Building a New Scotland: Culture in an independent Scotland

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

Scotland on the world stage

Key points

Our culture and creative sectors thrive when they are internationally connected.[74] Scotland's strong and vibrant culture and creative sectors could play a key role in developing the international recognition, partnerships and influence of an independent Scotland.[75]

With an independent Scotland re-joining the EU, Scotland's creative professionals would once again be able to work and collaborate freely with 27 of our closest neighbours, without barriers such as visa and customs requirements. Membership of EU programmes could once again support our creative professionals to cooperate and collaborate across borders, fostering vital international networks and relationships.

Scotland's culture and creative sectors are enriched by, and often rely upon, attracting individuals from around the world.[76] With the policy levers that come with independence, Scotland could design an immigration system that serves the needs of all parts of the economy, including the culture, events and creative sectors, and allow them to access the global talent they need.

Membership of wider multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),[77] would allow an independent Scotland to contribute to forums where cultural voices and ideas are heard as part of the international community.

As an independent country, Scotland would also provide greater support to promote our creative sectors on the world stage and collaborate and cooperate on cultural initiatives with other nations. As part of the network of embassies representing an independent Scotland abroad, this Scottish Government would establish integrated cultural sections at key locations, and powers over international trade could further support cultural exports.

Culture across borders

Scotland's culture and creativity is not bound by borders but, following Brexit, the ability of Scotland's cultural and creative sectors to collaborate internationally has been limited.[78]

The Scottish Government's 2020 Culture Strategy[79] sets out a vision for Scotland where culture and creative sectors are international and outward looking, where there is international collaboration, where ideas can be shared across borders, and where artists can tour, showcase and exhibit around the world. As an independent country, Scotland could fully realise the international potential of the culture and creative sectors, supporting them to thrive around the world while sharing Scotland's rich culture with neighbours, both near and far.

Scotland's culture has a unique profile and is recognised throughout the world for its vibrancy and ability to connect.[80] Similarly, Scotland is a world leader in hosting major events.[81],[82] Scotland benefits from our culture being known and represented internationally and from our artists and cultural organisations being involved in international cultural exchange. This international exposure and co-operation is one of the ways in which Scotland presents itself to the world and these strong links will help Scotland be a successful independent country.

Re-joining the European Union

The UK's exit from the European Union had profound and negative consequences for our culture and creative sectors.[83] As 'Building a New Scotland: An independent Scotland in the EU' set out: "the increased cost and administrative burdens associated with touring have already put working in the EU beyond the reach of many of Scotland's artists."[84]

The ability to tour internationally is vital to many creative professionals. Research by Arts Council England, in 2017, found that of the organisations which conduct any international activity, "4 in 5 (80%) consider artistic exchange to be important to their organisation and its work and two thirds (67%) gave it the highest possible importance score (five out of five)".[85]

In a House of Commons Committee report, published in July 2021, it was reported that musicians are estimated to receive around 70% of their income from touring;[86] touring artists also benefit in terms of reaching new audiences, collaborating and building vital networks across borders. The end of free movement between the UK and EU, which is a direct consequence of Brexit, has created major barriers to touring,[87] with a report from the UK House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reporting that this impacts performers' "most important source of income".[88]

Independence would give Scotland the opportunity to reverse this, giving Scottish creative professionals the ability to work and collaborate with our neighbours, once again by re-joining the EU and the return of freedom of movement. Box 3, below, sets out how re-joining the EU would benefit Scotland's touring artists.

Box 3: Removing barriers to touring – how re-joining the EU could help Scotland's touring artists

  • re-joining the EU would remove the need for visas and work permits for creative professionals moving between Scotland and the EU, such as musicians on a European tour[89]
  • outside the EU, there are currently significant administrative and financial burdens associated with touring in Europe as artists and others have to navigate different visa requirements in each member state[90]
  • currently, some EU member states have no visa or work permit exemptions in place for creative professionals from the UK and exemptions vary significantly from place to place[91]
  • taking equipment can also require an expensive, itemised custom permit called an ATA carnet,[92] adding to the costs and administration. There are also only a limited number of places these can be processed – the only seaports being in southern England and the only airports in Scotland being in the central belt, making it even harder for those based elsewhere in Scotland[93]
  • the EU, a market of 450 million people,[94] remains the most important international market for many who work in the cultural sector

Throughout the process of the UK leaving the EU, and since, artists and organisations across the culture and creative sectors have highlighted the importance of international working. In recent years, artists including Donald Shaw,[95] Sir Elton John, Alex Kapranos, Nicola Benedetti, Gary Numan, Midge Ure, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Julie Walters and Sir Patrick Stewart,[96] to name but a few, have called for measures to minimise the barriers to creative professionals working internationally.

