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No easy brief

Pauline McLean | 13:45 UK time, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

So another day, another culture minister - number seven since the Scottish parliament began.

It's been a mixed bag - from Allan Wilson and Frank McAveety, who both seemed more comfortable with the sporting end of their brief, to Patricia Ferguson and Rhona Brankin, both of whom continue their commitment to culture in their own constituencies (Brankin through her interests in the National Mining Museum and Ferguson in the ongoing development of Maryhill Burgh Halls).

So far, it doesn't feel as if any government so far has truly recognised the scale or importance of the brief.

It's not a full cabinet post but it's most recent reinvention as Minister for Europe, External Affairs, since it's personally answerable to the First Minister, at least allows the incumbent a direct line to the heart of government.

The ongoing merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen into Creative Scotland - whose messy transition so far seems to be the main reason for Linda Fabiani's departure - is a case in point.

A complicated plan in the first instance - which would bring together huge creative businesses as well as smaller non-profit making arts organisations into one great organisation - it's been further complicated by being passed from government to government, and culture minister to culture minister.

Almost 500 artists and performers have so far signed a petition against the way the merger has been handled - complaining they've been left in the dark about what it will cost, and how it will work.

The process has been further delayed by MSPs voting down the bill which would have established it (they had legitimate concerns about the costings) - and is unlikely to move any further forward until John Swinney's Public Services Reform Bill is considered later this spring.

That's the biggest headache but there are plenty more challenges ahead - from the predicted drop in corporate sponsorship of arts events to the ongoing campaign by Glasgow City Council to have its museum collections recognised as nationally important, and therefore eligible for central funding.

So no easy brief for incoming culture minister Mike Russell but at least he has previous experience - both as a full blown minister and as shadow culture minister.

As a former TV producer, he also has strong experience of the media, and a good understanding of the scale of the problems he faces as well as the benefits the sector can offer.

And no shortage of opinions either - which should make for lively times ahead.



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