WORKING for an arts funding organisation should, like bull-fighting or deep sea diving, be listed under hazardous occupations. The flak thrown in recent years at Creative Scotland – and I’ve lobbed a fair share myself – makes you wonder if staff wear bullet-proof vests beneath their suits, or are trained in self-defence.

Following every funding cycle, there are predictable, low-level stramashes involving those whose grants have been cut. Protesting is their prerogative, whatever good it will do. But then there is the sort of outcry that raises the national pulse. Such a response followed news that, because of Creative Scotland’s failure to support the Scottish Youth Theatre (again), this much-loved, high-profile institution will close. The public fury this has roused is so heated that even those who have never stepped over the theatre’s doors feel aggrieved on its behalf. A venerable institution, the first of its kind in the country, it has been deemed a flagship for stage work with children and young adults of all backgrounds and abilities, encompassing and indeed encouraging those with learning difficulties and disabilities.

So far, so laudable. At this point, however, the problem of discussing the Scottish Youth Theatre’s plight becomes clear. Anything that is interpreted as an attack or an affront to the young, disabled or socially disadvantaged, is highly emotive. None of us likes to think of an outfit that inspires and equips them for a career on stage, or simply for their role in life, being diminished or lost. You can see why Creative Scotland has been made to feel like King Herod for daring to throw SYT’s future into jeopardy.

Yet there are times when sentiment has to be contained, and the head must rule the heart. So far, most of the discourse has been on the hysterical side, with knee-jerk condemnation of the decision-makers by alumni, pundits, and politicians.

It is worth remembering, though, that the function SYT fulfilled when it first began has spread. It was the oak, you might say, that scattered abundant acorns. Now, thanks to its inspiration, there are more than 50 youth theatre companies across the country, some blessedly far from the central belt. In Glasgow alone there are 11, while countless others have a youth component to their remit. As one youth theatre producer said, “why do we never have a conversation about the quality of the work?”

No wonder he or she wants to remain incognito. The word quality is dynamite, the accusation plain.

Funding for the arts is neither an inalienable right, nor a certainty, nor something awarded in perpetuity. The bedrock on which support is based is the value, worth, or calibre of what is being produced. That underlies every financial decision, right across the arts. And it raises the question of Creative Scotland’s purpose. Support of major national institutions, be they orchestras or theatres, galleries or dance companies, must be a priority. Arts work lower down the scale often falls into a category outwith serious artistic endeavour, and closer to social work. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact the more of it the better – but surely this is where individual councils should be offering support, rather than Creative Scotland? Art intended to benefit the community, rather than to produce or advance professional artists or performers, is the realm of local government, and it should be mandated to budget for it. Other publicly funded organisations, such as universities and colleges, or the BBC, should also contribute – who is better placed? And where are the benefactors, the patrons of the arts of yore? Is the country bereft of cultural philanthropists?

Creative Scotland cannot subsidise everything, no matter how long-established or worthy. Of late, however, there has been a growing sense of entitlement to state money. It is viewed like the bank of mum and dad: a supportive certainty, a fail-safe backstop or buffer. Call it what you will, but piggy bank is probably best. Nor do all organisations remember such money has to be earned.

There has always been tension in the very idea of government funding for the arts, as well I know from my experience of the literature sector. What should and should not be funded, the criteria on which grants are made, and the provisos and conditions they are hedged with, are sensitive and subjective matters. With the Scottish Youth Theatre’s travails, in which even the First Minister has expressed concern, it seems that what you could call crowd-hounding is at play. The louder the public protest, the less confidence in the purse-holders’ decision, and the gradual, insidious erosion of trust. In some instances such a strong response is the only way to force a well-deserved rethink. But sometimes headlines and personal agendas get in the way of reality.

There is a time for government agencies to back down, and a time to stand firm by the recommendations of those paid to take tough, unpopular decisions. They won’t always get it right – how could they? But the system will not get fairer, or better, if sense is easily overruled by sensibility.