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Scottish Parliament Speech: Richard Demarco (September 2010)

See this speech in context on They Work For You

I, too, am grateful to Linda Fabiani for securing the debate. I express my warmest congratulations to Richard Demarco on his 80th birthday and to that remarkable community, the Italian Scots, which they both represent. Despite "Collar the lot," and its humiliation, and despite the Arandora Star, they have come through and carried us with them.

In the course of his career, Richard Demarco latched on to European culture of the highest, most challenging and deepest qualities. How did he do that from somewhere that was regarded as hidebound? Nevertheless - which for Muriel Spark was the essential Edinburgh word - Scotland and Edinburgh possessed their own magic. The Edinburgh festival was Demarco's decisive inspiration, especially the magical content of its first years. I remember seeing as a kid the stunning show on Diaghilev's Russian ballet in the art college and an early performance of Tyrone Guthrie's staging of David Lindsay's "The Three Estates", which was what Brecht was all about. That was the high European culture that Hitler had tried to crush. It brought the festival and it blessed Edinburgh with it.


Demarco knew that Edinburgh had to reciprocate from within for that annual gift, which was made out of our dour Calvinism, just as the 18th century enlightenment was. The festival was Edinburgh unbound - the Edinburgh of the lords of misrule and the abbots of unreason, as Tom Nairn has termed it. For a month every year, it became the world capital of culture.

Demarco found modernism in Yves Klein, the Dadaists, surreal movements and the bookshop small press revival. I remember Jim Haynes lurking behind the rhinoceros head of the Paperback Bookshop. Only a couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with John Calder, who is 86 and still no quieter and who was at the writers conference in the 1960s. The highest achievement reclaimed the soul of the religious spirit in people such as Joseph Beuys, Tadeusz Kantor and thousands of others across all fields, practices and disciplines, from Sean Connery - an art school model munching his way through the classics from Ibsen to Shakespeare - to the hard man Jimmy Boyle.

Demarco's life of the arts has been dedicated to bringing people together from a' the airts, as well as the arts and, most important, across the chasm of the cold war, which he crossed 90 times. He has bound together north and south Europe and his homelands of Scotland, Ireland and Italy. There was also that vital linkage with England.

There, too, were wounds to be healed for Scotland to be truly itself and European.

The Demarco story has teetered on the verge of disaster and bounced back, with never a dull moment. Let us treat ourselves to the great collection at Craigcrook - and remember that it will not cost a fraction of a Celtic or Rangers 11. Those are the guys, we might remember, who only just managed to beat plucky little Liechtenstein, just as they managed to beat, I believe, San Marino. It would cost only an infinitesimal part of the Fred Goodwin bequest.

This is the man from Barga—the Ross County of art. We must remember that what he presents is not about size, but about the soul, the mind, journeys and meetings; it is about tragedy alongside comedy, neither separated nor alone. It is far from mere entertainment, sport, tourism or leisure, but it is never remote because it reawakens the sense of another Scots Italian, John Ruskin, and that great phrase, "There is no wealth but life."

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