Prominent novelist Kirsty Gunn has said Scottish funding body Creative Scotland is involved in an "unofficial politicising of literature", requiring authors with no overriding interest in party politics to address issues of Scottish identity in their work if they are to receive funding.
But Creative Scotland has defended its record while saying it encourages "open and free discussion" on literature and the arts.
Writing in a newly released Saltire Society pamphlet, "Notes Towards a National Literature", Gunn - the author of Rain (Faber), The Keepsake (Granta) and Infidelities (Faber) - argued: "Sentence by sentence, our creative and cultural atmosphere is changing and those of us involved or interested in the arts for whom party politics have never been a priority in our intellectual lives must learn to pay attention to issues of nationhood that are being articulated in public and private as part of a national discourse about Sottish identity.
"We have a ruling party actually called the Scottish National Party, after all, and they have a whole host of institutions and outposts and advisory bodies that are hell bent on defining exactly just what Scotland is and should be. They've decided that's their job.
"Creative Scotland, supposedly independent of party remits, nevertheless, as is the case with all cultural institutions, is affected by central policy and, decision upon decision, grant upon grant, recommendation upon recommendation, has already created an awards structure that favours a certain sensibility and social aim."
Gunn questioned why Creative Scotland should, in various of its documents, foreground the aim of supporting projects that "bring benefit to the people in Scotland" and "make literature in Scotland more central to the nation", saying: "In Scotland we have always associated ourselves with a tradition that…encourages writers to go their own way, who ignore social and political pressures and find their own kind of readership", and that "outsider writing" has always been "on the inside here."
The writer also claimed that the number of authors applying for funding from the Creative Scotland Bursaries Panel had shrunk to "just a scattering" in the past half-dozen years, with the application process for funding one that "might be regarded as a sort of unofficial politicising of literature – rewarding only those for whom certain bureaucratically-styled admin-friendly terminology is second-speak".
Her own recent experience of sitting on a Creative Scotland Bursaries Panel as Literature Representative left Gunn shocked, she said, "to see only one name in the applications list with any kind of established literary CV. She was shocked, too, to realise that "funding would be only available to the writers with – to use wording from Creative Scotland again - 'strategic' aims."
Attacking "a controlling sort of bureaucratised agenda for books and poems and stories", Gunn concluded that: "Literature, it seems to me, our national literature, has never been in such peril."
Responding, a spokesperson for Creative Scotland said: “Kirsty Gunn is one of Scotland's most established and revered writers and we welcome her contribution to ongoing discourse on literature in Scotland.
“As is the case for all of the art forms that we support, we never seek to influence what artists create. We do, however, have a duty as a distributor of funds from the Scottish Government and the National Lottery to support work that delivers benefits for the people of Scotland, whether those be artistic, social or economic.
“Our support for literature and publishing in Scotland continues to be extensive, through all our main routes to funding; regular, open and targeted. In the past year we have awarded almost £10m to support writers, literature and publishing.”
Creative Scotland also pointed out that it had funded the Saltire Society's 80th year celebratory programme, for which Gunn's essay was commissioned, to the tune of £40,000 via its Open Project Funding route. "Far from seeking to influence what writers write, this is just one example of how we support and encourage open and free discussion regarding literature and the arts more broadly," the spokesperson said.
Jim Tough, executive director of the Saltire Society, an independent charity, commented: “The Saltire Series continues the tradition of the Saltire Society acting as a platform for debate and discussion on important aspects of Scotland’s cultural life. As a non-political independent charity we welcome fresh thinking and diversity of opinion. In this, our 80th anniversary year, we are opening the anniversary programme with the launch of the 10th pamphlet in our special limited edition series. Kirsty’s Notes Towards a National Literature expresses some strong views on a contentious issue, which I hope will encourage debate and reflection.”
The £5 pamphlet is available via the Saltire Society website.