Skip to main content

18/07/14 16:43

The future for culture in Scotland

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop,
Reid Building, Glasgow School of Arts

Thank you for that introduction, and for agreeing to host this event here at the Reid Building of the Glasgow School of Art.

This striking new building was a deserved winner of the Architects’ Journal’s prestigious AJ100 award for Building of the Year, and I am delighted to be here today, as we approach one of the most significant moments in this nation’s history, to speak to you about the future for the arts and culture in Scotland. Where better to do so than Glasgow School of Art, representing, as it does, how we continually look to the future, without losing sight of our past.

The Mackintosh Building across the road was, and will continue to be, an architectural icon of Glasgow, of Scotland and of the world, and let me say more about that later. Our artists and creative communities continue to produce innovative and thought-provoking work, and the Reid building, standing as it does in “complementary contrast” to the “Mac”, is a Scottish icon of the future, a fitting home for our young artists and designers.

Scotland has produced some of the best contemporary artists in the world. This summer, people from all over Scotland, as well as the many visitors we are welcoming to the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and Homecoming, will be able to experience the full breadth and depth of the visual arts in Scotland in Generation, a series of exhibitions in venues across the country, which celebrates 25 years of a quite remarkable contemporary art scene. Glasgow, and the Glasgow School of Art in particular, has long been the epicentre of that scene, and has nurtured the talents of so many celebrated artists, including Jim Lambie, Karla Black, Christine Borland and David Shrigley, whose work is showcased in this ground breaking and wonderfully diverse exhibition. Diverse, in terms of style, content, approach and geography. For example, I was in Thurso on Monday visiting the Douglas Gordon installation and when I met him in his Berlin studio last year he was very enthusiastic that his work would be showing there as part of Generation.

The range of artists included in Generation demonstrates that far from being inward-facing and parochial, we are a nation that is open to a multiplicity of influences and that welcomes artists from all over the world. The fact that so many who come to study here stay on and work here, making Scotland their home, speaks volumes about an environment which nurtures and inspires creative talent. So, Generation speaks to all that is great, not just about Scotland’s visual arts, but about our culture more widely, in that it is democratic, it is inclusive, it is diverse and it is brimming over with ideas.

The reason that I was in Thurso was because the Scottish Cabinet was meeting later that day in Wick, where we held a Cabinet meeting and then went onto a lively public discussion., This Scottish Government relishes the opportunity to connect with people across Scotland in that way and I, like other members of the Scottish Cabinet, have held a series of Town hall meetings from Kirkcaldy to Inverness and many points in between. One of the great and unexpected bonuses of the current constitutional debate – and I think that those on the other side of it would say the same – has been the way in which it has encouraged us to get out and debate key issues in public meetings.

W.B. Yeats wrote of how his generation of Irish writers tried to forge that kind of engagement with the people a century ago. To quote from his poem “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”:

John Synge and Augusta Gregory, thought

All that we did, all that we said or sang

Must come from contact with the soil, from that

Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.

Well, I have drawn strength from those events. It has been encouraging to see that element of mass public engagement revived as part of our political and cultural heritage and I hope it is something that will continue.

Now this event will not be exactly like those other Town hall meetings. Those were aimed at local communities of place. This is aimed at the cultural and creative community from across Scotland. Those were focused purely on independence. At this meeting, I certainly do want to say something about that and I dare say you would be surprised if I did not. Equally, though, I want to say something about what we have done with our existing powers over the last few years to demonstrate that when we have had policy responsibility over an area, Scotland has used it well.

Some of you may have read or even been present at the address that I delivered to the Friends of the Talbot Rice Gallery last year. In that address I both said something about the current situation and also set out my vision, of an independent nation where our cultural life can flourish, rather than continue to be constrained by a wider UK context wherein we lack the power to make decisions which are fully in the interests of the people of Scotland.

I won’t repeat my Talbot Rice speech. I do, though want to pick up and expand upon one key theme of that speech. I spoke then of the immense value which this Government places on our cultural life in Scotland. I emphasised that we saw public funding of the arts as a positive force in its own right, that we value the arts primarily for their intrinsic worth rather than for the wider or secondary benefits, such as contributing to the economy. This Government already accepts and values the wider social and economic benefits that culture brings to individuals, to communities and to the nation as a whole, but this is not the reason why we support, fund and treasure the arts; we do this because our culture sits at the heart of who we are. We do this because our culture and the arts are fundamental to our quality of life.

