Inspiring Connections: Scotland's International Culture Strategy

This strategy aims to support Scotland's culture and creative sector to be globally connected with the means and opportunities to achieve its international ambitions and potential, and contribute to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing through its international work.

Overarching considerations and context

This section explores the overarching context in which this strategy will be delivered and how to address specific issues that are a part of that context. This includes the geographic focus of the strategy, how it will consider climate change and the need to work towards net zero emissions of greenhouse gases, and how it might engage with debates around Scotland’s historic role in issues such as empire and slavery. It also considers issues of equality, diversity and inclusion and how they will be represented in the delivery of the strategy.


Scotland’s size and limited resource means that we need to focus our international efforts on the areas and opportunities that offer the most potential for our cultural and creative organisations. This means taking advantage of the range of connections we already have in place such as our International Network of offices in Beijing (China), Berlin (Germany), Brussels (Belgium), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dublin (Ireland), London (United Kingdom), Ottawa (Canada), Paris (France) and Washington DC (USA), as well as networks and groups such as our diaspora. It also means looking to our partners in Europe and our near neighbourhood to build on the excellent relations we already have. This was a view expressed by a range of cultural organisations in our consultation.

However, focusing solely on where the Scottish Government already has long-established relationships would ignore the wide-ranging global reach and internationalism that defines Scotland’s cultural and creative sector. Practitioners and organisations in Scotland should be able to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with partners based on their own cultural and business considerations. Similarly, business models in an increasingly competitive creative sector require innovation and expansion to develop new audiences and markets.

Other countries of a similar size to Scotland have sought to address this tension between focusing on close international partners and looking further afield. We can draw on their experiences to shape our own approach. Striking a balance between the global opportunities on offer, geographic areas of focus across the breadth of our international work, the available resource, and with the sector’s need to pursue opportunities as they see fit, will be an important factor in the development of the actions outlined in this strategy. We will not take a blanket approach that would limit geographic scope or exclude opportunities based on geography, but we recognise that certain interventions and support will be by necessity best limited to where our pre-existing infrastructure and resource allows.

Climate impact and the need to achieve net zero

There is no escaping the fact that international cultural engagement and associated travel is at odds with the need to work towards Scotland being a net zero contributor of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. There is a trade-off between ensuring that the benefits of international cultural collaboration can be realised with reducing climate impact, but it is unclear how to balance that tension to inform decisions regarding support for particular activities.

There are a range of views within the sector on the extent to which it can support the journey towards net zero. There is a strong commitment from many cultural organisations and practitioners to support change as far as possible, but there is also recognition that progress will require major technological innovation and behavioural change in terms of how we travel, generate power and heat buildings. In a sector with a strong sense of social justice it is not a surprise that responding to one of the most significant challenges of our time is a priority for many.

This response can be creative. It can help us to reflect on and understand the challenge of enabling societal transitions to meet net zero, which after all needs to be a global conversation.

“In our work, we are aligning our international work to our environmental commitments by: opting for slow/lower-carbon travel options, making use of communication technology to minimise travel, developing international projects through long-term collaborations and partnerships.” The Work Room, International Culture Strategy consultation response

The sector’s response to its climate impact can also be very practical. There is a range of activity being undertaken by the culture and creative sector, within and outwith Scotland, to consider how change can be made to current practices. Models for exchange which allow longer periods of engagement or encouraging international practitioners to visit Scotland with increased interaction with a wider range of Scottish artists may allow for some of the benefits of international exchange to be captured while environmental impact is reduced. Work such as this can influence similar adaptation by international peers, and it will be important that where such best practice exists in Scottish organisations that it can be shared internationally to support adaptation.

  • The Scottish Government and public bodies will engage with work domestically and internationally that seeks to develop environmentally sustainable models for international cultural engagement and will consider what steps can be taken to support organisations to assess and balance environmental impact against the value of proposed activity.

Case study - Historic Environment Scotland: A Global Leader Addressing Climate Change and World Heritage

Climate change is the fastest growing global threat to World Heritage. Historic Environment Scotland is therefore taking significant climate action now to protect our past for the future. As the climate crisis intensifies, there is an urgent need to understand the vulnerability of all types of heritage, including climate impacts upon Scotland’s six UNESCO designated World Heritage properties.

The Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) is a rapid and systematic tool developed at James Cook University in Australia, specifically to assess climate change vulnerability for all types of World Heritage (cultural, natural and mixed). The first global CVI assessment for a cultural World Heritage property took place at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney in April 2019.

A Research Network grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh has enabled subsequent CVI assessments for the Old & New Towns of Edinburgh, the Antonine Wall (part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire), and St Kilda. A snapshot CVI has also been undertaken for the forthcoming World Heritage nomination of the Flow Country.

