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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 31, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

We move to portfolio question time. The first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. Questions 3 and 5 are grouped; I will take any supplementary questions after both those questions have been answered. As ever, concise questions and responses are appreciated.

Robert Burns (Promotion)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to cultural organisations to promote Robert Burns this Burns season. (S6O-03022)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Robert Burns is an essential part of Scottish culture and heritage and continues to provide new and compelling reasons to visit Scotland throughout the year. The Scottish Government undertakes activity, funds public bodies and supports external organisations that help to maintain and increase the visibility of Robert Burns throughout the year in Scotland and overseas.

Burns night is an excellent opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s vibrant and thriving creativity, bring our communities together, boost Scotland’s international reputation and engage with our varied diaspora. For Burns night 2024, the brand Scotland strategic partnership, all the international offices of the Scottish Government and Scottish Development International, domestic stakeholders and more than 50 organisations in the culture sector have had access to a 2024 Burns night toolkit to celebrate how our creativity is influenced by both the heritage traditions of the past and the cultural innovations of today. In addition, our international offices have been engaging in supporting 27 Burns night events, most of which have involved cultural organisations.

Emma Harper

I recently chaired a round-table meeting to discuss funding for winter festivals and in particular the Big Burns Supper in Dumfries, which was impacted by the loss of Scotland’s winter festivals funding this year. In attendance were EventScotland, VisitScotland and many local organisations. The discussion was positive, but it highlighted the crucial importance of support for the promotion of Robert Burns. Will the cabinet secretary make a commitment that the renewed winter festivals funding for next year will support and promote organisations such as the Big Burns Supper in order to promote Scotland’s national bard at home and around the globe?

Angus Robertson

I pay tribute to Emma Harper’s relentless work in this area. As she knows, we reluctantly informed stakeholders in September 2022 that the Scotland’s winter festivals programme was permanently closed, in the context of operating within the most challenging budget to be delivered under devolution.

Nevertheless, the Scottish Government is taking the first steps on the route to investing at least £100 million more annually in culture and the arts by the financial year 2028-29. As I said to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on 18 January, now is the right time to look in general at how we support festivals and how it all fits together. I understand that the Big Burns Supper continues to have discussions with Creative Scotland, EventScotland and South of Scotland Enterprise. In addition, such events continue to have the opportunity to apply to public bodies such as VisitScotland and Creative Scotland, as well as local authorities, through their general funds.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The annual report on Scotland’s international network states that the Scottish Government’s international offices work to promote Scotland’s international profile through things such as holding events on St Andrew’s day or for Burns night. Will the cabinet secretary confirm how much all nine international offices spent on Burns night celebrations this year? Will he explain the merits of that and how they can justify the cost?

Angus Robertson

I am not in a position to answer Alexander Stewart’s question today, but I undertake to write to him. He and other members will have seen the full range of events that have been promoting Scotland and Scottish tradition and culture internationally. I hope that he supports that—I see that he is nodding affirmatively, which I welcome.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Scottish Government offices, the Scottish Development International teams around the world and all the others who have been celebrating Burns. I think that, when the matter was most recently quantified, the University of Glasgow found that there were more than 2,500 Burns suppers around the world, which we will continue to support.

I will write to the member to answer his question directly. I hope that he will join me in praising the international work to promote Robert Burns and make Scotland an attractive place to visit and to invest, live and study in.

Robert Coltart (Museum or Exhibition Centre)

2. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it can offer to assist in the establishing of a small museum or exhibition centre in Galashiels to celebrate the life and times of Robert Coltart, the author of the children’s song, “Ally Bally Bee”. (S6O-03023)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

There is no doubt about the cultural significance of Robert Coltart’s song “Coulter’s Candy”—I am sure that everyone is singing it in their heads as we speak. The song is sung in communities across Scotland and shared across generations.

We welcome and encourage any exploration and celebration of our heritage. I congratulate Christine Grahame on running a keen campaign to have the song and Robert Coltart recognised. Although we cannot guarantee any funding from the Scottish Government or even our partners, Ms Grahame may find it helpful to contact Museums Galleries Scotland, which provides development work and funding on our behalf, for advice and support as she explores the opportunities to tell Robert Coltart’s story.

Christine Grahame

The minister may not be aware that I have already had a substantial meeting with Museums Galleries Scotland, which cannot provide seed funding. On Monday, we will launch a crowdfunder to erect a memorial headstone at Robert Coltart’s unmarked grave in Galashiels. We are also looking to explore a virtual exhibition that places him in the context, to an extent, of the poverty of 19th century Galashiels. Apart from funding, can the minister provide advice as to how the project or projects may be developed, given that tourism and the culture of the issue are crucial to Galashiels and the wider Borders?

