Anne Bonnar looks at what each of the main parties is promising for Scotland’s arts after the election

On 5 May, the Scottish Parliament elections will determine the political power base for the next four years. The forces are quite different from those at Westminster. Conservatives have never had much of a foothold north of Hadrian’s Wall and there is only one Scottish Tory in Westminster: for many years, large parts of Scotland traditionally voted Labour with the Lib Dems and Scottish National Party (SNP) being minority parties.

We have been devolved for ten years now, and Scotland has changed. Culture matters to Scotland. In 2007 the SNP was elected and ran a minority administration. In the past five years we have established the National Theatre of Scotland and Creative Scotland, both breaking new ground in the way that they operate.

It has taken Scotland a few years to settle into its devolved powers. In a small country, our politicians and the arts and cultural community have got to know each other. A musician or a publisher can usually easily access the Culture Minister and most politicians participate in the cultural life of Scotland. The arts, culture and creativity feature significantly in the major political manifestos.

Last time round, in 2007, the cultural hustings were adversarial, volatile and policies were pretty unclear. Now, with more than enough turbulence in the economy and UK politics, and with the benefit of the experience of the disappointing impact of the arts campaigns in England, the arts and cultural community in Scotland is playing a longer game. The Scottish Government has to make some £3.7bn savings during the next few years and it would be naive to think that there won’t be a penny taken off the arts. There is also no guarantee of a single majority party and so the campaign is about evidence-led, considered and insistent advocacy.

Bodies in the arts, culture and creative industries have come together in an advocacy campaign, ‘culturecounts’. At the hustings event, all the spokespeople (well actually they were all women) committed to supporting free access to museums, to funding culture – albeit it at an unspecified level, except for the Conservatives – and some to incentives, initiatives and priorities. All stuck to the lines published in their manifestos. There were questions over funding commitments and education. The hardest push was for the new government to tie local authorities into an obligation to support culture through the framing of an agreed outcome specifying culture, to avoid a repeat of the situation in English local authorities and because that would, simply, make sense. The Welsh have such an agreement and the Scots have missed a trick. Labour’s Pauline McNeil promised they would even though it’s not in the manifesto, the LibDems said they would and the SNP said they would be reviewing the National Framework.

But the ability to make manifesto commitments stick depends on a single majority government and an economic certainty which belongs to another time. Culturecounts’s biggest job will be to keep up the pressure after the election.
 

LABOUR PARTY
Free access to museums and galleries; new right for public bodies to borrow art from national collections; modernising libraries; music at the heart of policy and a joined-up strategy to support music including an instrument fund; a Scottish Film Champion; discounted ticket scheme; considering the feasibility of establishing a National Youth Companies Unit in Creative Scotland; strengthen incentives for philanthropy; support young artists, Scottish art graduates and community arts; protect mobile libraries in rural areas; funding for the Glasgow Women’s Library; ensure best standards of architecture and building design.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY
Free access to museums and galleries; discounted tickets scheme; youth talent initiative; engage Scotland’s Diaspora in Cultural Fund and promote Scottish culture; support Scottish Digital Network; initiative for commercial musicians; continuing Expo Fund, Made in Scotland and international touring; expand Scotland’s Winter Festivals; greater financial security and more commercial focus for national companies; co-ordinating international touring in an ‘all Scotland’ approach to cultural and economic promotion; apprenticeship schemes to preserve traditional arts; establish a National Book Week; future for local libraries as cultural hubs; support the digital gaming industry.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PARTY
Establish a Creative Industry Fund; support the Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund; free access to Scotland’s national museums; support online genealogy; support video games industry; greater investment in quality Scottish network production and regional programming.

CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Free entry to national museums and galleries; fund to help government-funded culture, heritage and sport bodies secure additional self-generated revenue.

GREEN PARTY
Protect library services from cuts; encourage the growth of local arts association and ensure provision of artists’ workshops and studios; support skills in creative and cultural industries.
 

Anne Bonnar is an independent consultant and a founding director of Bonnar Keenlyside.

w http://www.b-k.co.uk
http://www.annebonnar.wordpress.com
 

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