I drew a contrast in 2013 with a speech that had just been made by the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which very much emphasised the economic benefits of culture and which called on the sector to make the case to government for funding on that basis.

What I would like to draw out today is the practical impact of these two approaches to funding. As is well known, the last few years have seen a very difficult funding environment. Despite that, in the latest spending review, I prioritised the culture budget to minimise the impact of cuts on the sector.

We significantly increased our planned capital investment in the sector, supporting Scottish Opera to improve Glasgow’s Theatre Royal and contributing to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s move to its new facility at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

In the face of austerity budgets passed down by the UK Government, we have protected cultural spending in relative terms to ensure the stability of the RSNO, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and National Theatre of Scotland – who we directly support. We have also demonstrated our commitment to encouraging overseas touring through our International Touring Fund.

That contrasts, for example, with the 11% real terms reductions made in funding to the English symphony orchestras and English National Opera, and 15% reductions to the Royal Opera House and Opera North, made by the Arts Council England for 2012-15, reflecting its diminished funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

So the fact is that an approach to public funding for culture that recognises the intrinsic value of culture has proven more successful than one based on trying to make the case from economic benefits.

Arguably that reflects different attitudes to the arts amongst the population. A recent survey undertaken for Creative Scotland found 92% of respondents agreeing with the proposition - “I believe it is right that there should be public funding of arts and cultural activities in Scotland”.

For a similar survey, carried out for Arts Council England, the question was asked: “As you may know, some arts and culture in England are funded by the taxes we all pay. To what extent do you support or oppose this public funding of arts and culture” Only 56% expressed support.

I am encouraged to think that the approach that we have taken to the funding of culture does seem to strike a chord with the people of Scotland and so reflects their views – though I do recognise the questions were put slightly differently.

Another interesting aspect of the survey for Creative Scotland was the evidence of interest in creativity and culture. 46% of those surveyed expressed an interest in participating more in active creativity. I do think that participation is a vital topic. As I was critical of a speech by the previous Culture Secretary, let me take the opportunity to praise one that the current Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, recently gave. There he talked about how he has come comparatively late in life to culture and made the point rather well that classical music, opera and ballet were rare leisure activities amongst the community that he grew up in and, as he was too polite to add, but I am not, we should not hold that community responsible for low levels of attendance and participation. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, to enjoy and benefit the rich cultural offer of our nation.

So I congratulate Mr Javid on raising the issue of access and participation and I am glad that we are already seeing positive developments in Scotland. The 2012 Scottish Household Survey results show that cultural engagement in Scotland is high with nine-in-ten adults (89.6%) having engaged in culture either through attending or visiting a cultural event or place or by participating in a cultural activity. This high engagement comes after an increase in engagement in 2011 and, I believe, demonstrates the quality of and vibrancy of our cultural offer.

I hope that we can see similar levels of participation when it comes to the referendum. As I said earlier, I am encouraged by the levels of interest that I have seen at meetings and public events. I attribute that not least to the interest shown in the debate by our creative and cultural sector.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the inspiring and thought provoking role that artists and performers have played in shaping discussion and debate about what the future for Scotland might look like, using their creativity to explore the big questions thrown up by the referendum, challenging us to reflect on our past, present and future; how we write our next chapter in Scotland’s life as active participants rather than reading a written script.

A great example of this is the National Theatre of Scotland’s Great Yes, No, Don’t Know Five Minute Theatre Show, which invited people from all over Scotland and beyond to put forward their ideas for micro theatre shows, which were performed live at creative hubs across Scotland, the UK and internationally, as well as screened online to a virtual audience. What an innovative and inspiring dramatic response to this historic moment!

This project was curated by David Grieg, who supports independence, and the late, much mourned David MacLennan, who does not, and the result of their collaboration is a clear demonstration of how the arts can articulate a multiplicity of perspectives and arguments in an intelligent and thought-provoking way.

So I believe that the arts have done a lot for the independence debate. In my view, a vote for independence can, in turn, do much for the arts.