Christina McKelvie

I am sorry that Christine Grahame has not found the Museums Galleries Scotland route to be fruitful. Other organisations, such as Culture & Business Scotland, may be able to offer assistance. However, I am happy to look into the matter and provide further information to her. I wish her well in her crowdfunder and the commemorations.

As far as tourism goes, I will endeavour to ensure that the minister who is responsible for tourism understands the importance of the work that Christine Grahame is doing in her constituency with regard to Robert Coltart and “Coulter’s Candy”.

Gaza (Humanitarian Assistance)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its funding for humanitarian assistance in Gaza. (S6O-03024)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

In November 2023, we provided £750,000 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to ease the suffering of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict in Gaza. We do not regularly fund UNRWA, but in that case we responded to a flash appeal for the current crisis. We do not currently have plans to make further contributions, not least because of broader budgetary pressures.

Given that more than 2 million people are at imminent risk of starvation, the United Kingdom Government and the international community must work with the UN to find mechanisms to increase the level of life-saving aid that is getting into Gaza, which Israel must facilitate.

Rona Mackay

As convener of the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children, I wrote to the UK Government and the British Medical Association to request urgent aid for the thousands of women and children, including pregnant women, who have been disproportionately affected by this horrendous war. I have yet to receive a reply from either. Does the minister agree that an urgent ceasefire is the only way in which lives can now be saved?

Christina McKelvie

The situation in Gaza is catastrophic, particularly for women and children, who make up 70 per cent of those killed. More than half of the hospitals in Gaza have ceased to function, and the remaining hospitals provide vastly reduced services. The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food has warned that famine is now inevitable. If the bombs and bullets do not get those women and children, malnutrition, disease and starvation will get them.

The only way to bring a stop to the horror and bring the hostages home is an immediate and permanent ceasefire on both sides. The international community cannot stand by while women and children starve, knowing that it could have done so much more to save them.

Gaza (Humanitarian Aid)

5. Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the funding that it has made available for humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict in Gaza. (S6O-03026)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

We have been in continued discussions with the UK Government on that matter, and we welcome the additional £60 million that has been committed for the humanitarian response in Gaza, which Scottish taxpayers have, of course, contributed to. However, unless there is an immediate ceasefire and sufficient aid is allowed to enter Gaza, thousands more will die from bombardment, starvation and disease. That is why the First Minister has called on the UK Government to make it clear to the Israeli Government that it must comply with the International Court of Justice ruling or face being held accountable for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

Kaukab Stewart

Over the weekend, the UK Foreign Office announced that it was pausing funding aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. What effect will that have, given that by far the largest and most effective aid delivery was through UNRWA and that that leaves the 81 per cent of the Gazan population who are already refugees without support? What is the Scottish Government’s response to the appeal by the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, to countries that have suspended funding to the United Nations agency that is assisting Palestinian refugees to reconsider their decisions to ensure the continuity of its vital humanitarian operations?

Christina McKelvie

We recognise the swift action taken by UNRWA to dismiss the implicated employees and to launch a full independent investigation. UNRWA has sufficient funds to cover its humanitarian operations until the end of February. The situation must be resolved before then. The UK and the international community must work with the UN to ensure that aid can be provided to the population to avoid mass starvation, which we are warned is imminent.

Israel must facilitate and secure sustained delivery and distribution of vastly increased levels of aid in Gaza, in line with last week’s ruling by the International Court of Justice. We remain mindful of the words of António Guterres and the UN community.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

At the end of last year, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification warned of a very high risk of famine in the Gaza strip. The report advised that more than half a million people were facing emergency levels of food insecurity, which led to all children in Gaza being at high risk of severe malnutrition and death. What specific discussions is the Scottish Government having with the UK Government about provisions to prevent famine from causing serious malnutrition and preventable deaths in Gaza?

Christina McKelvie

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food has already laid out the concerns that I think that everyone has about imminent starvation, particularly for women and children, in Gaza. Foysol Choudhury will have heard in my answers to previous questions on the topic that we remain committed to working with the UK Government and speaking with it about ways to ensure that aid gets to the people who need it.

The situation needs to change, and it needs to change now. The only way to do that is through a ceasefire, the hostages coming home, and aid going into Gaza to support the civilians who are impacted by the situation and prevent famine from arising in the next few weeks.

Broadcasting (Football Matches)

4. Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government, regarding the potential impact on health and wellbeing of people in Scotland, what action it can take in response to reported calls for free-to-air broadcasting of Scotland’s national team football matches. (S6O-03025)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Although broadcasting powers are reserved, the Scottish Government has a strong interest in there being a fairer and more representative service for Scotland. We continue to argue for its improvement to ensure that it better reflects and prioritises the specific needs and interests of Scottish audiences and our creative economy.

