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‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence could create cultural divide

As politicians campaign, concerns grow that UK funding bodies will stop donating if Scotland goes it alone

Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling will debate the pros and cons of independence tonight on Scottish TV

UK trusts and foundations that give millions of pounds a year to Scottish museums, galleries and heritage organisations face uncertainty over the effects on funding of the results of September’s referendum on independence, Tim Cornwell writes. They include the Dunard Fund, which gives millions on both sides of the border but is a vital Scottish funder, and the Art Fund, which has just 1% of its members in Scotland but distributes a much greater share of funding there. Another major donor, the Garfield Weston Foundation, is widely reported to have put capital grants in Scotland on hold in the past year.

The chief executives of two multi-million-pound funders of the arts in the UK, the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts and the Wolfson Foundation, said that they were “watching and waiting” for the referendum but emphasised that grants to Scotland will continue.

Fundraisers warn privately of uncertainty building over the past year. “You don’t know if donors are going to keep giving money,” one fundraiser says. “You don’t know whether donors are going to stay in Scotland. Uncertainty is the big risk.” Others remain calm. The banker Angus Grossart, a former chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland who is now guiding a potential £45m revamp of Glasgow’s Burrell Collection, says that he is “fairly relaxed” about the future, even if others are not. “I don’t think the vote will affect people’s sense of philanthropy. I don’t think philanthropy is a political matter,” he says.

Planned projects in Scotland include the £45m V&A Museum of Design Dundee, a £30m overhaul of Aberdeen Art Gallery and the redevelopment of Scottish art displays at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. One unwelcome addition is the restoration of the Glasgow School of Art after a fire in May, with cost estimates ranging from £20m to £35m.

There is some speculation about how donors in England would view giving to a country they might require a passport to visit. But some, such as the Sainsbury trusts, are adopting a wait-and-see approach. Alan Bookbinder, the director of the Sainsbury trusts, says that his Monument Trust has made “considerable” grants to organisations in Scotland, including the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, the Theatre Royal in Dumfries and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, since April 2013. He says that it would take two or three years for independence to come into force. “We are just watching and waiting,” he says. “I can confirm that [the] Monument [Trust] would continue to make grants in Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.”

There are separate but linked charity registration systems in Scotland and England, and sources say that at least two major foundations have been consulting lawyers over the question of how UK funds could continue to give charitable donations to what would be a foreign country.

The Dunard Fund, which is a major donor to UK galleries and festivals, including the Edinburgh International Festival, is largely based in Edinburgh but is reliant on English assets. “[Our] trustees still feel that there are a lot of unanswered questions that we would like to see resolved before the vote about charity law,” a senior official says.

Some charities with explicitly UK remits are facing challenges. The Pilgrim Trust, founded in the wake of the First World War, has strong Scottish connections, but was set up patriotically to address Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s “urgent needs” in “tiding over the [then] present time of difficulty”.

After reports of a surge in funding applications to established Scottish charities, the Gannochy Trust announced in February that it will only accept applications from its original catchment area of Tayside until it completes a review, after the referendum.

Others may exercise more flexibility. The Wolfson Foundation, the UK charity founded by Glasgow-born Isaac Wolfson, recently said that it wants more, rather than fewer, applications for funding from Scotland and the regions. The organisation gives £30m to £40m a year in capital infrastructure funding and is the biggest single donor to the Art Fund; recent grants have gone to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art to buy works by Wolfgang Tillmans. There will be a “conversation after the referendum”, says Paul Ramsbottom, the foundation’s chief executive, adding: “We have got no reason in principle for not funding beyond the UK.”  

The Garfield Weston Foundation is widely said to have put capital grants on hold in the past year. A spokesman says: “The foundation continues to make active grants in Scotland, in particular for revenue projects where the money is needed immediately to help charities remain effective and sustainable. The referendum is a matter for the Scottish people to decide and it would not be appropriate for the foundation to take a position.”

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