The Scottish Government published its white paper, Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, in November last year. This set out the most detailed blueprint ever produced for a country moving towards independence. Chapter 9 of Scotland’s Future detailed the opportunities for culture and broadcasting in an independent Scotland, building on the vision I described in Talbot Rice. We have also produced a pamphlet to provide the culture and broadcasting content from Scotland’s Future in an accessible format. Please feel free to take a copy away with you today.

The years since devolution have seen this nation grow in stature and confidence, and this is also true of our cultural sector. We have now reached another crucial turning point in our history, and whatever the outcome on the 18th of September, we have an unprecedented opportunity now for debate, for critical and creative thinking and ultimately for change – for what more creative act could there be than the opportunity to create an independent nation?

The writer and critic Bonnie Greer recently described culture as “a nation talking to itself and the world”, and in this time of big decisions, our cultural life is a catalyst for a multitude of necessary, fascinating, challenging conversations. That is why I am so pleased to be here speaking to you today, so that we can have a critical conversation about the possible futures for Scotland, and I hope that this is a dialogue which will continue over the coming months and years.

We have an unprecedented opportunity here to ask ourselves and each other what we want the cultural landscape to look like in Scotland; what could we change, how could we build on what we have to strengthen the infrastructure and better nurture our talent? Scotland already makes an impact on the world stage, but for the future we need to ask ourselves, what more can we do to promote work from Scotland both at home and abroad, and what more can we do to broaden international engagement with our arts and culture?

I don’t need to tell you that culture in Scotland is already largely devolved, so many of the opportunities to look at what we do and how we do it are already in our gift.

But we all know cultural life cannot be divorced from the wider life of a country and its people.

If, as charities are warning, Westminster policies are going to put an extra 100,000 children in Scotland into poverty, this level of social exclusion clearly makes it so much harder for people to access and participate in cultural opportunities.

On September 18 the people of Scotland will choose between two futures, Independence or continual Westminster governance.

As we approach the referendum on September 18 no-one should be under any illusion about the scale of cuts being promised by the Westminster government.

On top of the cuts already made, a further £25 billion of cutbacks have been announced.

This will take day-to-day public spending in the UK to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since 1948.

It is part of a general attack on the notion of publicly-funded, publicly-run public services.

It is an attempt to re-draw the idea of what the state should and should not be involved in.

The Scottish Government has set out an alternative to this permanent austerity agenda that we will pursue in an independent Scotland.

But I don’t believe any Scottish Government of whatever colour in the event of a vote for independence would pursue this austerity agenda set out by Westminster.

So it is right to recognise the future public expenditure environment implied by the current constitutional arrangements. As I set out earlier, thanks not least to the support of our Finance Secretary John Swinney and my other Cabinet colleagues, so far the revenue budget for culture has been maintained in a steady state and we have made significant capital investment. If the Scottish budget continues to be determined by a continually decreasing UK budget, set by the permanent austerity agenda, that will become harder to maintain.

Our case for independence, though, is based not primarily on the challenges posed by the status quo but by the opportunities offered by independence.

Independence will bring new, specific opportunities. For example, we make clear in Scotland’s Future that existing tax breaks and fiscal incentives for the arts and creative industries would continue after independence, on the principle of continuity of law, including the Theatre Tax Relief to come in this autumn.

With independence, however, we would have the opportunity to do more. We have undertaken to look at further opportunities for support to the screen sector in the first session of an independent Scottish Parliament and, indeed, last month we published a discussion paper about this very subject, looking at ways in which other European countries have provided support.

Take Ireland, for example. It is very telling, in my view, that in the face of the economic difficulties of the last few years, Ireland has not just maintained but progressively strengthened its support for the sector and continues to do so. From the first of January of next year, it will increase the support for screen production under its Section 481 fiscal incentive from 28 per cent to 32 per cent.

That is in addition to the support available in grant support under its Sound and Vision scheme. 7 per cent of television licence fee resources in Ireland are used to allow the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to support the Sound and Vision scheme. It provides funding of between 85 and 95 per cent of production costs in support of high quality programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience, and programmes to improve adult and media literacy.

For those against independence , no party has put forward proposals that would enhance Scotland’s cultural and broadcasting sector.

All parties in the Scottish Parliament unanimously endorsed the 2008 Report of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission , including its recommendation of a new English language television channel for Scotland, yet none of the parties has even so much as mentioned this as a possibility under their proposals for reform under devolution.

