CHRIS FREMANTLE

A co-operative future

This piece of humorous writing was published by Stramash Arts anonymously at a point where that seemed like a good idea.

3 August 2022:   The Creative Scotland (Co-operative) Bill was published today. The Bill will transform Creative Scotland into a fully fledged Co-Operative owned by the members. It is expected to receive unanimous approval by MSPs. At the Creative Scotland offices this morning AV, the Chairperson over the last 10 years, was given a standing ovation as she arrived for work.

Co-operatives are organisations run for mutual benefit. The first formally constituted co-operative was probably the Fenwick Weavers Society, set up in Ayrshire in 1761. The principles behind the co-operative are voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; economic participation by members; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; and concern for community. Co-operatives emerged as distinct from ‘charity’ where priority is given to the ‘deserving,’ as opposed to the ‘undeserving.’

Co-operatives have also been set up and run by artists, e.g. Transmission Gallery in Glasgow and before that the New 57 Gallery in Edinburgh. Since 2012 a number of organisations moved to adopt co-operative structures including The Common Guild and Scottish Opera. This is the first time a public body has transformed itself, moving away from a corporatist model to become owned and operated by its constituency.

The Bill doesn’t rehearse the history of the staff takeover of the organisation following the crisis of 2012, precipitated by the departure of the then Chief Executive.

His departure followed a vote of ‘no confidence’ taken amongst the staff, although at the time it was ascribed to the widespread revolt amongst artists and cultural activists, culminating in a series of increasingly angry open meetings during the Festival Season and the ‘storming’ of the International Cultural Summit (which happened to be taking place in Edinburgh following the London Olympics). The chant was, “You’re not producers, we are. You’re not curators, we are. You’re not artists, we are.”

It’s believed that ZC, the Chief Executive, moved to Bermuda, but he has been unavailable for comment.  Visitors to the island say that he is running a 70s themed cocktail bar.

AV, the Chair of Creative Scotland, is quoted today as saying, “We are all very excited that this new way of working is being legitimised. It’s been a long time coming, and we have worked hard to demonstrate to the Scottish Government that cultural policy can be delivered through a co-operative, democratic model.

We are very much looking forward to the next stage. Membership forms will go out to every household in Scotland and we really hope that people across Scotland, not just those directly involved in the arts and creative industries, will join. It’s incredibly important that culture and creativity are seen as, yes the right, but also the responsibility of everyone.”

She went on to say, “When we first started, it seemed like the only thing to do. It’s a long time ago and I don’t what to dredge up history, but we’d been through so much change and uncertainty, we wanted to ensure that the culture in Scotland continued to thrive through work of brilliant artists, excellent organisations and enthusiastic audiences.”

Readers will remember that during the period that AV is referring to, EG, the Culture Minister at the time, was talking about establishing a Cultural Commission, whilst the Board of Creative Scotland were looking for a financial bail-out. The staff formed a collective. Although originally an interim measure, it has gone from strength to strength. The HR audit commissioned by the Scottish Government reported that staff are completely committed to the co-operative model.

BJ, Culture Minister in the Scottish Government, said, “We are very supportive of Creative Scotland. They clearly demonstrate best practice in public service, listening to and, wherever appropriate, acting upon, the concerns of the sector. They have a strong partnership with artists, and with local government.”

FU, President of the Scottish Artists Union, said, “We’ve been working increasingly closely with the staff collective running Creative Scotland over the past ten years, and we will be recommending to our membership, which now stands at some 5,000 to take up membership of the new Co-operative Creative Scotland. The other Unions representing musicians, actors, writers, journalists and technical workers will be making the same recommendation.”

KE, publisher of Variable, said, “Creative Scotland is a fantastic organisation which we wholeheartedly support. The staff have demonstrated the possibility of a genuinely radical approach to cultural development. The arts and creativity are no longer restricted to a privileged elite. The co-operative model has made a real difference.”

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