I very much welcome this afternoon’s debate. Scotland has a rich and diverse cultural and artistic life, which is built on centuries of traditional music and storytelling but which is now expansive, multicultural, innovative and world leading. Our cultural experiences embrace our past while telling the story of today and of the future.
We are very fortunate to have a rich historic environment, a wide selection of collections at our museums and galleries, a growing creative sector with a focus on new media, internationally recognised festivals and a network of artistic and creative groups across Scotland, which are encouraging and supporting participation. All of those contribute significantly to Scotland being a great place to live in, work in, and visit.
It is right that we use some of this afternoon’s time to celebrate, recognise and value what Scotland’s culture, visitor attractions and events give us. We have national companies that are growing in stature; the new developments at the National Theatre of Scotland have been exciting; Scottish Ballet is touring its production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”; and the opening sales weekend for the Edinburgh festival was the busiest yet.
As well as providing a way to bring history to life and tell our own story, our historic environment has been a long-time attraction for visitors to Scotland and has a vital part to play in promoting the country, particularly in the film and television sector.
Historic Scotland has seen year-on-year growth in visitors, with the recent winter months recording a record-breaking number of visitors, up 10 per cent on the previous year.
Stirling castle saw a remarkable increase of 63 per cent on the previous year when it hosted the “Great Tapestry of Scotland” exhibition—I am looking forward to it coming to the Kirkcaldy galleries this summer. The tapestry is the perfect example of the coming together of history, craft, community storytelling, cultural inclusiveness and identity. Alexander McCall Smith, Andrew Crummy and Alistair Moffat are to be thanked for their initiative and leadership on the project.
The cabinet secretary talked about the success of the Commonwealth games cultural programme. Last year the whole of the Commonwealth was able to enjoy not just the sport on offer in Glasgow but our thriving cultural community across the country.
Scotland is rightly proud of both our rich history and our multiculturalism. Our arts sector is a great example of how we can marry the two together. The Commonwealth games afforded us the perfect opportunity to showcase that to the world. Events such as the Glasgow mela, which were already established, were able to promote and play a prominent role in the year of celebration. I hope that this year, which is the 25th anniversary of the mela in Glasgow, will be the biggest and best yet.
Scotland’s festival programme is wide ranging and exciting. At the start of the year we all debated the winter festivals and recognised the contribution that they make to our economy and cultural life. The festivals programme continues to grow from established city festivals to an increasing number of regional festivals, bringing variety to local programmes, as Liz Smith’s amendment highlights. Along with everything else that Scotland has to offer, our festivals enhance our international reputation.
One the biggest festivals in Scotland and the UK is T in the Park, which generates £15.4 million for the Scottish economy and some £2.7 million at local level. It attracts international acts to Scotland, ensuring that Scotland is a vibrant part of the festival circuit. Having been based at Balado for many years, it is in the process of currently moving site. Clearly, that is at a planning stage with Perth and Kinross Council, with a decision due to be made next month. It is up to the council to make the decision based on the facts before it, but we should today recognise the social, cultural and economic importance of the festival. As a Mid Scotland and Fife MSP, I recognise the festival’s previous good environmental record at the Balado site, where it was the only UK festival to be awarded the greener festival award for seven years running.
As Labour’s amendment recognises, alongside commercial activity there is a wide range of cultural activity supported by volunteers, with which people of all ages across Scotland engage. There are multiple benefits of cultural engagement. As we progress through life, we increasingly become the audience rather than creators, but there should be more encouragement and opportunity to do both.
In May, voluntary arts week will encourage people across the UK to try something new. More than half the UK adult population is involved in some kind of regular voluntary arts activity, from choirs and ceramics to dance and drawing. We do not tend to think of that as a crucial part of Scotland’s economy, but those activities often support smaller venues and small local businesses, and they help to support viable local economies. Those opportunities can transform community engagement and generate good mental health and self-confidence.
All those activities and more, which I am sure that other members will talk about, support our growing confidence as a country. Its creative expression is a key ingredient of a healthy, productive, vibrant and modern country, and I am proud of what we achieve here in Scotland.
We need to better understand the engagement that is happening. The cabinet secretary commented on the recent household survey, which raises some interesting issues about engagement, attendance and participation in culture. We have a range of activities. Last year, Creative Scotland’s regularly funded organisations alone delivered some 62,000 performances, more than 9,000 exhibitions and almost 15,000 screenings. How deep and wide is that reach? There are positive figures—91 per cent of adults engaged in culture through attendance at or participation in a cultural event—but some interesting figures make it clear that there is much more to do if we are to get the greatest benefit from Scottish cultural activity.
An individual’s level of education and income are key. Attendance at cultural events is highest among those from the most prosperous areas and those with the highest level of qualifications. The percentage of people with the highest level of qualifications who attended a cultural event is 93 per cent, compared with 53 per cent of those with no qualifications. There is a gap of 18 percentage points between the most prosperous 20 per cent and the most deprived 20 per cent, and there are similar indications of exclusion for people who have long-term physical or mental health conditions, who are less likely to attend cultural events. Participation in cultural events tells the same story: it is lowest among those in the most deprived areas, those with the lowest qualifications and people with a long-term health condition.
There are significant differences among age profiles. Attendance at cultural events decreases with age, with the decline starting to accelerate in the over-45s. That is concerning, because artistic and cultural experiences bring meaning, enjoyment and social interaction to our lives, and that is important for all ages.
That is all significant. We all recognise the value of cultural activity, yet too many people appear to be excluded. Do we understand fully the reasons for that? What steps are we taking to address it? Where should public policy and funding be directed if we want to see greater, more equitable engagement in culture?
We must recognise and address the fact that much cultural activity is done at local level by our local authorities and cultural trusts and we need to support that. There is a lot going on in Scotland. I will briefly mention Glasgow Life, which is doing a lot of work to engage with some of Scotland’s most deprived communities. In a time of financial constraint, the arts can come under pressure, with no statutory protection, so we need to recognise and promote the value that they bring to individuals and our communities.
Our amendment highlights the welcome culture counts campaign, which since 2011 has played a role in articulating the importance of our cultural lives. It provides a platform for discussion of future policy and is an advocate for the value of culture in its widest sense.
Our amendment also talks about people who work in the sector, about whom I will make a few points. Although the focus is often on performers, there is a host of technicians, support staff and engineers who work across the sector. Recently I visited Pitlochry theatre—I know that the cabinet secretary was there last year—where people talked to me about the skills gaps among theatre technicians and the difficulty that there can be in Scotland in getting people with appropriate training and experience. The creative industries are a growth sector and are increasingly important to our national economy, as well as an important tool for regeneration of regions and communities, and we need to ensure that we have the right skills coming through.