Re-joining the EU would allow artists and other creative professionals to move freely without barriers like visa and customs requirements when working in other EU countries. Freedom of movement would make activities such as touring, collaborating with artists in other countries, and taking part in cultural productions and festivals, much smoother and less expensive.[97] It would give free access to carry out these activities across the EU market of 450 million people, which was the most important international market for many who work in the sector at the time of EU exit.[98]

With independence and EU membership, Scottish creative professionals would not only have access to the entire EU market, but would also be able to benefit by Scotland remaining part of the Common Travel Area (CTA).[99], [100] The CTA is a long-standing arrangement between the UK, Ireland and the Crown Dependencies that allows citizens to move freely and reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy associated rights and privileges. Continued CTA membership would mean Scottish creative professionals would have an automatic right to travel and work across Great Britain and Ireland. With an independent Scotland being an EU member and part of the CTA, creative professionals in Scotland would have the double benefit of access to EU and UK markets – two of the key markets for cultural activities such as touring.

More broadly, an independent Scotland would be a positive, constructive member of the European Union and an enthusiastic participant in valuable culture policy initiatives, including the Creative Europe programme,[101] the European Commission's flagship programme to support the culture and audiovisual sectors. There are a wide range of benefits from being part of schemes such as the Creative Europe programme,[102] including cross-border collaboration, developing skills through peer-learning, networking, and building the capacity of creative businesses. These programmes have brought major benefits over the years for participating countries, including fostering international partnerships and networks, economic support, driving innovation and skills development, expanding audiences, and supporting social inclusion and cohesion among communities.[103]

Cross-border cultural exchange helps to support the international mobility of creative professionals by developing international networks and relationships, allowing them to reach new audiences around the world.[104] Cultural exchange can help organisations to be more innovative in how they operate, supporting them to explore new business models, work across multiple sectors, and adopt new technologies.[105] All of this plays a key role in expanding the markets available to creative professionals and organisations based in Scotland.

Further information on an independent Scotland re-joining the EU can be found in 'Building a New Scotland: An independent Scotland in the EU'.[106]

Migration, mobility and diversity

Scotland's culture, events and creative sectors benefit from attracting individuals from around the world. In 2019, non-UK nationals represented around 7.3% of the workforce in the creative industries sector[107] and this figure is much higher in certain sub-sectors. In 2016, around 35% of Scottish Ballet performers and 21% of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were EU citizens.[108] This is the case for both those in long- and in short-term employment, and for the short-term activities outlined above, such as touring.

The internationally mobile nature of many creative professionals working in Scotland helps to drive the diversity and international connectedness of the sector. It also helps to ensure that international careers are open to creative professionals in Scotland, helping to expand the international reach of Scotland's culture, and showcasing our creative sectors internationally.[109]

Beyond the EU, international artists can currently be restricted from touring the UK due to the UK government's restrictive approach to migration and visas. Box 4 sets out how independence would remove barriers for international performers to come to Scotland.

Box 4: Removing barriers to international performers in Scotland

  • the UK Government's approach to visas can cause problems for international artists who have been invited to perform in Scotland[110]
  • long waits for visas from the Home Office have been known to put performances in jeopardy – in particular this can cause significant administrative issues for festivals[111]
  • existing routes can be restrictive. At present, many creative professionals rely on the short-term Permitted Paid Engagement route for 'established professionals', which is not available to everyone and restricts the work that individuals can carry out[112]
  • longer-running, larger festivals may be able to get Permit Free Festival status,[113] but this excludes newer, smaller events
  • an independent Scotland would be able to tailor entry schemes to benefit our many festivals, as well as other cultural exchange and activity

With independence, Scotland could design an immigration system that serves the needs of all parts of the economy, including the culture, events and creative sector. Alongside EU membership and continued participation in the Common Travel Area, for those who will not enjoy free movement rights, the Scottish Government would offer visa routes to support those coming to work in the culture, events and creative sectors.

As was set out in 'Building a New Scotland: Migration to Scotland after independence',[114] following independence, there would be a number of options for people to come and work in Scotland with or without sponsorship by a Scotland based employer. Creating opportunities for people to come and work in the Scottish culture sectors, and allowing employers access to the global talent they need.

