JAMES MacMillan and I aren’t getting along. The great contemporary composer (and he is great, inarguably) has taken in recent years to launching broadsides. They are usually aimed at what he sees as a cosy and dangerous consensus between Scottish artists and indy-majority Holyrood governments.

I am regularly mentioned in his strafings. In this one I am described as “an ex-pop star and soi-disant intellectual”. (Bien-pensant, if you don’t mind. And less of the “ex”, maestro.)

I was apparently guilty of “carefully controlling” conversations at one of the tables in an National Cultural Strategy event last July, guiding tremulous and manipulable artists towards “common understandings of Scottishness”. (As well as mastery of twelve-tone serialism, James must possess the ears of Batman – he was miles away on the other side of the Women’s Library in Govan).

All of this in my role as an “outright SNP supporter”, whipping aesthetes and conceptualists into their tartan-fringed holding pens. (I thought I was an outright independence supporter, having placed my proportional votes for SNP, Scottish Greens, SSP and RISE over the last few years, and helping out with the non-party Scottish Independence Convention. Anyway.)

But MacMillan isn’t quite beating his same old tympani here. Instead, he wants to express his glee. Particularly at the discomfort he imagines of all those artists who bought into the Yes campaign of 2012-2014. Yes gave them an opportunity to express their “grievance, moral superiority, a

hint of radicalism”.

Now they have Jeremy Corbyn – or in James’s curious words, the “romantic gesturalist revolutionary”. And according to MacMillan’s infallible spidey-senses, indy-aligned artists now find themselves “stranded on the wrong side of the socialist fence, wondering how best to dig themselves out of the hole”.

Meanwhile, the SNP government is apparently desperate to keep them all onside. Thus they defend Creative Scotland’s budget against austerity cuts. But they also seek to “pressurise [creatives] into the ‘national’ project” by means of long, tedious meetings of the unco guid.

This is all mostly a fantasy in James’s mighty cranium. Perhaps it’s the steam that needs to be let off to allow more gesamtkunstwerks like The Confession of Isobel Gowdie or Veni, Veni, Emmanuel to be birthed. If so, we must forgive.

What’s closer to the truth is that national and public arts funding is intrinsically a complex and tense affair – and getting more so all the time. Maybe it would be useful to lay out some of those tensions, instead of buying into MacMillan’s white-knuckled nightmare of imminent Jock authoritarianism.

One obvious tension is that the Scottish “artistic community” is in no way as passive as MacMillan renders them. They are very willing and able to shrug off those who would subject them to their plans.

Has he forgotten the Great Stushie of 2012? The founding CEO of Creative Scotland, Andrew Dixon, was hounded out of his job by a swarm of leading artists. Dixon had bullishly proposed a far too marketing-and-brand-oriented approach to the development of Scottish arts and culture. His jotters were handed to him summarily.

I was asked to facilitate a set of Open Sessions, aimed at clearing the air between CS and artists in 2013 (all available online). I can certainly report that many, many creators were willing to speak up loudly and fluently against the idea of being absorbed into a Team Scotland or Scotland the Brand approach.

One of the outcomes of the whole affair was a strong Ministerial restatement (from Fiona Hyslop) of the “intrinsic” value of art and culture, beyond any bottom lines it might serve. This is quite different from the English Arts Council’s approach, which is much more tied into British “soft power” and creative-industry strategies.

But artistic vigilance is required. To that extent, James’s carnaptiousness is a model for how artists should generally relate to their funders. The hand that feeds them should be regularly bitten. In doing so, they manifest the human freedom to create and envision – which arts subsidy is intended to support.

Richard Holloway, who managed the bridge between the end of the Scottish Arts Council and the beginning of Creative Scotland, wrote about this in a paper called “Creative Disloyalty” (which is still worth reading).

Yet another tension is the degree to which artists respond to the world as citizens – whether they keep those responsibilities separate from their art, or aim to make equality and justice an outcome of that art.

MacMillan certainly takes hard ideological positions (currently somewhat to the right of the liberation theology I remember discussing with him in his early career). So why does he object to artists who believed independence would be the best condition by which people living in Scotland might flourish? As citizens, we can all get our hands dirty here.

As for the fickle romanticism of Scottish artists, maybe now drifting from YesLand to CorbLab, I think there’s a more interesting question here. And that is: How might the power and importance of the arts change, as our societies become more post-work, post-carbon and even post-capitalist? As I’m often writing here, most of the predictions about automation are taking us by the shoulders and saying, “you need to find out what you can do that a robot, algorithm or AI can’t”. Don’t we think that artists and creatives might have quite a lot to contribute to that search?

Whether it lies on the cabinet tables of Holyrood or Westminster – or Brussels, for that matter – we are in the starting days of a massive redefinition of what we regard as valuable human effort and labour.

Have a look over the public reports of last June’s National Cultural Strategy meet-up (written in dreadful bureaucratese, I will grant Jimmy that). From the floor, you will find strong advocacy for policies of universal basic income, welfare and fiscal reform, house-building programmes. These are not themes that usually appear in the pie-charts of arts funding rounds. But the ambition for arts to get deeply involved in policy – not just huddle around tribal party loyalties – is really there.

Many artists and creatives I know in Scotland are very focused on what could be described as communal empowerment. How might their practice strengthen the imaginations and willpower of the strained and stressed communities around them? Isn’t this exactly what James is doing with his music festival, The Cumnock Tryst?

Yet there are limits to how far art and culture can effect social strengthening on its own. I think it’s quite right that artists should be ambitious about what they recommend governments should do with their policies and powers.

That means they should be actively gripping the hands of politicians, steering them away from their civil servants, and getting them to encounter scenes of raw human potential and creativity (let alone empathy and care). These are the capacities we advanced mammals will most be able to rely on in the next few decades of mega-tech. How does policy defend the human?

I happen to think a Scottish nation-state is the best context for that relationship between culture and policy. James may disagree (as might many others) about that particular equation, or even its premise.

But I would humbly suggest the issues are much deeper and wider than MacMillan’s evident desire for a good barney.