‘TO lose one great cultural institution may be regarded as a misfortune”, Oscar Wilde might have said. “To lose two might look like carelessness.” However, to lose four? That smacks of catastrophic, philistine neglect.

The news, earlier this week, that Modern Two – the much-loved second building of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh – is closing its doors for the remainder of 2022 is depressing and frightening. Indeed, coming so soon after the collapse of the cinema charity the Centre for Moving Image (CMI) – and with it its constituent organisations the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), the Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen – the gallery’s closure raises the very real danger that Scotland’s cultural infrastructure is on the verge of meltdown.

The Holyrood political class cannot say it wasn’t warned. When the director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, Sir John Leighton, appeared before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament back in September, he told MSPs that the nation’s cultural sector was facing “a crisis that feels more serious and more difficult to deal with than the pandemic itself.”

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He cited not only the impact of the pandemic on visitor numbers but also inflation, a real terms decrease in public funding for the arts and the struggle to pay staff a fair wage. The National Galleries’ energy bill alone was projected to increase by around 50%, to more than £1 million.

These factors amount to the same “perfect storm” that was cited by the board of the CMI when it closed down the EIFF and its two cinemas earlier this month. “Public funding has been [at a] standstill or reducing for over eight years”, the CMI said.

The obvious subtext of all this is that the arts are not – indeed, cannot be – a priority in a period of crisis. Surely, the political logic goes, it is more important to help the most vulnerable in our society to heat their homes and put food on their tables than it is to keep art galleries and art house cinemas open.

If only it were true that our politicians were straining every sinew to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from the burgeoning costs of energy and food. Whoever emerges from the wreckage of the Conservative Party next Friday to be announced as prime minister of the UK, you can be certain that the sickening profits of the big energy companies will be assured.

Their barely taxed “windfalls” will be put on the public tab, to be paid later by us, our children and our grandchildren, not only in taxes but in cuts to public services, from the NHS to social care and education. Meanwhile, we are told to consider ourselves lucky that, thanks to Westminster government intervention, our household fuel bills will only have doubled in the last year.

Whenever anyone dares to defend arts spending, the cry goes up from Tory politicians and commentators that we are “champagne socialists”. The Tories and the rich that they serve love nothing so much as to disingenuously offer a false choice between spending on “public goods” (such as health and education) and the arts. Yet, to paraphrase the good book, “man cannot live by bread alone.” The wealthy know only too well the emotional well-being and the intellectual and personal development that comes with access to and engagement in artistic expression. That’s why, as our cash-strapped state schools struggle to provide arts education to pupils, the private schools the rich send their kids to are equipped with amply-supplied music departments and well-appointed theatres.

As Jimmy Reid argued in his great rectorial address at the University of Glasgow back in 1972, we cannot call our society truly civilised while it denies to millions of its citizens “the enrichment of the whole quality of life” in all of its “social and cultural” dimensions.

“Where’s the money coming from?” scream the right-wing commentators whenever spending on the arts is proposed or defended.

While they are pointing at the growing public debt, they are distracting us from the swelling profits of the energy companies, the food retailers and all the other big businesses that have come through the pandemic and into the current economic crisis with their pockets bulging.

They are distracting us, too, from the billions lost to the public purse through offshore tax avoidance schemes in places like the Cayman Islands.

Moreover, one never hears a right-wing commentator juxtapose arts spending with the billions spent on weapons of war, including the nuclear warheads on the Clyde.

The closure of four of Scotland’s cultural institutions is a national embarrassment.

And as the loss of The Arches Theatre in Glasgow (which closed down in 2015) attests, we cannot be sure that an institution, once closed, will ever open again.

The UK has a per capita GDP that is – the Liz Truss/Kwasi Kwarteng crashing of the economy into a wall notwithstanding – a great deal more than three times the global average.

If the funding isn’t there to protect our cultural infrastructure, that is a matter, not of mere financial calculation, but of political priority.

We know where the money is and – were it not being salted off to the Cayman Islands or, as Boris Johnson might say, “spaffed up the wall” on Richard Branson’s personal space programme – there would be more than enough for us to have bread and roses, too.