Indicators of the Scottish Government’s firm commitment to culture: 2011 roundup

Bella Caledonia c Alasdair Gray

After a very shaky and uncertain start, 2011 got better and better for culture in Scotland. At the beginning of the year, the cultural sector was braced for slashings and cuts and for possible political change with the associated churn of culture ministers and policies.  At the beginning of 2011, arts organisations in England were embroiled in the maelstrom of the Arts Council of England’s ground zero approach to creating a new national portfolio in the wake of major cuts from the Westminster government. For many in Scotland, with an ingrained memory of Scotland always being a step behind England  – as it always seemed to be before and in the early days of devolution – and within the uncertainty associated with the Scottish Government’s single year pre-election budget, similar swingeing cuts were anticipated.  Creative Scotland, although finally constituted, had still not produced plans and the cultural community remained  as cynical and sceptical as it seems to have always been.  And, pre the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, the stomachs of many in the cultural community sank, dreading yet another change of cultural policy and, perhaps, more, a new Culture Minister.  Before Fiona Hyslop took on the then junior role in 2009, there had been 9 Culture Ministers since devolution in 1999 and many a complimentary ticket and hour was spent trying to induct new ministers into the arts and culture in Scotland before the successor made an appearance.  With the prospect of yet another newbie, the cultural community deepened its apprecation of  Hyslop, who had proved energetic, politically astute, open minded and genuinely committed and conversant with culture in Scotland.

The shaky start of 2011 may have been the last judder in  the  Scottish Government’s  12 year  iterative expedition to express the public value of  culture to a devolved Scotland.  The territory was identified in 2003 by  Jack McConnell ‘s in his St Andrew’s Day Speech which was astounding as it was the first time that any senior politician in Scotland had even mentioned culture like they meant it, let alone expressed a political commitment to its value:

I believe we should make the development of our creative drive the next major enterprise for our society. Arts for all can be a reality, a
democratic right and an achievement of the 21st century. I believe this has the potential to be a new civic exercise on a par with health, housing
and education – the commitment to providing and valuing creative expression for all.

First Minister Jack McConnell, MSP; St Andrew’s Day 2003

The journey to placing culture “on a par” with health and education has been tortuous and has involved not only 10 ministers and a cultural commission but also the coming together of agencies and groups from across the whole spectrum of Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries to form Culture Counts. Culture Counts has a simple purpose, that of ensuring that culture’s importance is reflected in the stated policies and objectives of both the Scottish Government and local government and its three requests in the lead up to elections were:

  • Culture and creativity is specifically included in any national outcome structure, strengthening  the framework for local authorities to support culture.
  • Maintain continued core investment for culture.
  • Maintain and develop incentives for growth through specific initiatives locally and nationally.

At the very end of December 2011,  its clear that the ground work has been completed at last.  The SNP ‘s success at the May elections have provided an overall majority and a clear mandate which has stoked further the confidence of Alex Salmond and an SNP leadership which is so comfortable with Scottish culture that artists, poets and writers are frequently cited in speeches and at Holyrood and adorn Christmas cards.  Fiona Hyslop has continued and her role has been promoted to Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, with Culture no longer seen as a junior post. Fiona Hyslop has listened to the arguments on the vital importance of being explicit about culture when it comes to the National Performance Framework.  And in the budget, culture has not been singled out for the greatest punishment as it appeared in England.

There were several important cultural announcements, openings and events in Scotland in 2011 including the openings of the Burns Museum , the revamped Scottish National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of Scotland;  the 5th birthday of the National Theatre of Scotland, the accession of Liz Lochead to the role of Makar; a a cultural exchange partnership with China. Further investment was announced for the new V and A in Dundee.

The quitest announcement is perhaps the most significant. A new national indicator, to increase cultural engagement, was announced as part of a review of the national performance framework, Scotland Performs.

Cultural engagement impacts positively on our general wellbeing and helps to reinforce our resilience in difficult times. Cultural participation is known to bring benefits in learning and education; there is a significant association with good health and satisfaction with life. Our culture is key to our sense of identity as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Maintaining the quality and diversity of our cultural offerings in conjunction with enabling a strong level of engagement with culture helps to promote Scotland on an international stage as a modern dynamic nation. These factors also encourage visitors to come to Scotland, creating and maintaining jobs in cultural tourism; and support the conditions for Scotland’s creative economy by encouraging creative industries to be leading edge in their field, particularly as part of maintaining and growing city economies.

Scottish Government December 2011

The new cultural indicator is one of 12 new priorities, the others being to: improve digital infrastructure, improve levels of education attainment, increase the proportion of babies with a healthy birth weight, increase physical activity, reduce deaths on Scotland’s roads, improve the responsiveness of public services, reduce children’s deprivation. widen use of the internet, improve end of life care, reduce pre-mature mortality and to mprove self-assessed general health.  The incorporation of the cultural indicator in a set which includes matters of life, death, education and the internet marks the coming of age of culture within the policy framework of the devolved government of Scotland.

The new indicators supercede a bunch of indicators judged redundant including that which fuelled the bonfire of the quangos on which the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen perished. Creative Scotland, under the leadership of Andrew Dixon, has published its first corporate plan, made lots of postive announcements and proved a champion for the arts, screen and creative industries. The corporate plan and the budget cuts will mean the end to ‘flexible funding’ and this Christmas over 60 organisations are preparing the case for survival. But quietly.   Dixon and Hyslop stand shoulder to shoulder waving the Scottish cultural flag in a sea of positive spin so powerful that the less positive stories are submerged and the artistic community is less negative than before on the whole with many leaders positive about culture in Scotland now.

Culture in Scotland is finally on a firm footing as we enter 2012. The focus for the cultural community is now shifting to local authorities where further cuts are looming, armed with the new national indicator for cultural engagement.  Culture counts in Scotland.

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