I've just returned from my holiday in the Scottish Highlands. A story at the forefront of the news in Scotland last week was the financial difficulties of the Duke of Sutherland, reportedly as a result of the credit crunch.
The Duke is one of the richest man in the UK, but he wants to 'rebalance' his family's assets by selling the major art works that he owns. Two Old Master Titan paintings are up for sale for the princely sum of £100 million. The paintings are the main attraction at the National Galleries of Scotland and are a magnet for visitors. The Duke has said that if the National Galleries buy the two paintings, as well as securing their future he will leave the rest of his renaissance collection in Edinburgh as well for the next 21 years. These paintings have great appeal and attract high-value tourism into Edinburgh. The city will undoubtedly want to do all it can to keep these paintings in the National Galleries. But the debate in Scotland is whether it is right to spend public money buying these paintings?
The Duke himself descends from the Sutherlands, a noble family who benefited greatly from the Highland Clearances, where the crofters living in the Highlands were evicted en masse by landowners who wanted to make money out of the land.
The paintings have been looked after, insured and maintained from the public purse for the last 60 years. Should a man who has inherited his wealth as a result of the Highland Clearances be allowed to take £100million from the Scottish public purse today? I'd say no, but it looks as though the Scottish Government has no way of ensuring the paintings remain in Scotland without handing over the £100million.