Glasgow public licence charges stymied for now

Published

Jean-Xavier Boucherat

This week, Glasgow City Council has moved to put some distance between itself and the toxic licence legislation changes due to come into force on April 1st. Unveiled just last week, the proposed changes would effectively criminalize the city’s grassroots arts culture and D.I.Y music ethos.

For those who haven’t got caught up in the furor of online indignation (including a petition now 8000 signatures strong), the proposals require all events, including free events such as exhibitions and performances, to sign up for a licence. In addition to costing anywhere between £120-£7500, this would also force organizers through the impossibly bureaucratic process that accompanies a licence application (six weeks notice, six sets of layouts, consultations with any number of bodies keen to break up the party). All of this might mean there’d be no more standing about in some Woodlands flat watching some poor soul trying to play a violin with a biscuit tin, nor any more sweat-drenched rehearsal space stupidity, nor any more games of Guardian reader one-upmanship at the exhibitions you can find in the city’s numerous reclaimed spaces – and even if these inherently good things did continue regardless, they’d be at a far greater risk of persecution.

Of course, there are some less flippant examples that were (and potentially still are) under threat, not least the upcoming Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Like all great festivals, GI Festival spills beyond the venues hosting its main events such as Tramway and CCA, thriving in artists’ studios, residential and industrial sites, and public spaces.

Currently steps are being taken to redefine the term ‘exhibition’, which would exempt many of the events taking place at the end of April. The council themselves have criticized national government for forcing the legislation upon them, claiming that they ‘warned about the impact of this change to the law, but were ignored’. Many however including Nicola Sturgeon MSP and Patrick Harvie MSP have claimed this isn’t the case at all. Whilst it’s true that Holyrood have been battering out this change in legislation since 2010, it was never intended for the kind of small-scale events that are under threat, and more geared towards gaining some control over large-scale raves and other underground madness. A statement on the SNP website pins the blame for the uproar squarely on the council, who were under no obligation to take the steps they have with regards to free events.

The implication seems to be that this was an unintended consequence, but the idea that this all could of happened by accident is stunning. Aside from being particularly draconian whatever way you look at it (affecting events organized by community groups and youth centres), the changes exhibit a shocking disregard for a community that has played a substantial role in the regeneration the city has seen in last few decades. The ‘Glasgow Miracle’ is well documented, and refers to the phenomenon in which a city that has suffered so much in the wake of deindustrialization has produced and attracted a seemingly disproportionate amount of successful contemporary artists. Recently the Glasgow School of Art was awarded a grant of £122,500 to research how this might of come about, but it’s already widely known (and has been since at least 1990) that it is largely down to the artist run studios and the D.I.Y ethos that exists in all sectors of the city’s creative current. To attack artists, performers and communities in this way doesn’t particularly appear to benefit anyone.

Thankfully, it seems the changes have received the kind of reaction necessary to partially fend them off, if only for now.