Building a New Scotland: Culture in an independent Scotland

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's vision for culture in an independent Scotland.

The transformational power of culture

Key points

Culture is central to building diverse, inclusive and prosperous communities. Culture, events and creativity can help promote and foster active citizenship, encouraging people to lead and effect change in our communities.

Independence would offer us a renewed opportunity to think about what we want culture to mean and what role it can play in our communities, with the aim of supporting everyone in Scotland to have the opportunity to engage fully in cultural life.

We could also be ambitious in how we use culture to respond to a range of problems in our society, such as child poverty and climate change.

Culture could also help us to move toward becoming a fairer and more inclusive society with greater opportunities for everyone. This, in turn, would also help to build stronger and more diverse culture and creative sectors.

The culture sector has thrived under devolution. Below, this section explores some of the ways this has happened, the role of culture in Scotland and how we could build on this in an independent Scotland.

What culture means to us

Our culture is visible in how we express ourselves as individuals, as communities and as a nation. It is one of the most prominent ways in which we tell the world who we are.[19]

In 2022, British Council Scotland and Creative Scotland published research[20] indicating that Scotland has cultural assets that are distinct, globally connected and internationally recognised in terms of its culture and heritage, in music, landscape, events, writers, actors, design, and historical landmarks and figures. This research also indicated that Scotland has provided some significant cultural models, relating to sector practice, which have been adapted internationally.

The most frequently cited of these was festivals, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in particular, which is seen as Scotland's leading cultural asset,[21] inspiring over 200 international versions. Scotland's culture was also seen as being innovative and driven by egalitarian social values.[22] As a nation, our culture is a major part of how we say to others that we are friendly, inviting and engaged with the world.

Scotland's culture also has an important role in how we come together in communities, big and small, to discuss, discover and express who we are. It can help us unite around our shared experiences from our different backgrounds and identities.[23] It could help us think about who we want to be, in the event that Scotland becomes a newly independent nation.

Our society is also enriched by diversity and the influence of other cultures from around the world. Over the centuries, people have brought new ideas, arts, traditions, languages, skills and other cultural and creative endeavours from outwith Scotland, and this has helped to develop the vibrant, multicultural Scotland that we see today. Communities around Scotland are enriched by the many different cultures and languages that have been brought by people who choose to make Scotland their home. Welcoming and embracing communities and cultural influences from around the world has been, and always will be, a central part of Scotland's rich cultural heritage. The vibrance of Scotland's culture is also enriched by the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of our Gypsy/Traveller and Roma communities.

The Scottish Government also acknowledges that Scotland's cultural heritage has roots in a legacy of colonialism and work in this area will continue to ensure our museums and galleries represent a more complete picture of our past. The themes for Scotland's Year of Stories in 2022 recognised this history, and the Scottish Government will continue to challenge ourselves to promote diversity and inclusion.[24] The Scottish Government is proudly anti-racist, and welcomes the recommendations from the independent Empire, Slavery and Scotland's Museums project published in June 2022.[25] Everyone should feel safe, welcome, and represented in our cultural spaces. It is important to understand our history and its legacy, and the Scottish Government is determined to learn from our past as we build a new Scotland.

In many ways, culture already supports and strengthens local communities to have these conversations. Throughout Scotland, there are a range of cultural assets bringing people together. There are placed-based culture projects and libraries that are hubs for our communities. Scotland's 450 museums and galleries[26] connect people, places and collections and they are well placed to support and inspire local communities.

A culture strategy for Scotland

Scotland's Culture Strategy,[27] published in 2020, sets out the Scottish Government's vision for culture, one that strengthens the culture sector, transforms lives through culture and uses the transformational power of culture to support and strengthen communities. Independence would give us greater powers to prioritise and make decisions that best meet the needs of Scotland's creative sectors, and of people and communities across the whole of Scottish society, allowing us to realise that vision even more strongly.

The Culture Strategy demonstrates this Scottish Government's commitment to support access and inclusion, and to work to ensure that everyone and every community can participate fully in cultural life. As part of the strategy, the National Partnership for Culture,[28] was established in 2020 to provide a voice for the sector to advise Scottish Ministers on matters affecting culture in Scotland. This has helped support delivery of the collective vision, ambitions, aims and actions set out in the Culture Strategy, and to inform and influence policy decisions so we can drive the transformational potential of culture.

While the Strategy puts in place the foundations for achieving this vision, independence would help realise fully an ambition to build a society that embraces culture, ensuring it is there for everyone's benefit. An independent Scotland would continue to build upon the Culture Strategy's principles, continuing to develop and reinforce the ways in which culture supports society more widely, including through health, educational and economic benefits.

