The National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music is based at Plockton High School on the west coast, two hours drive from Inverness.
The centre offers the most talented children, and those who would like to make their career in music, an opportunity to receive tuition at an advanced level. It was started with the help of £600,000 of central government money back in 2000, in conjunction with the Highland Council, and by any measure, it has been a great success.
Some years back, at the annual Tartan Week celebrations in the US which promote the social, cultural and economic links between Scotland and the USA, the then music class of Plockton High played in New York’s Grand Central Station to critical acclaim. There have been many similar occasions and performances.
A number of Shetland musicians have befitted from its teaching and more aspire to attend. That’s a big commitment because it means boarding away from home and all that that entails. Young people who show that kind of commitment are exactly that – committed.
Plockton is a pathway for young musicians wanting to take on a journey to a career in music. The experience of performing at Grand Central Station, or at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, does not just equip young people for playing music. It is a large part of developing self-confidence and a range of social skills. That’s important for whatever happens in later life.
There is also an economic case for the Plockton centre. The young musicians coming through this unique place, being some of the most talented in Scotland, are the ones most likely to go on to make their career in music and pay taxes in the future.
Economists produce varying figures on what the creative industries mean to the Shetland and the wider Scottish economies. But Celtic Connections, held every January, is seen as massively important by Glasgow’s city fathers and now attracts considerable commercial sponsorship.
Highland Council currently finances the centre as part of its overall education budget. But it faces the agonising decisions which all local authorities face over funding. So a blame game won’t help. But there is a sensible argument for central government, Creative Scotland and local authorities who place children to Plockton High School, all helping.
While there is a cost involved in sustaining such a place in the short term, particularly in difficult economic circumstances, it is important for the status of traditional music in Scotland in the long term that there is a national centre for excellence.
I hope that the enormous groundswell of support, including a number of high profile, national figures, successfully makes the case for its retention and keeps it going in a remote part of Scotland. Everything doesn’t have to be in Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Tavish Scott MSP