Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Scotland’s International Culture Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-12845, in the name of Angus Robertson, on Scotland’s international culture strategy. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.


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

Today is the first opportunity that we have had since the Easter break to note some significant developments in relation to culture. I begin by taking the opportunity to thank everybody who did so much to promote Scottish culture in the run-up to and on tartan day, which was marked on 6 April in the United States of America and Canada, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and the Lyceum, among many others. I also put on the record my sincere condolences following the recent untimely death of Scott Williamson, the New Zealand honorary consul to Scotland.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the debate on the Scottish Government’s international culture strategy, which was published on 28 March this year. I know that all members of the Parliament will recognise the importance of our culture and creative sector to our communities, society and economy, and that they will also recognise the importance of international activity to those vital sectors.

The ability to collaborate across borders is key to developing opportunities for our creative professionals to make our culture and creative sector more diverse and vibrant and to reach new audiences and markets. Although that makes the sector stronger internationally, it also supports the vibrancy and diversity of Scotland’s domestic cultural scene and helps us to contribute to global dialogue on some of the key challenges of our time.

For the first time, our strategy will set out a strategic approach to those issues. Although we have supported the sector’s international work, the strategy will seek to maximise its potential and take a coherent approach.

We are starting from a strong position, notwithstanding on-going challenges. Scotland’s deep and rich culture and creativity are recognised across the world, and the culture and creative sector is respected internationally for its creative output and for the approaches, business models and ideas that are inherent in the sector.

In recent years, the sector has faced a range of challenges that have had a particular impact on its ability to carry out many international activities. The restrictions that resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic meant that creative professionals were, for the most part, unable to tour and exhibit as they had done previously. Those restrictions have been compounded by the increase in costs that we have seen in recent years. The Government continues to work to support the sector to recover from those impacts, including making a commitment to invest at least £100 million more annually in culture for the financial year 2028-29.

However, those efforts have been further hampered by the on-going impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The UK Government’s decision to leave the EU has put in place a range of barriers to international activity in one of our most important international markets. Creative professionals now often require costly visas or work permits to carry out activities such as touring in the EU, and they face extensive customs requirements for moving equipment and merchandise. In addition, the loss of access to key EU programmes such as the creative Europe programme has not only impacted funding in the sector but removed an important means of facilitating cross-border partnerships and collaborations. Although we have taken action to mitigate those impacts, including through the funding of the Arts Infopoint UK mobility support service, the failure of the UK Government to negotiate favourable agreements for creative professionals with the EU means that extensive barriers to international activity remain.

Our approach aims to ensure that international engagement is a key element of sectoral recovery from recent challenges and to support its long-term development and resilience. It is in that context that the Government is committed to developing our international culture strategy to maximise the sector’s international potential in a coherent manner.

The overarching vision of the strategy is for Scotland’s culture and creative sector to be globally connected and to have the means and the opportunities to achieve its international potential. It also envisages that the sector will further contribute to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing through its international activity.

To achieve that, the strategy sets out three strategic outcomes: first, to support an innovative, more sustainable and economically stronger culture and creative sector; secondly, to develop an internationally connected and diverse culture and creative sector that contributes positively to people and communities; and, thirdly, to enhance Scotland’s international reputation for culture and creativity, including our response to global challenges.

Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

On the point about enhancing culture in Scotland, is the cabinet secretary concerned about the comments that were made recently about the Edinburgh fringe, and does he agree that urgent action is needed to ensure that we do not lose one of the biggest events that people come to Scotland to see?

Angus Robertson

I speak as both the cabinet secretary for culture and the MSP for Edinburgh Central, so I am sure that Meghan Gallacher appreciates that that matter is close to my heart. I strongly support all efforts to build the resilience of the Edinburgh festival fringe. It is important that one does not play up existential concerns but, at the same time, it is important that, wherever intervention is necessary, the Government is committed to that. The conversations that we have with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and others—because, as we know, there has been distress across the culture sector—are on-going and will continue. I hope that I will have the support of other political parties in the chamber in securing the funding that we all know is necessary to ensure the resilience of the sector in the years ahead.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

I share the concern that Meghan Gallacher has raised about the need to support the Edinburgh festival fringe, and I know what the cabinet secretary has said. The cabinet secretary said that there is a fear of playing up existential crisis. Who is playing up existential crisis?

