THERE are concerns that musicians and artists who support Scottish independence could be blocked from UK Government-backed grants amid a culture compared to “McCarthyism 2.0”.

Artists have raised the alarm after the Tory government moved to overrule an independent panel and prevent the Belfast-based band Kneecap from receiving funding due to their anti-Unionist views.

Justifying the decision, a spokesperson for Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch claimed to “fully support freedom of speech,” but added: “It's hardly surprising that we don't want to hand out UK taxpayers' money to people that oppose the United Kingdom itself.”

Kneecap has threatened the UK Government with legal action over the move, and now concerns have been raised that the Tories’ statement might have far-reaching consequences.

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Iona Fyfe, an award-winning Scots folk singer, said: “For me, the scary consequence is that only bands and artists who are supportive of the Union and the UK Government will reap the benefits of grants such as MEGS [the Music Export Growth Scheme].

“The whole thing is giving McCarthyism 2.0. If the UK Government firmly believes in rewarding bands and artists that are sympathetic to the Union and to the government of the day, then [it] risks going down a dark authoritarian path, seeking to silence and punish any critics.”

MEGS aims to gain a return on investment for the UK by handing money to musicians.

A UK Government press release from earlier in the month stated: “MEGS has invested more than £6 million in British music, leading to an estimated £55.5m financial return to the UK economy.”

The National: The SNP's Pete Wishart MP speaking in the House of Commons

SNP MP Pete Wishart (above), who was in the Scottish band Runrig before joining parliament in 2001, said MEGS was “designed to support artists to grow international markets following the disaster of Brexit on touring acts in the EU”.

He went on: “Only the Tories would be so politically obsessed to award funding according to a band’s views on the constitution.

“If this was to be applied across the board, very few artists in Scotland would qualify for any support as Scotland’s musical community – almost to a man and woman – is committed to seeing Scotland emerge as an independent nation. You can only imagine the application forms with bands interrogated about their levels of support for the UK and asked if they have ‘ever supported an independent Scotland’?

“This nonsense only compounds the needless bureaucracy on artists and introduces a sinister political test,” he added.

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David Powell, a painter and sculptor from Wales who now works in the Netherlands, suggested that the MEGS move was part of a wider pattern, pointing online to a scandal which engulfed Arts Council England after it warned artists that “political statements” could break funding agreements.

Powell said the UK Government was “systematically and pathologically attacking the arts to remake it in [its] own grotesque image”.

He went on: “The Tories don’t like to be reminded of their criminally abject failures - they certainly cannot abide artists telling them uncomfortable truths about the crushing impacts of their austerity policies [and] engineered insolvency of councils and public services.

“Woe betides a group like Kneecap who rip the piss out of Imperialist demagogues with songs like Get your Brits Out, that is clearly going too far. The snowflake Tories are delicate flowers - you might hurt their feelings.”

Both Powell and Fyfe argued that art has a history of holding power to account and that by withholding funding for groups critical of their politics, the UK Government was in dangerous territory.

Fyfe said: "Through song, poetry, art and literature, artists shine a light on injustices of the state and give a voice to those persecuted by governments and politicians of all different stripes.

"The Business Secretary has revealed herself to be a soft-touch sham of a politician, on the one hand preaching free speech whilst on the other silencing those who disagree with her.

"This is a dangerous precedent the UK Government has set - but they should be in no doubt it's one that artists throughout the world will challenge without fear or favour."

The UK Government said it would respond to the Sunday National’s request for comment, but did not.