The referendum for piping

The referendum for piping

posted 22 Jul 2014 04:24 by Simon McKerrell

The referendum for pipers
When we consider the actual potential changes for Scottish piping; what sort of vision might emerge? Clearly there are myriad issues involved in the referendum to consider. Here I’m thinking purely about piping in Scotland, inspired by the lively discussion posted recently on the main piping and drumming website:
What might change? There are of course myriad other considerations but here’s a few of my own thoughts only relating purely to piping today (all views expressed here are personal):
With a Yes vote, Creative Scotland (the National Arts Funding Agency) would have to move towards greater ring fenced funding for indigenous Scottish traditional arts. These were ring fenced throughout the noughties and have very recently in the last month or so been dissolved, with all arts applications from pipers or other traditional musicians going to be considered alongside all other art forms. So this is an area where the vote will tangibly matter.
Piping Education: There is no good reason politically, to think that the teaching of piping in publicly funded state schools in Scotland will improve. It is a devolved matter, in that Scotland controls its own education budget and policies. This has always been a very mixed affair for piping with great inequalities of provision spread across different geographical regions of Scotland—largely dependent upon the interests of the local music education senior management and the local community. Interestingly, the new curriculum for excellence and major digital education initiatives such as GLOW are making a real difference to teaching in primary schools in Scotland giving the teaching profession more autonomy, leading the way for holistic and wide ranging education within the current UK system. Again, potential here for expansion or contraction depending upon the political ideology of the government in Edinburgh post-referendum. Perhaps no difference here either way.
Events and Tourism for piping: This is one area where potentially voting Yes could significantly enhance the public funding and promotion of piping both at home and overseas. Since 2007 when the SNP were elected, they have made several high profile and substantially funded initiatives to encourage cultural tourism in Scotland. These include Homecoming 2009 and 2014, and various large subsidies for arts touring overseas and the improvement of domestic facilities and information for tourists. Dealing with a smaller government in Edinburgh would offer the chance for targeted cooperation with overseas bodies such as piping or Scottish diasporic associations and could potentially open the door to greater internationalisation of piping and festivals that feature piping and pipers in Scotland and in North America/ NZ/ South Africa etc.
Cultural heritage and institutions: In the event of a no vote, the current mix of piping and piping related institutions would probably emerge unaffected (The National Piping Centre, The College of Piping, The National Museum of Scotland, The Piobaireachd Society etc.). These have all been set up and progressed (with varying degrees of imagination) in quite recent history. What is interesting to consider is the potential institutions that may emerge in the event of a Yes vote: Ireland has a national archive of traditional music—Scotland doesn’t, but we do have the online Tobar and Dualchais archive at the School of Scottish Studies, and there is discussion about a national sound archive but no plans as yet. Being part of an independent Scotland would shift the focus from The British Library to The National Library of Scotland (already a copyright library) and would presumably bring with it some centralised, national funding for key aspects of cultural heritage. Other institutions such as The National Youth Pipe Band and the Scottish National Fiddle Orchestra and tertiary education provision for piping and traditional music would have the potential for growth. There is no good reason currently why the national performing arts companies such as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the others receive direct state support (i.e. direct to them not via Creative Scotland) and that the traditional music national performing arts companies do not. This should be put right anyway in my opinion. There could also be a desire for international recognition of cultural heritage through the UNESCO programme on Intangible Cultural Heritage, something which has the potential to provide a real difference to cultural policy in Scotland, and to support internationally recognised systems for piobaireachd, pipe bands and their music and other Scottish indigenous forms of culture such as strathspeys, walking songs, bothy ballads etc.  These are not small concerns, the Arts and Creative Industries in 2010 employed 84,400 people and (using Gross Value Added calculations) the total contribution to the Scottish economy of the 16 Arts and Creative Industries sector is currently put at £3.7 billion. (for more info. and more granularity on the individual sectors, see reports on Creative Scotland’s website at
Travel to and from Scotland: For piping today this is crucial, as globalisation increasingly internationalises the piping community. I would imagine that an independent nation would desire more critically important transatlantic and other long haul routes to and from Scotland—so potentially a change here. See my website for other blog responses at
Simon McKerrell

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