The CVI has now been applied to four of Scotland’s World Heritage properties, assessing a diverse array of heritage from the Neolithic to the 20th century. The CVI has been adopted as a standard tool for considering climate impacts on Scotland’s World Heritage. In doing so, Scotland has set a benchmark for World Heritage properties in other countries. Our historic environment is on the front line of climate change, and Scotland is a global leader in heritage-related responses.

Sim’oogit Ni’isjoohl (Mr Earl Stephens) and Sigidimnak’ Nox Ts’aawit (Dr Amy Parent) of Nisga’a Nation at the rematriation ceremony to mark the return of the The House of Ni’isjoohl Memorial Pole from the National Museum of Scotland. Neil Hanna
Two people standing either side of a wooden ceremonial pole

Historic injustices

While in 2024 Scotland has a strong international image and a desire to be a good global citizen, we must recognise that historically our country has not always played a positive role. Cultural connections can though seek to address, understand and recognise our role in slavery, empire and climate change.

Cultural exchange and dialogue can help us to reflect on our own culture and history. At a time when we are becoming more attuned to Scotland’s role in empire, slavery and climate change this is particularly important. Dialogues have opened between many Scottish cultural institutions and peers from parts of the world in which Scotland has at times had a less than positive influence. This can help us to understand our historic role and our place in the world, but it can also have material impacts that in a small way go towards addressing historic injustices. A number of cultural institutions have taken steps to address these histories and how they relate to objects in their collections. This work has seen a number of cultural objects returned to communities from which they were acquired.

Case study - University of Aberdeen restitution of Benin Bronzes

In 1897 the ancient capital of the kingdom of Benin in West Africa was looted by a British military force. This resulted in the national treasures, including portrait busts of the Obas (kings) and other items made in the city over hundreds of years, being dispersed among museums and private collectors across the world. There have been many calls for the return of the ‘Benin Bronzes’ since the 1930s which have become the highest profile campaign for the return of African cultural property.

A portrait bust was bought by the University of Aberdeen in 1957, with provenance research confirming that it had been one of those looted. As it was clearly stolen property, the University therefore decided that a loan would not be appropriate and instead started to investigate returning it without conditions. The first step saw contact being established with a well-connected intermediary, Nigerian professor of law Bankole Sodipo. This enabled discussions with the Nigerian federal government, the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Edo State Government, and the Court of the Oba, leading to a proposal from the Ministry of Information and Culture which had the support of the other parties.

The University has an established procedure for considering returning items from the collections, including criteria that structure the discussions of an advisory group which in this case included Bankole Sodipo as well as university and museum representatives. The Advisory Group’s recommendation was unanimously supported by the University’s governing body, so in October 2021 a ceremony in Aberdeen saw the portrait bust being handed over to a group including a representative of the Nigerian High Commission, the Director General of the National Commission, and the brother of the Oba of Benin. A few months later, on the 125th anniversary of the looting, it was presented to the Oba in Benin City, the first Benin Bronze to be unconditionally returned from a museum collection.

The work of the University of Aberdeen and its Nigerian partners has been pioneering amongst Scottish institutions in addressing such historic injustice and has strongly influenced the approach recommended by the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums project and now being taken forward.

The Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums project, which was coordinated by Museums Galleries Scotland and sponsored by the Scottish Government, published recommendations for the Scottish Government for addressing legacies of historic injustice. The Scottish Government accepted these recommendations in full in January 2024.

  • The Scottish Government will support the implementation of the recommendations of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums report, including championing the development of bespoke national guidance for repatriating objects acquired unethically.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

The Scottish Government continues to promote and advance equality, inclusion and human rights in all that it does.[22] We want to support Scotland’s culture and creative sector to be an open and equitable place to work, participate in and consume culture.

The two-part cultural assets report To See Ourselves and As Others See Us[23] demonstrates that the cultural policy environment in Scotland and the approaches within it are cultural assets with inherent values relating to social, democratic and egalitarian principles that underpin a social contract to support inclusion, diversity, equality and rights. These are the values by which the sector lives and operates.

The Scottish Government is taking a number of steps to uphold equality, diversity and inclusion in our work and in the wider sector. Actions outlined in the Culture Strategy Action Plan, published in December 2023, commit us to work in partnership to increase diversity in the sector, sharing new approaches and codes of practice that ensure skills development and board membership have diversity at their core, including helping recruitment diversity by introducing appropriate remuneration for board members of national culture and heritage public bodies.

The Scottish Government also announced in the Culture Strategy Action Plan that it is establishing a Fair Work task force with the remit to set the direction of implementing Fair Work in the sector. The task force will consider the 5 pillars of Fair Work: Effective Voice, Opportunity, Security, Fulfilment, Respect as outlined in the Review of Fair Work in the Creative and Cultural Sectors in Scotland[24], which was conducted by Culture Radar and commissioned by Creative Scotland and published in 2022.

  • The Scottish Government will embed equality, diversity and inclusion into all work developed under this strategy and link with wider work under the Culture Strategy Action Plan.



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