A migration system able to respond to the needs of the sector would also help to drive diversity in our culture, events and creative sectors. Having a vibrant and diverse culture sector is a benefit in and of itself. It can also help to foster social and community cohesion and inclusion, providing greater opportunities to underrepresented groups and supporting community engagement in the sector.[115]

Multilateral organisations and conventions

As an independent state, Scotland could become a member of a wide range of multilateral institutions that play a key role in supporting culture and creativity.

As a full member state of UNESCO, for example, Scotland would build upon our existing World Heritage sites and have the potential to expand their numbers.[116],[117] Membership would help to ensure that Scotland's interests are properly represented at UNESCO, and to share experience with partners. As a full member state, Scotland could take full ownership of future World Heritage sites and submit to UNESCO tentative lists of potential future sites, rather than report through the UK Government as is currently the case.

The government of an independent Scotland would also have the ability to make decisions on the guidelines and criteria for future applications to the Scottish tentative list and ultimately World Heritage site status. An independent Scotland would also have the opportunity to attend and chair future annual World Heritage Committee meetings.

Intangible cultural heritage is considered to be an important element in maintaining cultural diversity.[118] The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by UNESCO in 2003 and at present the UK is one of only 17 countries that have not ratified it.[119] An independent Scotland would be free to ratify in our own name, retain autonomy when considering additions to the inventory, and continue the safeguarding of our intangible cultural heritage.[120]

An independent Scotland could also join the Council of Europe,[121] which has put in place a wide range of initiatives and resources[122] aimed at supporting cultural inclusion, digitisation and cultural cooperation across Europe. It also delivers Eurimages[123] – a dedicated programme to support the European audio-visual industry by providing financial support to feature films, animations and documentaries produced as co-productions.

Following independence, Scotland would also be able to enter into conventions and treaties that play central roles in supporting culture and facilitating cultural cooperation across borders. A wide range of multilateral conventions and treaties focus on various aspects of culture and cultural heritage, including:

  • the European Cultural Convention of 1954,[124] which seeks to develop mutual understanding among the peoples of Europe and reciprocal appreciation of their cultural diversity, to safeguard European culture, to promote national contributions to Europe's common cultural heritage
  • the Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (1992),[125] also known as the Valletta Convention, which protects archaeological heritage
  • the European Landscape Convention (2000),[126] also known as the Florence Convention, which protects the culture and natural heritage of landscapes

New commitments of this kind would build on existing international obligations which already apply to Scotland, such as those relating to Gaelic and Scots under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.[127]

As an independent signatory to such conventions and treaties, Scotland could play its role in nurturing and protecting culture and cultural heritage around the world, and in fostering cultural cooperation between nations.

Supporting the Scottish culture sector abroad

By becoming independent, Scotland would unlock opportunities to promote our creative sectors on the world stage and collaborate and cooperate on cultural initiatives with other nations.

Scotland's creative industries already have a global impact, showcasing Scottish creativity throughout the world. Initiatives such as Creative Scotland's support for musicians performing at South by Southwest[128] in the USA, and the work of Showcase Scotland Expo[129] and Wide Days[130] in showcasing Scottish artists and supporting music exports, help to bring our vibrant music sector to a global audience.

At present, the Scottish Government is developing an International Culture Strategy[131] that will support the ability of culture to build cooperation and understanding across borders. It will consider how Scotland's international cultural links can be strengthened and developed. Scotland has cultural assets that are distinct, globally connected and internationally recognised,[132] this will help to lay the groundwork for an independent Scotland to fully realise its true potential in terms of cultural engagement across the world.

For example, Scotland participates in major international exchanges, such as 'Scotland + Venice'.[133] This is a major, international project designed to promote the best of contemporary art and architecture from Scotland to the world. Founded in 2003, the project supports the development of new work, fosters international connections and exchange, and positions Scotland as a vibrant place for creative and cultural production.

As an independent country, Scotland's diplomatic networks could promote even more of this type of exchange. The government of an independent Scotland would be able to establish its own network of embassies around the world with integrated cultural sections.

In strategic locations, the Scottish Government would expand upon the Scotland House model which operates within the devolution settlement[134] and has already been adopted in our offices in Brussels[135] and London,[136] which include teams covering diplomatic engagement, economic development and cultural promotion. By bringing together diplomats and cultural agency personnel, the government of an independent Scotland would be able to foster a more collaborative working environment with international partners and further support our culture sector internationally.