To support these principles, the First Minister announced in October 2023 that the Scottish Government will invest at least £100m more annually in culture and the arts by the financial year 2028/29.[29] To support this aim, funding to the culture sector will increase by £15.8m in the next financial year to £196.6m.[30] In 2025/2026 the Scottish Government aim to provide an additional £25m to the sector.[31]

This commitment to additional funding despite the challenging budget situation signals our confidence in the Scottish culture sector and the principles of the culture strategy. Through this increased investment the Scottish Government will drive up opportunities for participation in creative pursuits, support the production of new works, and ensure that Scotland's cultural output has platforms at home and abroad.

Improving children and young people's lives

Being involved in culture and arts can help young people by boosting their creativity, confidence, and sense of self.[32]

Under devolution, the Scottish Government has a successful record of delivery in expanding access to culture for children and young people through our support and investment in cultural projects. As the Culture Strategy sets out, culture has an important role in empowering and supporting children and young people. Participation in cultural experiences fosters wellbeing, supports attainment and helps children and young people to fully realise their potential.

Programmes such as the Youth Music Initiative (YMI)[33] and Youth Arts Fund[34] have helped young people to access arts and culture opportunities, especially young people from groups with less access to these opportunities or who would most benefit from the transformational power of culture.

YMI is a music education programme, which puts music at the heart of children and young people's lives and learning, working with children and young people from birth to 25, who would otherwise have little or no access to music making activities. Funding from YMI is awarded to each of Scotland's 32 local authorities, helping thousands of children and young people across Scotland to develop new skills, self-expression and confidence each year.[35]

Evaluation of YMI has demonstrated that taking part in the programme has had a positive impact on participant's mental health and wellbeing, helping them to develop their skills, reduce stress and build their confidence to develop friendships.[36] YMI projects also have an impact on the communities they are situated in by developing local partnerships and community resources.[37]

Another programme, Sistema Scotland's 'Big Noise',[38] works with communities through local orchestra programmes, immersing children in music to help foster teamwork, confidence and aspiration. Independent research of the Big Noise programme has further illustrated the value of children and young people's participation in arts programmes on wider attainment; with 98% of all Big Noise participants going on to achieve a positive post-school destination.[39]

An independent Scotland, through enacting cultural policies that address the needs of people who are socially excluded, would continue to support and develop cultural projects like these, to create more opportunities for children and young people across communities. These policies have the aim of building social cohesion and helping to reduce poverty by tackling social exclusion and creating employment opportunities.[40],[41]

Climate action needs culture

Culture can help bring new perspectives and ideas to the biggest questions we face as a society. For example, it can have a key role in addressing the climate emergency, and in contributing to a more environmentally sustainable world, with a focus on fairness.[42]

Scotland's culture and creative sectors are already showing leadership on schemes supporting environmental sustainability. These include the Green Arts Initiative,[43] initiated in 2013 by Creative Carbon Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh, which supports Scottish arts and cultural organisations to reduce their impact on the climate and environment.

The historic environment can also contribute to Scotland's green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its transition to net zero and a climate resilient society. While our historic environment can help to highlight the challenges posed by climate change, it can also demonstrate new and innovative ways to mitigate those challenges. The Historic Environment Scotland (HES)'Green Recovery Statement',[44] published April 2022, highlights seven key areas in which the historic environment can help deliver a green economic recovery.

Scotland's Cultural and Heritage sector told a compelling story about Scotland's net-zero journey, at COP26 in Glasgow.[45] Following COP26, HES continues to work in collaboration with other international partners to improve understanding of the links between climate change and cultural heritage. The Edinburgh Festivals have also set out how they will "respond to the climate emergency and help Edinburgh achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2030."[46]

An independent Scotland would be able to recognise the role of culture in the transition to a greener, fairer society and promote climate mitigation and adaptation strategies to international partners hoping to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement[47] and the European Green Deal.[48] As a future member of the United Nations, an independent Scotland would also be involved in the negotiation and agreement of climate treaties.

At present, culture and heritage feature in aspects of international climate agreements. For example, cultural heritage is explicitly acknowledged in the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan resulting from COP27,[49] and climate change features in the Mondiacult Declaration for Culture 2022,[50] which has been signed by 150 States. An independent Scotland could work to ensure that voices and ideas from the culture sector are included in further in international agreements.

Culture in an independent Scotland

Under devolution, progress has been made, but with independence, Scotland would have greater opportunities to support access to culture and help to realise the transformative potential of culture. An independent Scotland could build upon the principles of the Culture Strategy, further develop cultural initiatives to create more opportunities across communities and for children and young people, and harness culture to build a fairer, more sustainable society. The rest of this paper will set out how that would happen.



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