Angus Robertson

I just heard from a member on the Conservative front bench the concern that the Edinburgh festival fringe might not be able to continue. It is that kind of playing up of concerns that I do not think is helpful for the Edinburgh festival fringe—or any other festival, for that matter. There is no matter of dispute that the culture sector here—and indeed, in many other countries—has been going through a period of extraordinary distress over recent years.

I know that we are all committed to seeing resilience and recovery in the sector. To that end, wherever colleagues from different political perspectives have particular views on where extra funding might be sought or where other interventions might be secured, Mr Bibby knows that my door is open to them. I look forward to suggestions from members on both front benches in the course of today’s statement. I would be interested to hear what specific commitments and suggestions in general they have.

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Angus Robertson

Forgive me, but I have already given way twice. I want to make a bit more progress until it is clear how much of my time remains, but I will happily give way to Mr Stewart if my time allows.

I turn to the issue of international mobility. Mobility underpins activities across the culture and creative sector. It allows creative professionals in Scotland to take their work to other countries and their counterparts from around the world to come to Scotland. A key area of action for the strategy will be efforts to mitigate the barriers to international mobility that have been put in place by Brexit, including working to push the UK Government and the EU to support visa-free arrangements for touring artists and working with the sector to explore new ways to support international mobility.

Mobility is, of course, a key element of cultural export and exchange activity in the sector, but cultural export activity goes far beyond that. In 2021, exports from the sector stood at £3.8 billion, driven by an extensive and diverse range of activities that were supported by both commercial and public organisations. It will be necessary to build on that success by developing connections, providing platforms and supporting organisations, all of which will develop the skills and capacity to work internationally. We will therefore undertake a feasibility study into the development of a support service for cultural export and exchange. It would be good to hear from other parties whether that is an initiative that they would support.

Our screen sector is one of our most valuable assets in cultural exports, so we also work with Screen Scotland and our enterprise agencies to seek new opportunities abroad to support and grow the screen sector.

On cultural reputation, as I have already said, the strategy also considers culture’s role in how we as a nation respond to global challenges. Culture Counts, in its response to the public consultation on the strategy, said:

“The strength of Scotland’s cultural reputation brings us a voice in international dialogue far beyond our size.”

That demonstrates the international impact and success that our cultural and creative sector already has, while showing the value that it can bring and why we must build on that.

There is no escaping the fact that international cultural engagement, and the travel associated with that, has implications for our work towards Scotland being a net zero contributor to greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. However, culture can also help to bring new perspectives and ideas to discussions about how to tackle climate change. Scotland’s culture and creative sectors are already showing leadership in schemes supporting environmental sustainability, including as part of the green arts initiative, which supports Scottish arts and cultural organisations to reduce their impact on the climate and environment. Historic Environment Scotland’s work to protect heritage from climate impacts is also world leading and can influence others in their approach. The Scottish Government will engage with work 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 their environmental impact.

The strategy also recognises that culture has a unique and important role to play in addressing historic injustices. In 2024, Scotland has a strong international image and the desire to be a good global citizen, but we must recognise that our country has not always played a positive role. Cultural connections can seek to address, understand and recognise our role in historic injustices, including slavery and empire. For example, some objects were acquired unethically by Scottish collections in the past and some institutions have recently sought to address that through restitution of those objects. The empire, slavery and Scotland’s museums project, which is co-ordinated by Museums Galleries Scotland and sponsored by the Scottish Government, has published recommendations for the Scottish Government about addressing the legacy of historic injustice. As part of that strategy, we will support the implementation of those recommendations, including championing the development of bespoke national guidance for repatriating objects that were acquired unethically.

At this stage, and given that I have a little time, I look to Mr Stewart, offering him the opportunity to remember the question that he wanted to ask earlier.

Alexander Stewart

I thank the cabinet secretary for giving me that time.

We talked about the relief of funding issues in the sector and he was keen on that. What are the cabinet secretary’s views on the UK Government’s higher rate of tax relief for theatres, museums and galleries and on how that support has affected the sector?

Angus Robertson

I was in conversation with the Treasury to ask for that to happen and am delighted that it has. It is important not only to have what would have been a temporary relief but to have a longer horizon on that. I am delighted to be able to put on record my appreciation that that will continue and my praise for all the cultural organisations that, together with the Scottish Government, pushed so strongly and convincingly for that to happen. I hope that Mr Stewart will continue working with us in pressing the Treasury to retain that level of financial commitment in the future, because it matters to organisations and venues.

