December 8, 2015

Scottish publisher fights charges it used public funding to publish a book praising ruling political party


We_Are_The_56_visual_1.270Glasgow-based publisher Freight Books is facing criticism for allegedly using public arts funding from Creative Scotland to publish a laudatory book about members of the ruling Scottish National Party parliament.

The book in question—We Are the 56—is described by Freight as “a timely record of the seismic changes in Scottish politics and a fascinating insight into the compelling human stories behind the political headlines.”

Those questioning the aims of We Are the 56 (and its publisher) are primarily fellow politicians, albeit ones from different parties. The Herald Scotland reports that the book’s critics accuse the publisher of directing public arts funding towards a politically-leaning title. The Liberal Democrat contingent openly wonders why a “national publication with a clear political agenda has received support from a government body.”  Jackie Baillie, a representative of the Labour Party, stated that she’ll be writing to culture secretary Fiona Hyslop (of the Scottish National Party) about the issue.

The representatives’ concerns are not unwarranted—public funding probably shouldn’t go toward the publication of books that praise any particular party wholeheartedly, if in fact that is what We Are the 56 does. (Though, Alex Salmond’s blurb—“The 56 are fantastic … In terms of talent, raw political talent, and breadth of ability, this is an extraordinary group and a deep reservoir of skilled politicians”—leads us to believe it does.)

Compared to what goes on in the wild, unsavory world of U.S. political publishing, this is admittedly mild stuff.

Still, the accused are not taking the claims lightly. The publisher, which was recently named Publisher of the Year by the Saltire Society, denies the claim outright, stating that “not a single penny of Creative Scotland money was used towards the production of We are the 56.”

Likewise, a representative of Creative Scotland notes that the book was not included as part of Freight Books’s plans for the funding:

Creative Scotland does not seek to influence the political views held by the individuals and organisations we fund in any way, nor do political views influence our funding decisions … The work we fund is led by people from many different backgrounds who hold a range of different political opinions. This generates healthy creative discourse that feeds our society in many ways.

Where did all the criticism come from, then? Is it all just some big misunderstanding?

Creative Scotland delivers the final punchline:

A Creative Scotland logo on the book was printed in error.

But is it really all sound and fury and error, or does it signify something more sinister and corrosive? Only time, email records, receipts, blood, sweat, tears, and spilled ink will tell—if the critics find it worth the effort, of course.


Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.