The Municipal Picture House in Scotland

Thomas Johnston's argument for municipal picture shows, with notes on towns that have experimented with such schemes, and a discussion of how to get around financial arrangements.

Socialist on Town Councils in Scotland might do worse than have an attempt at the establishment of Municipal Cinemas.
There is money in the Municipal Cinemas; there is splendid propaganda in the agitation for the Municipal Cinema.
Already the principle has been definitely accepted in two Scots burghs - Kirkcudbright, of all places, where we have no acknowledged Socialist representative; and Kirkintilloch, where the principle has been carried in the Town Council after several months' hard fighting, and carried, too, as an avowed step in Socialism.
Last winter Alloa Town Council ran some twelve entertainments with cinema pictures, and earned a profit; but retired from the business when fresh private enterprise cinema shows were introduced.
By so retiring, Alloa surrendered a valuable source of income to its Common Good funds.
Coatbridge has also run moving pictures as part of its Municipal entertainments.
Paisley ran similar shows, and financed them from its surplus gas profits.
Greenock has run Municipal pictures, and made profits therefrom.
Dunoon runs Municipal pictures, and has a special clause in one of its private Acts of Parliament empowering it to do so.
Govan, before its annexation to Glasgow, ran moving picture shows.
And now Kirkcudbridght. Here is the report from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard (May 2):
[a report follows describing Kirkcudbright Council discussion of running cinematograph entertainment during the winter. "Mr McConchie said the cinema had undoubtedly come to stay, and it had become an essential part of our modern life. There was no question that these entertainments paid well, and it was only a question of time until a house would be built for such a purpose in Kirkcudbright."]
What Mr McConchie and his friends in Kirkcudbright will run up against is this: that they have no power to charge losses on cinema show running, against any of the local rates. Of course, if they have a Common Good fund like Coatbridge they can debit any losses to the Common Good fund; but if they have no Common Good fund they will require to adopt one of the several expedients to get round the legal difficulty, which legal difficulty the friends of the private profiteer will be sure to raise.
It is no argument to say there will be no loss, but that there will be huge profits. We all know that. But the profiteering Councillors will be sure to raise the legal difficulty that losses, if they should happen to be incurred, cannot be legally charged to the rates.
What then?
First of all, a Town Council is legally entitled to erect and fit up a hall for public amusement. If Kirkcudbright has a Town Hall, it can install an engine, a screen and all the other apparatus necessary to the running of moving pictures, and do so out of the Hall and Parks rate. The trouble arrives should there be a loss on running the show.
In Kirkintilloch this legal difficulty has been got round by the Town Council letting the Town Hall (which has been equipped for cinema shows) to three Councillors who thereupon take upon themselves the responsibility. Profits, when are made, are handed over to the Burgh Treasurer, but are earmarked, so that if it happened that, through any cause, in the future, losses should arise, these losses will be taken from the profit fund.
But there will be no losses. There will be profits. And when the time comes that the School Boards are stirred to send the children to the picture shows for nature lessons, geography lessons, and so on, the profits will not be going to private profiteers, but will be going to the community.
T. J. [Thomas Johnston]

TitleThe Municipal Picture House in Scotland
Date1914-05-16
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