Today, I have set out just some of the actions that our strategy will take forward. I believe it to be ambitious and comprehensive, building on much of the work that has already been taken forward by this Government and our agencies. At its heart, the strategy will prioritise working alongside our culture and creative sector, collaborating with, and drawing on, the knowledge and expertise of those who know that sector best.

I hope that the strategy will also play a positive role in initiating discussion and debate about how we can support international activity in the sector, about how culture can help to address global issues and about how the sector in Scotland can realise its full potential internationally. I therefore look forward to our dialogue here today and with organisations and individuals working in the sector and across society.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication on 28 March 2024 of Inspiring Connections: Scotland’s International Culture Strategy; recognises the central importance of international engagement, collaboration and exchange to Scotland’s culture and creative sector, cultural innovation and financial health; further recognises that the impacts of Brexit and inflation pressures driven by UK Government decisions have had a detrimental impact on the sector’s international activity; acknowledges that COVID-19 has also exacerbated these impacts; notes the strong starting position for this strategy, with Scotland’s culture and creative sector’s global reputation and existing connections; further notes that this strategy recognises the challenges posed by the importance of international cultural activity and the need to achieve net zero by 2045; recognises the role that the culture and creative sector can play in addressing Scotland’s role in colonialism and slavery, and agrees that this strategic approach to supporting international connections can play an important role in the sector’s long-term development.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind those members who hope to participate in the debate but have not already pressed their request-to-speak buttons to do so. I also remind those making interventions that it would be very helpful, particularly for those joining us online, to press the intervention button as well as asking for the intervention.


Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I apologise for being guilty of not doing that.

I associate myself with the remarks that the cabinet secretary made about Scott Williamson, the New Zealand honorary consul to Scotland.

There are many areas in which Angus Robertson and I will disagree when it comes to the constitution and how best to expand Scotland’s international culture. However, I begin with a point of consensus that is often overlooked when we partake in debates in the chamber, which is that we are all passionate about Scotland. Being elected to the Scottish Parliament comes with a responsibility to do everything that we can to make Scotland the best possible place to live, work and invest in, and to visit. We have some of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes in the world, and we have a deep-rooted history that makes us who we are today as Scots. We want Scotland to be the best that it can be, and we want to make sure that our heritage and our culture are protected. That is who we are as a nation. We are fiercely proud.

Scotland’s culture is among the most vibrant in the world and it should, of course, be promoted internationally. However, to grow our culture sector internationally, we must first ensure that it is thriving here in Scotland. To do that, the Scottish Government must focus on the domestic challenges that our culture sector is facing. We must harness the power of our culture sector before it is too late.

Our culture sector has been through the mill in recent times—of that there can be no doubt. A successful business model needs strong foundations in order to grow. If the domestic flagship model is not working, it is impossible to expand our global reach. Covid-19 certainly had an impact on the sector, but we are now two years on and we still need a long-term plan—not just an international plan—to restore and grow our culture sector. Many local tourism and culture services have not reopened their doors, and, too frequently, we see reports that many are being forced to close their doors for good. Recently, we heard that VisitScotland is closing its centres. They are the most recent casualties in a long line of tourism businesses that have suffered from savage Scottish Government cuts.

The Scottish Government needs to address those domestic challenges. Otherwise, we will not have the heritage, historical and cultural landmarks to promote internationally. Our creative industries are very important to us. They contribute more than £5 billion to our economy each year and they provide some 90,000 jobs. When Scotland’s artists fear for the future of Scottish culture, we should stop and listen. That is not just my opinion; it is shared by writers and film makers after the closure of a film project, a book festival and an art magazine in Glasgow. That is the aftermath of the Government’s decision to cut 10 per cent of Creative Scotland’s funding, especially when Scotland’s average culture spend is one of the lowest in Europe.

Creative Scotland’s chief executive, Iain Munro, has warned the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee that parts of the creative sector will collapse if funding is not increased. I agreed with Clare Adamson when she said in November last year that the Scottish Government needs

“to restore the confidence of Scotland’s culture sector”,

but I am afraid that the strategy does not do that. It appears to be no more than a rehash of the independence white paper on culture that was published in February. The similarities are quite something. As with any white paper that is published by the Government, it glosses over any responsibility that is held by the Scottish National Party and deflects directly on to others. The Scottish Government needs to be honest with itself. Has it assessed the economic damage that would be done to our culture sector should Scotland ever leave the United Kingdom?

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

On the subject of being honest with ourselves, does the member agree that cheering to the echo the cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget from Westminster and then demanding more money for every area of spending would be the very definition of rank hypocrisy?

