International star Alan Cumming has endorsed the SNP campaign: seen here in National Theatre of Scotland's The Bacchae
The Scottish culturati has, until this point, largely shared the characteristics of their English counterparts when it comes to political allegiance, with a traditional leaning towards the left and the liberal. Support for the Scottish Nationalists was, until recently, largely confined to some of the more traditional arts sectors with a preconception from others that nationalism would be too inward looking and narrow minded to understand art and the internationalism of culture in Scotland. But any voter whose primary interest is the success and support for Scotland’s arts, culture and creativity will be drawn to vote SNP in the Scottish elections on 5 May. The SNP can demonstrate a good track record in funding and championing Scotland’s culture and are running a strong campaign with endorsements from artists and creative leaders including Alan Cumming, Mark Millar and Jack Vettriano. Several more artists who have been courted by the party leaders may not be so comfortable about being wheeled out but that doesn’t diminish the pride and gratification they feel about being listened, recognised and valued.
And Scottish writers, actors, comedians and Jonathan Mills, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival signed an open letter to the Sunday Herald in support of the Scottish Digital Network, a central plank of the SNP manifesto:
Scottish viewers should enjoy the kind of dedicated broadcasting service that is taken for granted in comparable territories all around Europe. There is clear audience demand, there is all-party support in the Scottish Parliament and there is a glaring public service deficit in the current arrangements.
During the 1980 and 90s, the arts and cultural community in Scotland, like the rest of the UK, used to always vote Labour with a generous peppering of Liberal, because these parties expressed values shared around egalitarianism, because the Conservatives since Thatcher’s government were oppositional to the growth of state funding and because many artists aligned politically to the left.
But the unreconstructed Scottish Labour arts voter is now in the minority. All the major parties have culture writ in their manifestos and the Labour manifesto makes specific pledges particularly to music. Its not so much that the SNP creative mini manifesto is significantly more advanced than Labours as that the SNP manifesto mainstreams commitment to creativity, creative industries, and culture in its vision for the economy, for education and for international engagement.
Of course the notion of an arts vote is simplistic as voters make judgements taking into account the overall expression of values, and the context locally and in the UK.
And manifesto commitments aren’t everything. The SNP did not stick to its original commitment last time round to transfer the budget and responsibility for the creative industries from Scottish Enterprise to Creative Scotland, setting in train an ante-natal turbulence and confusion for the new agency.
And direct support for the arts, culture and creative industries is only one part of the story. We need the Scottish Government to support education, economic growth, environmental sustainability and the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. But on the basis of track record, manifesto commitment and cultural champions and connections, the SNP is likely to attract many arts voters.