For several years, the UK government was largely silent on its high level support for culture, while politicians in Scotland have been increasingly passionate, eloquent and publicly committed to the value of culture to Scotland. In producing the Culture White Paper, David Cameron has, for the first time since Jennie Lee’s Policy for the Arts some 50 years ago, committed the UK government to some principles around culture. The Scottish Government has not yet committed to a high level statement of principles about the value of culture, despite consistent demand from the arts, heritage, screen and creative industries represented by Culture Counts, a group of 45 national, umbrella and membership bodies which represent the majority of professional and voluntary artists and cultural organisations in Scotland.
With the forthcoming elections for Holyrood, candidates speaking for culture might consider what sort of high level statement of principles for culture in Scotland we should have. This should start with the principle that cultural expression is an individual right and supports a better understanding of our own and others’ identities. A rights based approach is similar to some aspects of cultural policy in Nordic states and in keeping with the global movement in UNESCO towards recognising that culture is a human right critical for sustainable development. This reflects Scotland’s values more than the UK approach which is largely written from the perspective of the cultural and political establishment. And, in keeping with the governance of our small nation, the principles should enshrine culture across other policy areas.
The Cultural Value Project (CVP) has provided a comprehensive overview of the value of culture and pointed out where there is long term evidence of impact, for example, on the long term health benefits of cultural participation. A cultural statement of principles would support and encourage Scotland’s health bodies to embed cultural participation.
In the meantime , the UK Culture White Paper is the highest level policy statement we have and the PM’s support for equality of access to culture is welcomed, albeit seemingly as a consequence of his belief in public funding:
If you believe in publicly-funded arts and culture as I passionately do, then you must also believe in equality of access, attracting all, and welcoming all.
Rt Hon David Cameron MP
The White Paper lacks the depth of principles contained in Jennie Lee’s paper, and is less of the comprehensive and high level policy document for culture which one might associate with a white paper. It focuses on institutions funded by government and on actions which will be taken by distinctive, and restricted parts of government and sets out a number of actions for reviews, reports and partnerships with other parts of the cultural establishment. Many of these are similar to actions governments have taken in the past as part of business as usual, for example, reviewing the Arts Council, working in partnership with the British Council, encouraging private investment, commissioning a report on ‘the key issues to be addressed to make the UK one of the world’s leading countries for digitised public collections’ content and so on.
The tone is rather grand..
it seeks to harness the nourishing effects of culture. It seeks to ignite the imaginations of young people, kindle ambition and opportunity and fuel the energy of communities.It seeks to spread the gifts of our arts, heritage and culture to more people, and communities across the country and abroad and free the creative genius that can make a better world for all.
And, while it obligates the general public …
Everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, no matter where they start in life
..it does not obligate other parts of government, such as education, skills, health and wellbeing and social justice, where cultural participation has proven and sustained positive impacts on individuals and societies
Scotland’s statement of principles for culture should be broader, deeper and rights based. It should be underpinned by an outcome for culture . It should articulate the importance of culture as a public good, recognise the right to participate in culture and identify culture’s central role to an informed, engaged and healthy modern democracy, the glue that binds Scotland together.