Meghan Gallacher

Keith Brown really needs to look at his own Government’s spending and the amount of money that has been squandered over the years by this SNP Government. That money could easily have been diverted into areas and sectors that need it most—including, by the way, our culture sector, which we are debating this afternoon.

If the Government is being completely transparent with the public, work should have been done on that. However, I have yet to see anything that shows the reality of what the SNP’s overall aim is.

That brings me to the case study that has been used, which is Quebec. Using another pro-separation movement as a benchmark for the paper is, in my view, not the right thing to do. It is not credible, and it certainly does not give the full picture of what the overall policy aims are. That was highlighted by National Galleries Scotland during the consultation stage for the strategy, when it said:

“We believe that a light-touch approach to furthering cultural relations that builds on the existing strengths of Scotland’s cultural sector will likely bring more benefits than a heavy-handed ‘top-down’ approach from Government that links culture too closely with explicit foreign policy aims.”

The Government motion is typical of the SNP. It does not address the priorities of the sector here but is in favour of promoting the SNP and its priorities elsewhere. In my view, that is definitely and absolutely the wrong way round. It will not help anyone in the sector in the long term.

In launching the document, Angus Robertson said:

“Our festivals, vibrant music scene and rich cultural heritage bring people from across the world to Scotland.”

That is true, of course, but, as I raised in my exchange with the cabinet secretary, there are concerns about the future of the Edinburgh fringe. Not only I but others say that, and it has been reported in the press. Gail Porter is an example of a big name who is being priced out of attending the festival in her home city due to overpriced accommodation.

That raises another problem for Scotland’s culture sector. Laws and policies that have been brought in by the Government, such as those on short-term lets, are having a detrimental impact on our culture sector. When it comes to suggestions and being helpful, I hope that the cabinet secretary understands the concerns that are being raised. If the fringe is reduced from its current capacity, a huge part of our culture will go with it, including platforms for new talent and the huge local economic advantages that it brings. It would be a travesty if anything should happen to the fringe, and the Scottish Government would have something to do with that, through bringing in incompatible legislation.

I do not have too much time left, but I will quickly summarise the points that I have made. The culture sector needs a Government that is focused on fixing the issues that have been created domestically by the SNP-Green coalition. It needs a Government that is working on an international strategy, not rehashing independence documents and pretending that it has all the priorities right. It also needs a light-touch approach from the Government, not a heavy-handed policy vehicle that links culture too closely with its own foreign policy aims.

I move amendment S6M-12845.2, to leave out from “welcomes” to end and insert:

“believes that Scotland’s culture is among the most vibrant in the world and should be promoted internationally; recognises that some of the points in the International Culture Strategy can help to promote Scotland’s culture overseas, but that the document provides another forum for the Scottish Government to promote independence and grievance-mongering; further recognises that local tourism and cultural services have not reopened or are being forced to close, and compels the Scottish Government to dedicate more time to restoring Scotland’s cultural sector.”


Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

I join others in paying my condolences to the loved ones of Scott Williamson.

We can rightly be proud of our culture in Scotland. From the songs of Robert Burns to the poems of Dame Carol Ann Duffy, this nation has produced some of the greatest cultural works, which have made an invaluable contribution to not only our nation but the whole world. That legacy lives on; however, we must also recognise the huge contribution that today’s cutting-edge creators make at home and abroad.

Our screen sector brings millions of pounds to the Scottish economy, as do our video games makers. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has just been ranked, yet again, in the top 10 performing arts schools in the world. I therefore fully agree with the cabinet secretary that we can be proud of our international cultural reputation. However, I hope that the cabinet secretary will agree that the only way that Scotland’s culture sector can continue to have a strong international offering is by having a strong domestic cultural ecosystem to support it.

Scottish Labour notes the publication of the Scottish Government’s international culture strategy. We largely agree with its sentiments, and it has many welcome aspirations. However, as the Campaign for the Arts has said, the “Inspiring Connections” strategy

“suggests a dispiriting disconnection from the reality in Scotland right now: access to the arts is gravely at risk due to years of underinvestment in Scottish cultural organisations.”

Its analysis shows that,

“Despite the Scottish Government’s pledge last year to ‘more than double’ investment in culture ... this year’s culture budget is actually 6% smaller in real terms than it was in 2022/23.”

Rightly, the Campaign for the Arts has said:

“Organisations can’t run on warm words – they need cold cash, or they will cease to exist.”

