10 years of Scottish devolution – growing cultural confidence, some stars and time for more connections

photo of Scottish Parliament courtesy of   e-architect.co.uk

The verdict on the success of 10 years of devolution in Scotland this week is that it has been a succss with a Times poll published today demonstrating that 70% of voters believing it has been good for Scotland.  And that is how it feels.

The verdict on impact of devolution on culture is not so easily measured. The last 10 years have seen two administrations and 8 (or is it 9) Culture Ministers, some confusion around cultural policy and a preoccupation with structures.   But despite that, devolution in Scotland has been an enormous boost for our confidence in our culture in Scotland and this confidence is growing.  And there have been some stars.

The most significant date in devolution for those of us in the arts was St Andrews Day 2003 when the then First Minister, Jack McConnell gathered us to hear his St Andrew Days Speech when he declared the vital importance of culture and the arts to Scotland.  We in the arts in Scotland were flabbergasted to hear our senior politician committed and passionate about the importance of culture, having spent years advocating to seemingly deaf ears.  And the centrality of the arts, creativity and culture to Scotland is now a truth, forming a core part of political manifestos before the last election and is promoted by the First Minister.  Our creative talent, and our engagement in arts and culture are vital elements of our global and local success,  for the expression of our cultural identity and the competitiveness of Scotland’s creative economy.  And there is no doubt that this political recognition has engendered a growing confidence in the arts, culture and creative industries, not just from those of us in the sector but throughout Scotland.

There has been a lot of consideration on policy and structures and the role of intermediary cultural agencies especially Creative Scotland and other bodies within Scotland- local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 

We have also began the interrogation around policies in areas of culture and the creative industries where Scotland does not have devolved powers and where Westminster influences dominate, including in broadcasting with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission  and in international cultural policies with the British Council.   All of this interrogation is a necessary early years process of defining how Scotland can best deliver culturally and creatively although  the inward focus and delay in establishing structures has led to some weakened connections between Scottish and UK agencies as well as frustration in the sector.

The issues of tax varying and tax raising powers is also an element which impacts upon cultural and creative policy, with solutions still to be found to support calls and commitments to fund artists and support the games industry in Scotland.

So, while this is all unfolding, its worth highlighting some of the stars. The stars have been big artistic ideas from the creative community in Scotland, whose time has been right and where these ideas have been backed and supported by the Scottish Government, without need for developing top down policies.  These include the support for the Artists Rooms and National Galleries of Scotland  .  The brightest star is the National Theatre of Scotland.  The demand for this, and the model for the non building based theatre, came from the Scottish theatre community.  The time was right and the idea was backed by the Scottish Government.

Mike Russell, the Minister for Culture is demonstrating clarity, confidence, understanding and a drive for action.  If he can establish the policies and deliver the structures, we can look forward to the next years of devolution really celebrating and supporting culture and creativity in and for Scotland with yet more of our stars in the ascendant.

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