The Scottish Government has previously advocated for the listed events regime to be expanded, and we will continue to press the United Kingdom Government on that, so that more Scottish events, including Scottish men’s and women’s international football matches, are accessible to audiences on free-to-air broadcast television.

Alex Rowley

I understand that TV rights for the country’s national team matches are currently held by Viaplay, which announced last year that it would be scaling back its involvement in Scottish football. I also understand that there could be financial implications for Scottish football of not getting money from TV rights. Therefore, has the Scottish Government had any discussions with the football authorities to look at what support it can provide, working with those authorities, to bring about the change that we need?

Angus Robertson

Alex Rowley makes a very good point. I will definitely reflect on the potential for further discussions with the Scottish football authorities on making the matches of the men’s and women’s sides available to viewers on free-to-air television. However, we could solve the issue quite simply if the Scottish Parliament was in charge of broadcasting, because we could just get on with it and not have to rely on others realising that coverage of Scotland’s national teams and our national sport should be on free-to-view television. We should have devolved broadcasting powers some time ago. It would be fantastic if the Scottish Labour Party would confirm that it now supports that.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary has more or less stolen my thunder, because all that I was going to ask was this: is that not a perfect example of why broadcasting powers should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

Angus Robertson

That would be entirely sensible. Why on earth is Scotland’s national Parliament not in charge of national broadcasting? I appreciate the question that Alex Rowley posed, because it should be self-evident to absolutely everybody that our national sport and the important games of our national men’s and women’s teams, which are doing tremendously at the moment, should be easy to access. The easy way for that to happen is through broadcasting powers being devolved. It would be great to have clarification from the Scottish Labour Party and, indeed, from other political parties on whether they are in favour of that.

Referendum (Powers of the Scottish Parliament)

To ask the Scottish Government, as part of its work to further the case for Scottish independence, what its position is on whether it could hold a referendum on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. (S6O-03027)

The Minister for Independence (Jamie Hepburn)

The Scottish Parliament has a clear mandate from the previous election to hold a referendum on independence. Last year, the Parliament passed a motion calling on the United Kingdom Government to respect the right of people in Scotland to choose their constitutional future. The UK Government should respect the 2021 election result and the position of this Parliament.

At this stage, we have no plans to hold a referendum on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Ash Regan

Last week, the Alba Party released poll results that show that an overwhelming majority of the country support the Scottish Parliament having the power to negotiate for and legislate for independence. Last week, support for independence was at 52 per cent. If the Scottish Government does not want to back a bill that could unblock the constitutional roadblock that the minister just described, how does it propose to move Scotland forward towards independence in this session of the Parliament?

Jamie Hepburn

It was no surprise to me that people in Scotland expect and believe that this Parliament should have responsibility for such matters. The manifesto on which Ash Regan and I stood said that people in Scotland should be provided with the opportunity to have their say on the future of this country, and the UK Government should respect that.

I am also committed to—this, too, derives from the manifesto on which Ash Regan and I stood—continuing to provide the people of Scotland with the information that they need to make an informed decision. Thus far, we have published nine “Building a New Scotland” papers, which cover a range of subject matters. We will continue to take that work forward. Indeed, just yesterday, we debated the paper on the European Union, and Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat members voted against the simple proposition that Scotland would be best served by being part of the EU. That is further evidence of why Scotland would be best served by being an independent country.

I am keen to get as many members in as possible, so let us keep our questions and responses concise.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

On Monday, The National newspaper—one of my essential daily reads—reported the latest shock defection to Alba, Ash Regan’s party: the South Ayrshire Scottish National Party Facebook page. Does the minister accept that, as his party’s case for Scottish independence becomes ever more flimsy, support for the SNP is melting away?

No, I do not, and such has been the impact of that revelation that that is the first that I have heard of it.

International Offices

To ask the Scottish Government how it sets the priorities for its international offices each year. (S6O-03028)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Scotland’s international network delivers benefits to our people, businesses and institutions that range from attracting overseas investment and growing exports to facilitating cultural exchanges. Our engagement supports the delivery of Scotland’s domestic policy objectives.

As colleagues will be aware, we have now published our international strategy, which describes the three key areas of focus for the Scottish Government’s international engagement and what we aim to achieve in each area by the end of the current parliamentary session. That will see our offices develop business plans on those three main themes: the economy, trade and investment; climate change, biodiversity and renewable energy; and relationships, influence and reputation.

Tess White

In the recent tax-and-axe Scottish budget, spending on international offices increased by 12 per cent. With another office set to open in Warsaw, the Scottish National Party Government is spending millions of pounds on a function that is already provided by the United Kingdom Government, which has a massive overseas network of embassies and high commissions. This is about priorities. Why does the SNP Government believe that funding for international offices should be increased, while Angus residents who lost their homes to storm Babet are desperate for more support?