On that, the strategy lacks substantial costed proposals—perhaps because it was informed by a consultation and round tables that were held last summer, before the First Minister’s announcement in the autumn.

The strategy also fails to include the words “soft power” anywhere in the text. The culture sector is unrivalled in its soft-power capabilities for brand Scotland. Clear recognition is needed of that.

That brings me to the issue of festivals, which is one of Labour’s areas of focus for the debate. The Scottish Government rightly states in its strategy that festivals are “a key cultural asset” for Scotland. That is absolutely true. Our festivals bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and give creators the chance to make connections with producers from across the globe.

However, right now, many of our festivals are in crisis, despite the Government promising to double arts and culture funding. In the past few weeks alone, Glasgow’s Aye Write literature festival has, regrettably, called off its plans this year because it could not secure funding from Creative Scotland. As Darren McGarvey said, Aye Write is a

“big date in the literary calendar in Scotland”

that makes literature “accessible” and “affordable” in Scotland’s largest city. That should be a major wake-up call for all of us, and it should be a major wake-up call for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government should be doing everything that it can to get Aye Write back up and running.

The Edinburgh Deaf Festival—the only festival of its kind in Scotland—has also announced that it is in jeopardy for the same reason. What sort of message does it send out to the world if we are closing the book on book festivals and festivals for disabled people are under threat?

The effects of the crisis in funding are affecting festivals of all shapes and sizes all over Scotland, as we have already heard. I mentioned the Edinburgh International Festival earlier. Fran Hegyi, its executive director, told the Parliament:

“It is extraordinarily difficult for any organisation to manage 16 years of flat funding, irrespective of how well it is run or of other sources of income that it might have. I have worked in the industry for coming up to 30 years and I have never known it to be as difficult”.—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 11 January 2024; c 18.]

If that was not enough, as we have heard, this weekend, Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, announced that the fringe is becoming almost “impossible to deliver” because of a lack of funding.

To be fair to Meghan Gallacher, those quotes are not playing up fears; they reflect the reality of the situation that our festivals face right now. The Scottish Government is happy to use countless pictures of the fringe festival for its glossy brochures, but it has still not provided core funding to support it, despite the UK Government providing support.

Will the member take an intervention?

Yes, I will.

Keith Brown

The member will be aware of the likely closure of Wales’s national museum, which has been attributed to cuts in funding for the Welsh Government. Does he accept that UK Government cuts play any part in the issues that he has raised? He mentioned some words that are not mentioned. Does he intend to use the word “Brexit” or to address the consequences of it in his speech?

Neil Bibby

The member made a number of points. First, we are in the Scottish Parliament, not in Wales. I am not aware of the situation in Wales, but there have been significant cuts to the culture sector in Scotland, which we are debating today, and cuts from the Scottish Government are being passed on to our culture sector. I intend to come to Brexit shortly.

I understand that Creative Scotland’s budget is tight. There has rightly been criticism of the £85,000 that was awarded to project Rein, and many people have said that they could have used that money. However, that money can be spent only once, and demand is significantly exceeding the supply of resources. There is a clear and urgent need to explore options to protect and save our festivals. The Scottish Government cannot sit idly by while our festivals collapse around us.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has called on the Scottish Government to hold a crisis summit, and Scottish Labour agrees with that. The cabinet secretary was looking for suggestions, and that is a suggestion—hold an urgent summit. It is a very important and reasonable request. In our amendment, we call for an emergency summit on festivals, and I hope that all parties will support that.

I also agree with the strategy’s emphasis on the importance of international mobility. If we want to export our culture, we need to make it easier for our creators and performers—especially our musicians—to tour. That is also in our amendment.

Angus Robertson

Forgive me, Presiding Officer, because I did not press my request-to-speak button.

It would be helpful if Mr Bibby could clarify whether it is the Labour Party’s position that an incoming UK Labour Government will seek to rejoin the creative Europe programme?

Neil Bibby

I will come on to Labour’s plans shortly.

We recognise that touring is vital in enabling many performers to make income and reach new audiences, but that has been made much more difficult because of Brexit. Today, events on that issue are being held by the face the music campaign. The Musicians Union has said that national performing companies have already been cutting back on touring in Scotland. That is not surprising, considering that they have been dealt a 20 per cent real-terms cut to funding over the past 10 years. Given that the opportunities for domestic touring are already limited, it is crucial that there is a clear plan to make international touring easier.