None of the parties campaigning against independence has any proposals for more Scotland’s licence fee resources to be used to encourage programming for and about Scotland.

Some of these parties have made proposals around various taxes but, even if they were to come to fruition, they would not help the creative and cultural sector. No party has put forward any proposal for control of corporation tax to come to Scotland, yet that is the vital power if we are to enhance incentives for theatre and screen production. So there would be no change to this with a vote against independence.

So far I’ve spoken about opportunities for change, but let me also say something about continuity. We do not want change for change’s sake; let me assure you now that we do not want to create unnecessary upheaval and that we will seek to provide as much continuity as possible, but within the context that gives the Scottish Government control to develop and to make the decisions which affect the people of Scotland.

The prospect of change is exciting and invigorating, but I do appreciate that it may also come with some anxieties about what’s working well now and whether it will continue to do so.

There has been some discussion lately about the future, for example, of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and I am assuring you now, here, today, that the future of that organisation is safe with independence. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra will continue as part of the staff and assets of BBC Scotland which will work in a joint venture with the rest of the BBC and the orchestra will have further opportunities with the new music radio channel and the new TV channel which will be available under the Scottish Broadcasting Service.

Here, as elsewhere, the idea that current arrangements bring certainty is far from the case.

The BBC’s programme of increasing cost reductions runs until 2016-17, with 10% reductions planned for the BBC’s orchestras. There is no guarantee of what the next financial settlement will bring: the new Culture Secretary has indicated that reducing or abolishing the licence fee will be an option when the BBC’s Charter comes up for renewal. The BBC has previously said that any further reduction in resources beyond 2016-17 would mean closing one of its six orchestras.

More broadly, I believe that independence could have an energising effect on our culture. The cultural sector in Scotland has flourished since devolution, but with independence we can reach new heights. Independence would bring not only new powers, but new confidence in recognising and valuing the full breadth and diversity of Scotland’s culture. My colleague Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, recently spoke at the first World Congress of Scottish Literature. The fact that this was the first such congress is significant. From Walter Scott, through to Lewis Grassic Gibbon; Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh’s very different evocations of Edinburgh; the distinctive voices of AL Kennedy and James Kelman; voices from the islands such as Iain Crichton Smith and George Mackay Brown. With all these and many, many more, we have a vast and varied literary canon.

However, until very recently the concept of Scottish literature as something to be celebrated and which ought to be a fundamental part of Scottish education, was anathema to some. As Mike Russell put it, devolution was key in instigating our growing appreciation of a literature which had long been undervalued, and this is a sign of us “reconnecting with ourselves”. The same can be said of Scotland’s poetry, visual art, film and music. As our cultural self-confidence has grown it has also been the vehicle for our growing international relationships and presence on the world stage. Celebrating Scotland’s culture is not about being parochial and small-minded. Our culture is diverse and has always looked beyond our borders. The success and expansion of Celtic Connections says much about Scotland’s culture, combining as it does the traditional and the contemporary, bringing together artists from all over the world to form eclectic cultural collaborations. Tonight I will be at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues concert for International Mandela Day. I will also be attending a performance of Boomerang as part of Festival 2014, a Gaelic, Aboriginal and Maori collaboration.

Our culture is one of the most important ways in which we engage with the world, and how can we do that successfully if we undervalue what we have to offer? Alasdair Gray wrote in Poor Things that “people who care nothing for their country’s stories and songs…are like people without a past-without a memory- they are half people”. We are a nation that has always been shaped and nourished by our songs, stories, art, drama and music, and independence will bring the self-belief to give Scotland’s culture the recognition it deserves and the confidence to showcase and share that culture internationally.

Next month we are hosting the second International Culture Summit in Edinburgh, bringing together Culture Ministers, artists, thinkers and arts leaders from around the world to encourage the sharing of ideas and collaboration between nations. The Scottish Government supports events such as this because we believe that culture is a bridge that enables dialogue between nations and we want Scotland to be a leader in shaping international cultural dialogue.

In an independent Scotland we will have a network of 70-90 overseas missions.

These embassies and offices will be tasked with certain duties.

I want to make it clear that one of those fundamental duties will be to promote Scottish culture internationally.

It will be the biggest boost to Scotland’s international profile there has ever been.

