Scottish independent Sandstone Press has rebuffed claims that it is misusing public funds in publishing a collection of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister. Sandstone said that the Sturgeon title would be "published and financed independently of any public body".
The book Women Hold Up Half the Sky, due to publish in May, includes a selection of speeches given between November 2014 when Sturgeon took office and February 2020. The book is to be edited by Sandstone Press founder and m.d. Robert Davidson. However, Sandstone has been the recipient of more than £410,000 since 2006 in grants from Creative Scotland, a Scottish government body funding the arts. It has also been awarded money by the Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Rival publisher Strident Publishing has long criticised Creative Scotland for its allocation of grants, and in particular has singled out Sandstone for using public money to underwrite its publishing. Strident has previously accused Creative Scotland of breaching the Competition Act 1998, filing a damages complaint suggesting it has abused its dominant position and continuing to unfairly fund Sandstone. The case was dismissed by a competition appeal tribunal.
However, the announcement of the Sturgeon book has excited political journalists with the right-wing website Guido Fawkes picking up on the story earlier this week, followed by the Times. Maurice Golden, the Scottish Conservative shadow culture secretary, told the Times that it was "notable that the only publishers who see commercial value in Sturgeon speeches have been in receipt of significant sums of public money through an SNP government quango".
Sandstone is one of a number of small presses and literature organisations supported by Creative Scotland, which receives money from both the Scottish government and the National Lottery. In addition to regular funding, and one-off allocations for specific projects, funds have also been diverted to help organisations continue to operate during the coronavirus crisis.
A spokesperson from Sandstone told The Bookseller: "In common with other publishers in Scotland, Sandstone Press is grateful for financial support from Creative Scotland and the enterprise networks. All applications to these bodies, from companies in publishing and across the arts, are carefully scrutinised and awards made within approved guidelines. Financial support for publishing in Scotland is a small percentage of the overall arts budget, but arts companies would struggle to flourish and grow without such support."
A separate statement agreed with Creative Scotland, HIE and Sandstone, added that collections of speeches in the public domain had a long publishing history–from The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches, to collections by individuals such as Tony Benn and Barack Obama. It added: "This book is published and financed independently of any public body. Sandstone Press has received no funding for this book. Creative Scotland has supported Sandstone Press to deliver various projects through the Open Project Fund between 2011 and 2019. Women Hold Up Half The Sky is not part of that support. Similar to many Scottish businesses Sandstone Press has received support from HIE. This is in relation to business resilience and not any project or publication."