Will the member take an intervention?

Neil Bibby

I am sorry; I have already taken two.

That is why Labour would push for a visa waiver for touring artists and would negotiate an EU-wide cultural touring agreement, including allowances for cabotage, carnets and customs rules.

Scotland’s culture sector is clearly valuable, and it is good that we are discussing the international culture strategy today. However, our international culture offering will be strong in the future only if we protect our cultural scene in Scotland today.

I move amendment S6M-12845.1, to insert at end:

“; recognises the urgent need for a touring agreement with the EU to ease the regulatory burden on internationally touring artists and musicians; notes the significant concerns of the culture sector at the closure of and threats to a variety of festivals across Scotland due to a lack of funding; believes that Scotland’s festivals are an integral part of both domestic and international culture strategy, and calls on the Scottish Government to convene an urgent summit with the culture sector to discuss how to protect and support Scotland’s festivals with sustainable and predictable funding as part of its commitment to more than double culture funding over the next five years.”

On a personal level, I echo the comments of all three front-bench members who have mentioned the sad and sudden passing of Scott Williamson.


Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

On behalf of Scottish Liberal Democrats, I echo the comments that have been made on the loss of Scott Williamson.

I am grateful to Angus Robertson for making Government time available to debate culture and the Government’s culture strategy. Culture does not get enough parliamentary time, particularly in Government time. I welcome Mr Robertson’s motion, and in particular its remarks on Brexit. I recognise the impact of Brexit on the culture sector and the importance of the face the music campaign that we have just heard about. Brexit has made the lot of travelling artists who leave Scotland to go to the continent, and vice versa, almost intolerable. That is yet another hallmark of the hideous calamity of that enterprise.

Angus Robertson

I think that Alex Cole-Hamilton and I agree on the possibility of the United Kingdom’s rejoining programmes such as Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe. Does he agree that Creative Europe would be a tremendous organisation for the UK to rejoin? Is his party committed to doing so? We did not get any clarification from the Labour Party on that simple and straightforward question.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am happy to say that we are. Liberal Democrats are fundamentally committed to rebuilding our fractured relationship with Europe, whether it be through Erasmus+ or otherwise. It was a Welsh Liberal Democrat who was instrumental in bringing about Wales’s unique scheme, and I hope that Scotland will follow suit in that respect. We are committed to rejoining Creative Europe.

Although we will support the Government’s motion today, it belies the steady erosion of culture on its watch. There is nothing to disagree with in the motion, but it misses vital facts about what has happened to culture under Angus Robertson. Culture matters, as do the arts. In the words of George Bernard Shaw:

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

It is all too easy to lay the arts and culture sector to one side. I can understand why that happens, for good reason. Every day, we see our public services crumbling. They, rightly, command the parliamentary time that is available to debate matters, but it is important that we do not lose sight of the sector. We disregard culture and the arts at our peril. In an increasingly divided world, they are among the few things that have the power to bring us together, at least from time to time. In an increasingly frightening and uncertain time, art comforts, enlightens and engages us. We can lessen our anxiety and support our mental health through its prosecution.

Culture is also the very backbone of civilisation, which is one reason why, in 1930s Germany, the Nazis despised it and sought to bend it to suit their own twisted ideology. Indeed, our culture sector can help us to examine the shadows of our own past—for example, as the motion states, by

“addressing Scotland’s role in colonialism and slavery”.

Therefore, I repeat that we dismiss its importance at our peril.

Let us also remember the creative industry, of which we have heard something already. It is estimated to be worth £4.5 billion to the Scottish economy. It keeps 80,000 people—our fellow Scots and our constituents—in jobs, and it attracts tourism. It is no wonder that the beauty of Scotland is advertised in the many films and television dramas that are shot here. We have a growing film and TV industry that punches well above its weight. It is baffling, then, that the SNP-Green Government has treated the sector with such disregard in the past. At the SNP conference last October, Humza Yousaf pledged £100 million of additional funding to the sector, but that came after the Government had cut £6.6 million from Creative Scotland’s budget in the previous December, before reinstating that budget in February 2023 and cutting it again last September.

The Government is spinning on the spot. Its approach might seem like no more than a joyless round of hokey cokey, but it has had profound consequences for Creative Scotland, which has been forced to use up its cash reserves to cover that shortfall. At the time, the chief executive of Creative Scotland, Iain Munro, described the situation as

“like trying to change the engines on an aeroplane while you are flying it.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 28 September 2023; c 8.]