It will mark a transformation in our status to an equal member of the community of nations.

And it will be a global showcase – from Dublin to Delhi and Warsaw to Washington – for the vibrant, outward-looking and diverse cultural output produced across Scotland.

I could not stand here today without saying something about the Mackintosh Building, a building which is exceptionally loved and, in a sense, owned by the people of Scotland.

As well as being steeped in history, an architectural icon of national and global importance, it is also a buzzing hub of cultural and artistic activity and innovation.

To see the building ravaged by fire was truly heart-breaking, and I am not alone in being thoroughly impressed by, and deeply grateful to, Glasgow’s fire service for their impassioned efforts to save it. I think it’s fair to say that the fire-fighters understood the significance of the building and its contents, and, as a result of their bravery and professionalism, they were able to save 90 per cent of the exterior of the building and around 70 per cent of its interior. I am also grateful for the work of conservators from Historic Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Records of Scotland and elsewhere who have already done so much to begin to repair fire and smoke damaged interiors, objects and papers.

The response to the fire, both at home and abroad, as well as the outpouring of support to the School of Art and its students, reflects the significance of the building and all it represents, and demonstrates the centrality of culture to our identity as a nation. The Scottish Government and its agencies are committed to working with the GSA to support the recovery and restoration of the building. We have also pledged up to £750K for the Phoenix Bursary scheme to help graduating students to recreate their practice and launch their artistic careers. I urge you all to go and see some of the work of these young artists at the Part Seen, Imagined Part exhibition in Dunoon.

The resilience and determination of these artists, who saw years of work destroyed, is truly remarkable and an inspiration to us all.

I want to draw this address to a close by talking to you specifically about the future. We have a choice to make in September and the outcome of the choice that we make as individuals and collectively, offers a future which is emphatically controlled by us and for us. It’s a future built on who we are now and who we want to be.

Our ambition is that this nation, this Scotland, becomes one of the best places in the world to live and to grow up in, and one of the ways in which we can achieve this is by creating the conditions in which all our children and young people, for example, have the opportunity to access and engage in culture. Looking ahead, 2018 will be Scotland’s Year of Young People, and as part of this we want to continue to increase and widen young people’s engagement with the arts and the creative industries, both as audience members and active participants.

We know that those who engage in culture from a young age are likely to sustain that engagement throughout their lives, and we also know the benefits that participation in culture can bring to young people in terms of their education, confidence and self-esteem. This is why we have worked with Creative Scotland to develop Scotland’s first ever National Youth Arts Strategy, A Time To Shine, which was launched in November last year. This was a landmark document and sets out our vision to support all Scotland’s children and young people to flourish and achieve in and through the arts and creativity, as well as our mission to establish Scotland as an international leader in youth arts. This February we also announced the creation of nine Youth Arts Hubs across the country to act as focal points for regional youth arts delivery, improving the regional infrastructure and ensuring that geography is not a barrier to young people’s engagement.

So independence offers the prospect of positive change. What is more, for all the tissue thin promises of further devolution of powers if Scotland doesn’t choose independence, it is worth nothing that not one of those campaigning against independence has put forward a single proposal that would enhance Scotland’s cultural and broadcasting sector.

Not one.

Not a single proposal to increase opportunities and platform for Scottish TV and Film.

Not a single proposal to allow Scotland a competitive edge in fiscal policy to attract productions to utilise the abundant talent that Scotland has to offer.

That means that the only way that there is going to be an increased investment in publicly-funded public service broadcasting in Scotland is through independence.

It also means that only independence can deliver the opportunity to develop fiscal policy that incentivises production in Scotland.

The constitutional settlement of a nation does not create talent. It can, though, be used to put the foundations in place to give it the best opportunity to grow, develop, and find audiences.

That is the opportunity of independence.

So my challenge to you is what do you want the future of culture in Scotland to look like? What would you change and how do you think we should do that?

Whatever your views on independence we all want to see the arts and culture thrive in Scotland, and now is the time to think about how that can happen.

Let me finish by saying that I feel hugely optimistic about the future for culture in Scotland. The nation is abuzz with energy, ideas and discussion. Some of that discussion has been, and will continue to be, heated and challenging at times, but that only goes to show the passion that we share and how much we have invested in the future. I invite you to join me in keeping that conversation going.