Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 15:52 UK

'Every time we say goodbye'

The full text of Richard Holloway's speech to the Scottish Arts Council festival party. Dr Holloway is the former Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church. He has been arts council chair since 2005.

This is my fourth appearance at the Scottish Arts Council's Festival Party.

On each occasion I've thought it might be the last, so, like Cole Porter, I've said goodbye and died a little: but I won't risk it this year, because it's beginning to sound ridiculous.

It's only recently that I've discovered why I was given the job of chairing the Arts Council, then the extra bit, chairing the Joint Board of SAC and Scottish Screen.

I reckoned at the time that since I didn't know much about the arts or film, there had to be another reason.

Now I know they appointed me because I am a theologian whose speciality is eschatology.

Eschatology is the branch of theology that deals with promised events that never actually happen: the End of the World; the Second Coming; Creative Scotland...

The Joint Board is actually an eschatological sect that meets regularly to pray for the appearance of a mystical entity, promised by successive Scottish Governments, that will unleash the creative power of the nation.

Like all religious sects, we have our own sacred texts which have been handed down to us, and we spend a lot of time searching them for clues as to when the blessed event might materialise.

One of our seers recently hit upon a secret code buried in these ancient scriptures and prophesied that the great coming would take place on 18 June.

As is our wont, we clad ourselves in the white robes of our order and ascended Arthur's Seat to wait for the appearing.

We sang, we prayed, we kept vigil, but the white smoke did not rise from the gleaming temple of the Holy Rood.

However, eschatologists are used to disappointment, so we were not too depressed, as we trudged back down.

'It will come, as the promise declares', we told ourselves, 'we have only to prepare and make ourselves more perfect'.

We were assured that the elected seers of the Holy Rood all wanted the great appearing as much as we did, but they did not think we had adequately prepared ourselves for its coming.

Since then we have been hard at work, fasting, praying, writing memoranda, having meetings.

We know we had not perfectly calculated the shekel count of the eschatological entity, but soon we'll have it costed to the last drachma.

And when all that planning is complete, we have been assured, the high priests will re-assemble in the temple and conjure Creative Scotland into existence, the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen will be no more, and laughter and singing will be heard throughout the land.

Meanwhile, the Joint Board continues in vigil, prayer and solemn chanting.

We are particularly fond of an anthem written for us by our favourite hymn-writer, Stephen Sondheim.

"I've got a feelin' there's a miracle due,
Gonna come true, comin' to me...
Come on somethin', don't be shy,
Meet a guy, pull up a chair...
The air is hummin', and somethin' great is comin'" Nevertheless, and I hope you'll forgive me, I think it would be unwise to say goodbye.




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