The offhand way in which the Scottish Government is treating the arts is reminiscent of the way in which it has disregarded the business community’s need for certainty and clarity in order to thrive, flourish and safeguard jobs.

On the Scottish Government’s watch, our cultural sector has been threatened like never before. The Edinburgh international film festival has been pared back almost to nothing. Edinburgh’s historic Filmhouse cinema is forced to rely on donations, and it has still not reopened its doors. Screen Machine has been saved from the brink, but there is still uncertainty about its future. The Loch Lomond Highland games have been cancelled after the council was forced to withdraw funding. As we have heard several times, Glasgow’s Aye Write festival has been cancelled due to lack of funding, and there have been dire warnings about the Edinburgh festival fringe—that jewel in the crown of our nation’s cultural economy. Last week, Edinburgh’s iconic Jazz Bar announced that, because of financial pressures, it was closing its doors for good. That was a shock, but it was not unexpected, and it speaks to the symptomatic erosion of our hospitality sector, which has suffered since the pandemic. It has faced a perfect storm of increasing fuel costs, wage bills and rent—yet the Scottish Government has still not stepped in to help.

By slashing the culture budget, cutting money from local government and failing to support businesses with the cost of living, SNP and Green ministers are unleashing a rising tide of pressure on our culture and hospitality sectors. Creative Scotland is under such financial strain that it says that it can support only around 30 per cent of applications to its fund. The Government is guilty of cultural vandalism.

I want the Scottish Government to invest in the future to preserve Scotland’s proud music, artistic and literary history, working with the UK Government to ease the strains on businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. Members may rest assured that, should the Government fail to hit the right note, Liberal Democrats are waiting to save the day. We want to have a thriving, world-leading creative sector, supported by a properly funded Creative Scotland. We want local authority budgets to be protected and enhanced to ensure that the benefits of the arts and culture are available to everyone and to every generation that comes after us. The Government has a role to play in nourishing those roots, and it is time that it played it better.

We now move to the open debate.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Scottish Opera’s production studios in Glasgow. I thank Alex Reedijk and his staff for a wonderful tour of the props, wardrobe and set design and for the opportunity to observe a rehearsal of “La Traviata”, which will shortly be performed in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The production began in 2008 and has been seen around the world. It was developed in conjunction with Welsh National Opera, and it has also been staged, with Scottish Opera’s costumes, arrangements and set, by the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona.

Michelle Thomson

I, too, made that trip, and I found it most illuminating. I was struck by the innovation that Scottish Opera is carrying out as a company in renting out its sets, costumes and so on. Does the member agree with that?

Clare Adamson

Yes, I absolutely agree. As convener of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, I have seen that with many of our performing companies. Indeed, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s studios are used for the Scottish games industry. Such innovation is very important, and we should all look to those examples of what we can do.

Scottish Opera frequently performs in New York, demonstrating the very best of a world-class opera through collaboration and touring. It is an exceptional example of a regularly funded organisation, and it is part of the Edinburgh international festival this year, as it has been in many previous years. That is just one of the world-class companies and cultural offerings from Scotland. As the cabinet secretary has said, the Met in New York—

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

I would probably agree with everything that the member has to say about Scottish Opera, but is she therefore not slightly disappointed and surprised that, in the 29 pages of the Government’s international culture strategy document, it is mentioned only once, in footnote 3 on page 3? There is nothing else—nothing of what the member has said and nothing at all about Scottish Opera’s international role or contribution to Scotland.

Clare Adamson

The member should remember that it is a strategy paper—it lays the framework for how the strategy will be delivered.

I do not think that anyone in the chamber who has seen Scottish Opera, let alone the cabinet secretary or the minister, would think anything other than that it is so important to our cultural offering.

As the cabinet secretary said, we have just had Scotland week in New York, which is supported by the international office of the Scottish Government in New York, which promotes not just the cultural aspects of Scotland but Scotland the brand, which is so important. Companies such as Scottish Opera, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, along with our folk and contemporary artists, music performers and the Scottish screen and games industries, are all there to promote Scotland.

We also have a world-class further education sector, and, as Mr Bibby mentioned, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is ranked in the top 10 performing arts schools in the world.

