Responding to the draft culture strategy for Scotland

21st September 2018

Creative Carbon Scotland submitted our response to the Scottish Government’s draft culture strategy, developed through a cross-sectoral event we hosted and discussions we were part of with various groups. Here you can read the core ideas from our response.

a better, fairer, greener society

We believe that a successful Culture Strategy would lead to a better, fairer, greener society, not as focused on economic success as the only driver for development. It would also lead to a strengthened cultural world in Scotland, as culture would be widely seen as a central player in the building of a prospering society, and cultural actors would be in demand for their work in new and wider ways.

We broadly support the vision of ‘A Culture Strategy for Scotland’, the connection to the fundamental value of culture and its empowering and transformative powers; and the statements that emphasise culture’s importance to future prosperity and wellbeing. These set the vision apart from other similar statements.  

What Culture?

However there is a lack of clarity elsewhere within the document about what culture is. It would be stronger if there was a clear definition of what the Strategy is talking about: the Mexico City Declaration and the Calhoun & Sennett definitions are more about a wider sense of culture as in ‘how people live’. This is harder to reconcile with the statements that ‘Culture in Scotland is innovative, inclusive and open to the world’ and that ‘Cultural excellence… is celebrated’. How is a wider and popular culture to be considered excellent? Who is to ensure that such a culture is innovative? 

Elsewhere the Strategy feels as though it is talking mostly about the subsidised arts: there is relatively little mention of heritage, food and diet, language, screen etc. There are difficult questions of course about what a government has to do with aspects of this sort of wider culture. However a clearer statement of what the strategy means by ‘culture’, and then a discussion of how government can and should steer that culture, would be helpful. 

In addition it is difficult to tell from the vision what it would mean in practice. Whilst this is made clearer in the following sections, and each of the three themes has some Aims and Actions, it is difficult to know what the results of those Aims and Actions would be to citizens of Scotland. 

Transforming through culture

The ‘Transforming through culture’ section of the strategy was the core focus for Creative Carbon Scotland in our response. We strongly support the strategy’s Transforming Through Culture ambition: “Recognising that culture and creativity are central to Scotland’s cultural, social and economic prosperity”. It is an important statement about the importance of culture to building a better society. We are disappointed that although the draft strategy specifically mentions climate change, such a major issue facing Scotland and one on which the Scottish Government and Parliament have done such good work, when it comes to the Actions, Environment or climate change are not mentioned in the Ambition. We would argue that the Ambition should be restated to include Environment as follows: 

Recognising the culture and creativity are central to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental prosperity.

The ambition’s statement could be made even stronger if instead of focusing on strengthening culture the overall aim of the strategy was to strengthen society. Maybe it should be a ‘Strategy for culture-in-society in Scotland’ rather than a ‘Culture Strategy for Scotland’? Many of the issues faced by Scottish society are replicated in the structures of and reinforced by the work of the cultural sector: for example the inequality and exclusion within society is reflected in the homogeneity of the cultural sector and the lower rates of participation by poorer and BAME people.

Transforming aims

The ambition of Transforming Through Culture was broken down into three aims. We looked at each aim individually.

Aim 1: Place culture as a central consideration across all policy areas 

We strongly support this Aim. However it is important that it is not misunderstood, at least partly to gain support precisely in those policy areas. This should not be seen as bid to other fields by culture for more territory, funding or clout, but as a reminder and statement to those non-cultural policy areas that culture is essential to achieving their aims, and an offer to help achieve them. At our consultation session one participant commented that when their organisation went to talk to health or education bodies it always seemed that the conversation was about how the cultural organisation could get a bit of the health organisation’s budget. This placed both parties into a less collaborative relationship than was helpful, and a resetting of this sort of relationship would be valuable to all. The comments were widely supported by the other participants. 

We are – and participants at our consultation session were – less convinced by the proposal for a new Cultural Leadership post within the Scottish Government. We feel that there is a risk that this could ghettoise culture into one person, who might not have much clout, instead of mainstreaming the idea that culture is a part of every department’s armoury. Whether one person could ‘represent’ culture in its widest sense is also uncertain: the arguments between the screen and subsidised arts sector are indicative of the issue, with heritage, creative industries and the other fields also to be taken into account!  There also seems to be a bit of a contradiction between the cross-cutting nature of the Aim and the individual, specific post. 

Supporting more distributed leadership and increasing knowledge of the role and power of culture is however necessary. We wonder whether a series of seminars or workshops could be useful. This might be the sort of work that a Cultural Leadership position might facilitate. Therefore we would argue for some clear thinking about the role for this position. 

Aim 2: Open up the potential of culture as a transformative opportunity across society  

Again, we strongly support this but we are not convinced by the corresponding Action. 

The Action quickly moves to measurement of the extended view of culture that we support, but in fact there is work to be done in advance of this about understanding how culture contributes to transformation in society. The mechanisms at play are not fully or widely understood and there is a danger that if we leap ahead to measuring this extended view of culture we will measure the wrong things. This is already illustrated by the indicators for the Culture Outcome in the National Performance Framework which are purely quantitative and mostly proxies for economic data and would provide little data to demonstrate that the aims of the Outcome itself have been met. 

More understanding of how culture contributes will help answer the difficult questions about how to evaluate change-making in complex social systems, a challenge which is faced by people in many different but related fields. 

We therefore again suggest that more and deeper thinking – possibly with the assistance of academic partners – should be undertaken before a move to measurement of an extended view of culture. 

Aim 3: Position culture as central to progress in health and well-being, economy, education, reducing inequality and realising a greener and more innovative future 

Again, we strongly support this Aim and especially the inclusion of the ‘greener future’. In this case the Action is one we also strongly support, believing that alliances and joined-up working is crucial. We reiterate that the cultural sector is wider than the ‘arts’. We suggest that there do exist current alliances, often working slightly below the radar, and these should be sought out and strengthened before the wheel is reinvented. Participatory arts practices are already strong in this area of work, but are not particularly highlighted in the Strategy. 

There is often a difficulty of scale, with small cultural groups engaging with much larger organisations. Again, research into and dissemination of good examples and case studies would be helpful to promote this joined-up working.

The ‘Library of Practice’ we are currently developing, will provide detailed case studies of how and where cultural practices have been used to achieve environmental and other outcomes that we hope can help illustrate to those beyond the cultural sector.

Building bridges

The vision, aims and ambitions of the strategy are closely aligned with Creative Carbon Scotland’s own work. We will continue to build bridges between the worlds of culture and climate change and develop alliances between cultural organisations and practitioners and, amongst others, Sniffer and Adaptation Scotland, SEPA, local authorities. It is our firm belief that culture not only can – it MUST – be a part of making a positive, sustainable, future.


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We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

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A project initiated by Edinburgh’s Festivals with key partners the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network

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