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Scottish cultural policy

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.

 

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.