Ireland and Austria, two countries comparable in size to Scotland, have embraced a similar approach to Scotland's strategy for supporting the cultural sector abroad. The Ireland House[137] and Austrian Cultural Forum (ACF)[138] models deliver programmes associated with international cultural diplomacy and support their cultural sector in countries and regions around the world.

By joining the operations of Ireland House and Austrian Cultural Forum into their respective embassies, Ireland and Austria are able to integrate cultural connections, enabling them to develop a more unified national brand around the world. Box 5, below, gives further background on the work of the Irish and Austrian models.

Box 5: The Irish and Austrian models

Ireland supports cultural diplomacy through an extensive embassy network internationally, and ensuring that diplomats and cultural agency employees are brought together in a structured way.

Global Ireland 2025[139] sets out the central role played by four integrated Ireland House operations in bringing together diplomats and agency personnel to support the programme's objectives. Additionally, a further 15 locations co-locate diplomats with agency personnel. This aims to instil collaborative working and develop a 'Team Ireland' model based on shared services and facilities.

The programme is also supported by strategic partnerships with a number of cultural centres in different countries, including the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris[140] and the New York Irish Arts Center.[141]

The Creative Ireland Programme[142] is delivered across different government departments, but also seeks to establish partnerships with local and national government, cultural and enterprise agencies and local enterprise in order to achieve its objectives. Ireland's broad cultural diplomacy objectives are also delivered through international educational initiatives and institutions.

Austria's ACF model[143] has had success in developing cultural contacts between Austria and other countries through supporting and showcasing Austrian music, performing arts, visual arts, literature, film and science. For example, in the UK, the ACF has played a key role in connecting emerging Austrian artists with booking agents, the BBC and high profile venues. The model provides infrastructure in key priority countries for recitals, lectures, readings, film screenings, conferences and exhibitions, as well as facilitating creative partnerships within countries.

The Austrian Embassy and Consulate-General network have cultural remits which work to promote cultural exchange and act as point of contacts in those countries. Furthermore, a network of Austria Libraries and Austria Institutes has been established allowing a growing number of interested members of the public to access literature, knowledge, and information from Austria as well as German language courses.

With independence, Scotland's international cultural profile would be supported by the networks, relationships and infrastructure that a network of embassies around the world, with integrated cultural sections would bring. This would mutually support the Scottish culture sector's international profile while making Scotland's culture a key element of how Scotland engages on the world stage.


Scotland has a rich tradition of providing the world with a stage on which to perform, by hosting arts and culture from around the globe, as well as hosting globally significant events. This tradition means Scotland already has a strong international profile as a nation, providing the perfect foundation on which to build the identity, standing and ambition of an independent state.

Scotland hosts over 200 arts, music and community festivals a year.[144] We are proud to host one of the world's largest and best-known arts festival – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe[145] as well as innovative grassroots festivals across the country.[146]

At their height in 2019, pre-pandemic, the world-renowned Edinburgh festivals drew an attendance of 4.96 million (with an estimated 1.17 million unique attendees).[147] As reported in the 2022 Edinburgh Festivals Impact study,[148] Edinburgh's Festivals act as economic powerhouses that generated an estimated economic impact of £407 million in Edinburgh and £367 million in Scotland in 2022, whilst operating at 80 per cent of 2019, pre-COVID levels.

Festivals play a key role in promoting Scotland on the world stage and demonstrate the Scottish Government's international outlook and open-minded approach to culture, language, and heritage. This is further supported through the national EXPO and PLaCE programmes[149] which support the major festivals retain to their world-leading status, while offering opportunities for other festivals to grow too.

For example, Celtic Connections, which is held in Glasgow in January and February, will receive £101,000 in support from the EXPO fund in 2023/24.[150] Celtic Connections is world renowned in its showcasing of folk, roots and world music. For over 30 years, the festival has celebrated and nurtured Scotland's musical connections with cultures from around the world with a wide range of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions and workshops.[151]

Scotland's festivals and major events benefit hugely from those who come to participate from elsewhere. The Fringe, for example, saw representation from 157 countries on and off stage, in 2019.[152] All of Scotland's major festivals are truly international and many visiting overseas delegates see these as the standard to aspire to for all ages, from adult programming at the Edinburgh International Festival[153] to performances and activities for younger audiences at the Edinburgh International Children's Festival.[154]

Scotland's festivals are already a role model for other countries, with many adapting their own versions of our festivals – for example the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has inspired over 200 equivalents around the world[155] under the banner of World Fringe,[156] across all corners of the globe including in Melbourne[157] (Australia), O'ahu[158] (USA), Lagos[159] (Nigeria), and Seoul[160] (South Korea).

