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Authors pen their support for Highland publisher in First Minister book controversy

By Gregor White

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Sandstone managing director Robert Davidson.
Sandstone managing director Robert Davidson.

Authors from across Scotland have spoken out in support of Highland-based publisher Sandstone Press after a Conservative MSP implied a decision to publish a book of speeches by the First Minister was linked to a cash award from a Scottish Government body.

Sandstone Press, which was founded in Ross-shire and based in Dingwall until a more recent move to Inverness, is to publish Women Hold Up Half the Sky, a selection of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon in May.

The publisher describes the book, which is edited by Sandstone managing director Robert Davidson, as a selection of speeches covering a range of topics, including education, human rights, equality, infrastructure, food banks, and the European Union from "one of the world’s most experienced political leaders".

News of the forthcoming publication prompted a Tweet from Maurice Golden, West of Scotland MSP and Conservative economy, fair work and culture spokesman at the Scottish Parliament.

He wrote: "An SNP government quango gave a publisher over £410,000. It just so happens that publisher is apparently the only one they (sic) sees value in releasing a book of Sturgeon's speeches.

"Coincidence is a funny old thing."

Mr Golden's comments are understood to refer to the financial support Sandstone Press is claimed to have received from Creative Scotland and its predecessor the Scottish Arts Council, since 2006.

In response, Sandstone Press issued a statement expressing its disappointment at seeing "misleading" information on the forthcoming publication in the press and online without any comment from the company.

It continued: "Collections of speeches in the public domain have a long publishing history - from The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches, to collections by individuals such as Tony Benn and Barack Obama. In this selection of her speeches, Nicola Sturgeon considers such diverse matters as gender and other equalities, the climate crisis, education, and human rights.

Sandstone Press will publish a book of selected speeches from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in May. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Sandstone Press will publish a book of selected speeches from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in May. Picture: Gary Anthony.

"Women Hold Up Half The Sky is published and financed independently of any public body. Sandstone Press has received no funding for this book. Creative Scotland has supported Sandstone Press to deliver various projects through the Open Project Fund between 2011 and 2019. Women Hold Up Half The Sky is not part of that support.

"Similar to many Scottish businesses Sandstone Press has received support from HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise). This is in relation to business resilience and not any project or publication."

Founded by Mr Davidson and novelist Moira Forsyth, Sandstone Press has received several accolades over the last decade and a half, including becoming the first publisher to win the Saltire Society Scottish publisher of the year award twice, and winning the Man International Booker Prize with author Jokha Alharthi.

A selection of Sandstone's publications.
A selection of Sandstone's publications.

The Sandstone Press response prompted a number of authors from the Highlands and beyond to take to social media to express their support for the publisher, including children's author – and Inverness Courier columnist – Barbara Henderson, Inverness crime writer Margaret Kirk, award-winning historical novelist SG MacLean, and Easter Ross resident author and scientist Helen Sedgwick, who wrote: "Sandstone Press publish a wonderful, diverse list of books and they're a highly respected cornerstone of our literary scene in the Highlands and far beyond. Now they're dealing with this cynical political nonsense."

Skye resident Roger Hutchinson, whose books include non-fiction bestseller Calum's Road and who, like the other authors mentioned above, is not published by Sandstone, commented: "Bob Davidson has built Sandstone Press from nothing into one of Scotland's finest publishing companies. Like all such publishers he has received subsidy. Sandstone thoroughly deserves it. By all means criticise his books, but lay off him and his excellent business."

BBC World Service broadcaster Bill Thompson also lent his support, commenting: "Sorry to see the misrepresentation here. Publishing speeches which are otherwise hard to find is a long and important tradition."

However, not all comments were so positive.

One Tweeter, describing himself as Englishman in Edinburgh, responded: "So let's get this straight. You have been receiving money from the Scottish Government for many years now. You are publishing a propaganda-fuelled book in the lead up to an important election. On what basis do you expect taxpayers like me not to be angry about this?"

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