Angus Robertson

It would be helpful to clarify the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s position. I thought that it was in favour of the Scottish Government’s international network of offices and that, in fact, it had called for it to be increased. Now, from the back benches, we seem to hear calls for it to be reduced.

I am not sure what the head shaking by Conservative members is about. Is it because one wants to close offices that promote inward investment, trade, tourism and education, or is it just because they are saying one thing on the back benches and another thing from the front bench? We really need some consistency on the matter.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scotland’s international offices are critical to growing our economy and are one of the main factors that is driving Scotland’s best-in-the-UK performance on inward investment and export growth?

Angus Robertson

Yes. “Best in class” is the right description. Scottish Development International statistics show that, in the financial year 2022-23 alone, Scotland’s international operations helped to achieve £1.73 billion of forecast export sales and that 8,500 forecast jobs were secured through inward investment support.

Scotland remains consistently the most attractive destination in the UK for foreign direct investment outside London. That success is aided by the hard work and dedication of the people of our international network. There are SDI offices in more than 30 locations around the world, nine of them in joint presences, supported by the Scottish Government.

I am glad to have the support of some members in the chamber. Certainly, they are all on the governing side. It is a shame to see members of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party undermining them.

Music Industry (Support for Venues)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures are in place to support the music industry, in relation to sustaining small grass-roots venues. (S6O-03029)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

The Scottish Government delivers a wide-ranging programme of support for all businesses, including the music industry. Business support can be accessed through our enterprise agencies and Business Gateway.

In addition, Creative Scotland can provide programme support for small grass-roots venues, particularly where additional opportunities for emerging artists or new audiences can be identified. The Scottish Music Industry Association is a member of Creative Scotland’s regularly funded network, and it exists to strengthen, empower and unite Scotland’s music industry.

Meghan Gallacher

The Music Venue Trust welcomed the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement that he would continue the 75 per cent relief to business rates for grass-roots music venues. That support is vital to keeping those community venues open, but it has not been replicated in Scotland.

Grass-roots music venues are concerned about their future. Does the cabinet secretary realise that decisions taken in Scotland on business rates relief have dire consequences for the music industry?

Angus Robertson

It is a shame that Meghan Gallacher chose not to recognise that, in the recent budget, the Scottish Government raised the culture budget by more than £15.6 million this year, in the first stage of raising annual culture spending by £100 million. By comparison, the United Kingdom Government has cut spending on culture in England through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by 6 per cent. In Scotland, we will be delivering for culture; unfortunately, the UK Government is not doing so in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In August, I asked about potential Barnett consequentials following the UK Government’s investment in its creative industries sector. I was advised at the time that the situation was unclear. Can the cabinet secretary now confirm whether, and when, Scotland will receive any additional resource related to that investment?

Further, whether or not the consequentials are there, is the Scottish Government actively considering providing additional funding to support grass-roots music venues in Scotland that would match the £5 million funding in England that has been given by Arts Council England?

Angus Robertson

I am not aware of any Barnett consequentials having been received in Scotland, but I will ask officials for clarification and write to Claire Baker to update her on that point.

To reiterate what I said a moment ago, this Government has committed to increasing culture spending not just by £15.6 million this year but by an additional £25 million in the forthcoming budget for next year, taking us to a position in which annual culture spending in Scotland will include an additional £100 million from 2028-29. That is a very considerable commitment by the Government, given the level of financial pressure. We will do all that we can.

I am sorry that we have not received—as far as I am aware—any Barnett consequentials whatsoever, but I will reply to Claire Baker and give her clarification on that point.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

This February, the band Enter Shikari will perform in Edinburgh, not only to celebrate their new LP but to prove a point. In the price of their tickets is a £1 donation to the Music Venue Trust, which will go to grass-roots venues in each of the cities in which the band is playing. The band has shown us that ticket levies do not need to come at a cost to fans. Does the cabinet secretary agree that now is the time for the Scottish Government to accelerate progress towards establishing a stadium tax in Scotland to reverse the decline over the past year in the number of music venues in Scotland?

Angus Robertson

I commend Mark Ruskell, because he is consistent in using every opportunity that he has in the chamber and at committee to raise that issue. We are still awaiting the matter to be fully discussed by the cross-party group on music, which I look forward to. There will no doubt be views from across the industry and the culture sector more generally.

However, as Mark Ruskell and members of all the other political parties in the chamber know, we are looking not only at maximising the Scottish Government’s commitment to culture and the arts sector in Scotland but at other means that will benefit the sector as we recover from Covid and move towards a situation in which things are on the firmer footing that everybody is committed to.

My apologies to those members whose questions I have been unable to take. We must move on.