International cultural exchange makes Scotland's festivals more vibrant, diverse and successful, which further helps communities across Scotland to engage with as wide a range of cultures as possible. However, the UK leaving the EU, the end of free movement, and the fact that Scotland does not have power over issues like migration, are making it harder for those from outside Scotland to participate in our festivals and major events.

An independent Scotland could design visa and immigration policies that minimise the barriers to those who come to participate in and enjoy Scotland's culture and creative sectors from around the world. For example, a generous entry allowance of six months would be maintained under general visitor rules.[161] While re-joining the EU, would it easier for EU citizens to participate freely in festivals and other cultural activities.

Cultural heritage and tourism

Scotland's cultural heritage is something of which people are rightly very proud, and it is important to every part of the country. Scotland's historic environment creates jobs and brings in hundreds of millions of pounds to our economy.[162]

Scotland has six World Heritage Sites[163] and a wealth of unique and culturally significant assets within the wider community. Our cultural heritage supports Scotland's unique identity, and plays a key role in promoting Scotland internationally, particularly as it is a significant motivator for encouraging international visitors to Scotland.

In 2021, despite global travel still recovering from the pandemic, our Historic Environment attracted over a million visitors[164] from around the world to Scotland, who visit every part of our country, providing a valuable and long-lasting resource that can contribute to renewal and regeneration of local communities.[165]

People within Scotland also value the historic environment. In 2019, 86% of respondents from the Scottish Household Survey either strongly or tended to agree that it is important to them that Scotland's heritage (important buildings, archives, historical sites and monuments) is well looked after.[166]

While Scotland is already an active and supportive partner, the Scottish Government is keen to ensure that Scotland's interests are properly represented at UNESCO, to share experience with partners and learn from them in turn. Although options for deeper engagement may exist within the current constitutional status,[167] only full member status would give Scotland voting rights[168] over things like elections to the World Heritage Committee[169] who are responsible for the effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention.[170]

An independent Scotland would also develop further the cultural links with partners in Europe and beyond, building on existing World Heritage sites and unlocking the potential to grow these as a full member state of UNESCO.

Scotland's languages

Languages are fundamental to Scotland's identity, heritage and culture. Scotland's rich linguistic heritage is reflected across our country. We see it in our art, culture and literature. The daily use of Gaelic and Scots remains important to many of our communities and education is key to their continued success.[171], [172]

A wide range of languages play a key role in enriching and shaping Scotland's cultural identity. Languages including, and not limited to, Polish, Urdu, Punjabi languages and Chinese languages[173] are central to communities throughout Scotland. We see these languages and cultures being celebrated through a wide range of events, activities and festivals, such as Melas, the Edinburgh Dusherra Festival, and Edinburgh's Chinese New Year Festival. British Sign Language is also celebrated during the Edinburgh Deaf Festival, which celebrates deaf culture and heritage.

The Scottish Government will continue to work with communities and organisations to meet the growing interest in Gaelic and Scots education. The languages offer Scotland a unique perspective on the world and many Gaelic and Scots organisations operate in this sector both nationally and internationally. Festivals such as the Mòd Nàiseanta help communities across Scotland to access, enjoy and learn about Gaelic culture through disciplines including literature and song.[174]

Action to promote Gaelic is driven, first and foremost, by our obligation to ensure that the fundamental rights of Gaelic-speakers in Scotland are respected, protected and fulfilled. It also reflects the broader ethical requirement, identified by the UN and other international bodies, for states to protect cultural diversity and value humanity's rich intangible cultural heritage.[175] Research into the economic value of Gaelic has also found that it contributed £82 million to £149 million to the Scottish economy in 2011[176] and 34% of visitors were interested to find out about the Gaelic language or it had enhanced their visit to Scotland in 2016.[177]

The Scottish Government also recognises that the Scots language is an important part of Scotland's cultural heritage, national identity and community life and it has greatly influenced our song, poetry and literature. The Scottish Government provides support for a number of groups which promote Scots and the Scottish Languages Bill[178] will build on this by taking further steps to promote Scots in public and community life. This is the first time that Scots has featured in legislation and the Bill provisions will include a statement about the status of the Scots language.

Our languages will be an important asset in building a new Scotland, both culturally and economically. As set out in 'Building a New Scotland: Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland', the Scottish Government proposes including provisions to recognise the languages of Scotland, including Scots, Gaelic, British Sign Language and English in an interim constitution, effective from day one of an independent Scotland.[179]



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