Naomi Klein: ‘Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism’,

[xvi] Andrew Sayer, Valuing Culture and Economy, in Culture and Economy After the Cultural Turn

eds Larry Ray, Andrew Sayer (Sage: London, 1999),


 You can access the Variant archive at:-

Also see James Kelman at:-

and On Self Determination at:-

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