FIONA Hyslop has called for a “respectful” discussion about Scottish culture as senior arts figures criticised what they said was a “politically motivated” attack on independence supporting artists and writers by a leading composer.

The Culture Secretary’s intervention followed remarks made by Sir James MacMillan in a newspaper article yesterday in which he hit out at writers Alasdair Gray and Alan Warner and launched a personal attack on Hyslop.

“There have been naked government attempts to control arts and culture in many societies in the past century. Turning cultural endeavour into state propaganda has a very dishonourable history in Europe,” he wrote in The Times.

He condemned a Scottish Government consultation on the arts, suggesting it was based on a fear by the SNP of losing support among the artistic community to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

He concluded his article with criticism of Gray, who several years ago described some people who move to Scotland as “settlers” and others as “colonists”, and Warner.

MacMillan wrote savagely: “Alan Warner, one of those writers who puts his lack of sales down to Anglo-Saxon repression, blamed the majority for voting against the aspirations of the secessionist movement, referring to “a profound and strange schism between the voters of Scotland and its literature; a new convulsion, the death knell for the whole Scottish literature ‘project’.”

“With other celebrated Scottish writers referring to English migrants as “settlers and colonists” it might be time to put this project in the bin, and pursue a strategy of finding a newer, better one – one that seeks transcendent creative vision instead of venality, victimhood and mediocrity.”

In a statement to The National, Hyslop said “debate in a civic open society is key to a healthy democracy” and that it was important “all debate is respectful of artists and other members of our society who may not share the same view “.

“A vibrant critical debate about how we support artists, and support art and ?culture? to be created, nurtured, enjoyed, and how culture can help individuals and society make sense of a complex world, is hardly a radical conspiracy ... MacMillan may seek to make a ‘constitutional football’ out of culture but I do not.”

MacMillan’s article was condemned by a range of senior figures in Scotland’s cultural community.

The country’s leading historian Professor Sir Tom Devine described MacMillan’s piece as “a politically motivated diatribe”.

He said: “It is sad to read this splenetic rant from one of the country’s leading cultural figures. Organisations like Creative Scotland do indeed have to be held to critical account. But this politically motivated diatribe leads only into an intellectual dead end.

“The piece is replete with non-evidenced assertions and prejudice disguised as unimpeachable truth. Debate on cultural policy needs to function at a much higher level than this’.

Willy Maley, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Glasgow University, also voiced his dismay.

“What [Sir James MacMillan] offers is not a transcendent creative vision but the usual tired unionist abuse. He is a particularly brazen British Nationalist at a time when British Nationalism has revealed itself to be nasty, brutish and short on ideas.

“If he wants to rail against the cultural establishment then why doesn’t he pick on an establishment his own size, like the British Establishment to which he so clearly belongs, the one behind Brexit, and the one to which he has hitched his benighted bandwagon. He tells us: ‘No other country with thriving contemporary artistic cultures, from Finland to Germany, has this degree of political interference’.

“But those are independent nations, Sir Jimmy, so please compose yourself and conduct yourself in a manner befitting your title and high office in the cultural establishment.”

Singer Sheena Wellington said: “A wish for excellence and accessibility in the arts does not equate to ‘state propaganda’. No philanthropist, business or government has ever given money to the arts in a totally disinterested manner.”

The writer Alan Bissett also hit back. “Sir James MacMillan continues his one-man crusade to discredit those artists who believe Scotland should have the same rights as every other country,” he said.

“He finds it incredible that some artists simply want decisions about Scotland’s future to be made in Scotland, so he has to use terms like ‘fanatical’ and ‘sinister’ to explain it. Are French people ‘unhinged’ for wanting their country to be sovereign? Are the Swedes ‘venal’ because they don’t want to be run from Finland? Sir James once described Yes-voting artists as ‘supporting evil’. I can’t take what he says very seriously, I’m afraid.”

“He also claims that the creative community in Scotland are starting to rethink their support for independence, without giving any evidence for this at all. Not a single artist who came out for Yes has stated that they’ve changed their mind on the issue, so this is mere wishful thinking on his part.”