The period of reflection after the rapids to the referendum is open-ended but the scope and pace of the Smith Commission suggests that the arts and cultural community need to focus efforts immediately to build on its leadership role in shaping Scotland’s future.
The impact of the binary process of the referendum where the only voting choices were yes or no is more profound than the results of the votes, with 97% voter registration and 84% turnout. Artists have been deeply involved, and their influence recognised across civic society in Scotland, not only at an individual level but through movements such as the National Collective with its 2000 members.
Lord Smith of Kelvin has stated that the process of his Scotland Devolution Commission will involve wider civic society and not just representatives of political parties. This has the potential to be a forum for a leadership effort in Scotland wider than the pre-referendum traditional power system, where politicians and business leaders make decisions based largely on economics. Much of the recent debate has been around the values people in Scotland share to a higher degree than the aggregate whole of the rest of the UK. These are about fairness and equality, which influence our culture and identity, and leadership in these areas comes not just from the traditional powers but also from the third sector, unions and the cultural community.
The arts and cultural community, so engaged during the referendum debate through movements such as the National Collective now need to be involved in a wider civic participation in Scotland’s constitutional reform. Culture Counts, the grouping of umbrella organisations and agencies across the wider arts, cultural and heritage sector in Scotland, is advocating for the value of culture to be enshrined in constitutionally-agreed statement of principles, stating simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people and its future and that taking part in cultural life is a human right. Business leaders have already pitched in to suggest that the “touchstones of the new devolution settlement must be boosting business and growth”.
What has emerged during this recent period is that Scotland’s values are wider than the economic. The Smith Commission is an important opportunity for both the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.
At the same time, we need to pick up our connections, exchange and collaboration with the arts community in other parts of the UK, recognising common cause with political movements such as What Next.