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Tea cake dancers Glasgow 2014

Tea cake dancers Glasgow 2014

 

Policy makers are expert at posing leading questions and many in Scotland’s cultural sectors are equally expert at expressing views which go beyond narrow lines of enquiry. In my analysis for Cultural Trends of all the public consultation on matters of cultural policy undertaken by successive ministers, parliamentarians and publicly appointed commissioners since 1999, its clear that, no matter how firm the steer provided, artists and others who care deeply about culture in Scotland are clear and consistent about what matters. And that where those views seem unheard, they return during the next consultation, and the next until they are resolved. Those who value culture in Scotland may care to respond to the current public consultation on the Draft Independence Bill and the guts of a draft constitution by answering not only the questions posed but by asking for the value of culture to Scotland to be enshrined in the proposed draft constitution, as a right.

 

“What does culture mean to you?” and “What should be the aims of a cultural strategy?” were the first tentative questions posed in 1999 alongside a series of questions focussed on areas that the Scottish Executive considered to be the key elements of a national cultural strategy including structures, roles and interfaces between national institutions and local authorities; the creative industries; international relations; education; wider audiences; and ‘indigenous elements whether Gaelic or Scots’. No questions were posed in 1999 on those matters reserved to Westminster, several of which might be viewed as critical to any fully developed cultural policy, including broadcasting, foreign and diplomatic policy, the National Lottery and the use of tax incentives. However, the consultation, involving over 1000 individuals and organisations, elicited not only responses to the questions set but also views on areas of Westminster jurisdiction. There was strong support for the idea that Scotland might identify and celebrate its own culture, a concept unimaginable to many before devolution; for celebrating the past as well as imagining and planning for the future; and for the harnessing of disparate agencies and perspectives.

Beyond a unanimous agreement that increasing access to all aspects of culture to all people – especially young people – was a good thing, the responses to the set questions varied. There was broad consensus that the cultural agency infrastructure was uncoordinated and ineffective, that the absence of Scottish culture from the education system was not only conspicuous but had multiple negative impacts on Scots’ understanding and appreciation of their own identities and that a major overhaul of the international image of Scottish culture was required to reflect a diverse and contemporary Scotland instead of the ‘tartan and shortbread’ image generally perpetuated. Other, more specific areas generated fewer responses; however there was evident support for a review of the manner in which the national companies were funded and for the Scots language to be recognised alongside Gaelic and English.

There were varying perspectives on the definition of culture from a narrow focus on funding the arts through to a more anthropological understanding that encompassed lifestyles, value systems and beliefs, aligning with the definition offered by UNESCO. Less predictable at the time was the reaction to the phrase ‘creative industries’ that had increasingly begun to appear as a tenet of cultural policy led by DCMS. Offered an opportunity not afforded to their peers in the rest of the UK, the arts and cultural community in Scotland queried what was meant by the term ‘creative industries’ and its relevance to cultural policy as they understood it.

Perhaps the deepest and most complex issue to emerge during the consultation was around the intertwined aspects of the principle of encouraging the widest possible participation in culture and the relative responsibilities and resources of local authorities. The concept of ‘entitlement’ to culture appeared during this process, implying a citizen-led rights approach to the provision of culture. This concept resonated with the principle of equality of access which has been a longstanding key component of Scottish ethics, encapsulated during the Scottish Enlightenment and evoked in the regular comparisons with the Nordic States throughout the consultation . And whereas some respondents challenged the rhetoric of the creative economy, none challenged the view that access should be extended to all.

While arts, heritage, tourism and education were amongst those areas transferred, amongst those powers reserved to Westminster were broadcasting and foreign affairs. Of the key themes and issues identified, some were resolved, some superseded and some repeatedly aired and contested through a series of consultative processes, a cultural commission and three draft legislative bills. Those issues which were firmly within the domain of the devolved Scottish Parliament with regard to structures, education and language recognition were tackled over the next 14 years. Issues requiring the cooperation or consent of other authorities were more vexed and remain unresolved to a greater or lesser degree. For example, the issues around broadcasting, under the control of Westminster, was flagged up in 1999, with questions raised primarily around the quality and quantity of Scottish content rather than the underlying issue of control of channels.

Now the debate surrounding independence and the publication of the SNP’s white paper has seen a new shift in what some of Scottish politicians appear to view as the key terrain of cultural policy. The focus is increasingly moving to matters of communications and broadcasting and cutting free from the old staples of funding for the arts and the quagmire of contested definitions around creativity, creative industries and the creative economy that has been a hallmark of cultural policy in the last 10 years.

As there is no reference to a cultural policy in the White Paper, the value of culture should surely be enshrined in the statement of values. The draft independence bill published by the Scottish Government includes the guts of a draft constitution for an independent Scotland.

A written constitution is the basis of everyday life, setting out and protecting the rights and aspirations of the people of Scotland. It will be the highest and strongest of laws – a statement of the fundamental principles by which a country chooses to live, regardless of the political party in power

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister Scottish Government in the foreword to the consultation on the Independence Bill

 

However, the draft has no reference to culture, whereas those of some other nations do, including those Nordic states to whom Scotland refers, for example in Sweden “The personal, economic and cultural welfare of the individual shall be fundamental aims of public activity” and the recent draft in Iceland “The government shall endeavour to strengthen the welfare of the country‘s inhabitants, encourage their culture and respect the diversity of the life of the people, the country and its biosphere”

The consultation on the constitution poses only six questions but states that  “The purpose of the Bill and consultation paper is to facilitate as wide and open a debate on the constitution of an independent Scotland as possible. Views on any matter related to the constitution of an independent Scotland are welcome, whether they are topics specifically mentioned in this paper or not.”

Culture is core to a flourishing Scotland and should be enshrined in any constitutionally-agreed statement of principles. The statement of value should state simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people and its future and that taking part in cultural life is a human right.