The international strategy, “Inspiring Connections”, will encourage further connections from all levels of our cultural sector to the wider world, but that will not be without its challenges. As has been mentioned, the European Movement in Scotland launches its face the music campaign today. It will be marching down the Royal Mile and will gather outside the Parliament very shortly. The campaign is about the impact of Brexit on our musicians and the problems that they have in touring Europe. Its petition, which has more than 24,000 signatures, states:

“Music is a central part of our cultural identity; it champions diversity and supports our local communities. We must act now”.

The Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, of which I am convener, has been carrying out an inquiry that has included a session with musicians from the Musicians Union, the RSNO, Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland and Active Events. The RSNO talked about the problems of carnets and cabotage, which have been mentioned. It said:

“We need to access the European labour market to get the very best musicians and keep the national orchestra at an international level, but the combination of low salaries, increased complexity and visa costs is making it extremely difficult to recruit from outside the UK.”

Although it does not believe that it has had an impact to date, it says that

“it is inevitable that, through time, it will.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 16 November 2023; c 28.]

As convener of the committee, I also attend the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly on behalf of this Parliament. The PPA has been discussing how we might take forward some of the issues around Brexit, but no one is talking about doing something for our cultural sector as a whole. The conversation in Europe is very much about youth, mobility and emerging artists—that is, people under the age of 28. Our sector is not going to be looked at in any way in Europe in the near future. While Europe is looking to the east and is more concerned about the threats to the European Union, we are very much being marginalised by Brexit. Our wishes and what we want do not seem to have a high priority in Europe and, quite frankly, I do not blame it.

Alice Black of Bectu said that it is not only about the musicians, because a tour involves technicians, crew, producers, tour and production managers and drivers. We cannot talk about a tour without considering the ancillary staff, who are absolutely vital.

We have also been told that if Denmark or France wants to book a Celtic artist, it is easy to bypass Scotland and programme one from Ireland, which, of course, has its own cultural body. As a small independent nation in Europe with a £9.6 billion surplus, it is able to use its 92 diplomatic and consular offices to support its cultural strategy—we can only look on in awe and envy, but, with luck, we can aspire to that in an independent Scotland.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

That speech summed up the head-in-the-sand approach that the Government takes on these issues. Clare Adamson is keen to talk about Ireland’s strategic approach to its creative sector. Has Screen Ireland or Creative Ireland seen a 10 per cent real-terms cut to its budget since 2014, as we have seen in Scotland as a result of decisions made by her front-bench colleagues? We will perhaps find out in the course of the debate.

I always welcome a debate in the Parliament on culture. In some cases, there is plenty to agree on with the cabinet secretary. We have a shared professional background in creative industries and a shared interest, and I was a member of the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. The cabinet secretary is right to address some of the real concerns that creatives in Scotland face, many of which are shared across the UK and beyond, and I welcome any Government report that seeks to address or resolve those issues. However, I have gone through all 29 pages of the report and, unfortunately, it fails to do so. It is okay to be ambitious about Scotland’s culture and creative industries but, arguably, the Government has had 17 years to be ambitious about Scotland’s creative industries. If it were ambitious about them, we would be debating a success story today; there would not be the sort of speeches that I have heard this afternoon, which have lamented some of the issues that the industry faces.

Covid has, of course, been the industry’s main problem. We can never overestimate the effect that Covid had on the creative arts or people’s ability—financial, physical, health or otherwise—to attend mass gatherings. It is good that footfall is on the rise, but it is clearly still not at the levels that it was at.

In his report, the cabinet secretary rightly identified that rising costs mean that it is more difficult for artists to perform. That is undoubtedly true. The Edinburgh fringe issue is a direct result of that. Anyone trying to perform at the Edinburgh fringe will know that it is fast becoming the exclusive realm of artists who can afford to perform at it, with those who simply cannot afford it being excluded. We cannot let that happen. The fringe must be the nurturing ground for people who have creative talent and ability and a desire to perform, even if not for monetary value. That is disappearing, and it is disappearing fast.

The point has been well made that accommodation costs are among the main costs that arise, and the reduction in available and affordable accommodation has been widely cited as one of the problems. When the Parliament passed legislation to restrict short-term lets, the fringe festival said that that would reduce the affordability and availability of temporary accommodation in the city. We need around 25,000 beds during the festival period to accommodate everyone, and there simply are not enough beds. Once again, it is a shame that the Government is hindering the situation and not helping it. Perhaps we can reflect on that. I would like to hear more about that in the closing speeches.

The sector is in a time of deep crisis. Anyone who speaks to people in our creative sectors knows that that is the reality. That is not talking the sector down; it is about having an honest conversation with the sector. It is telling us right here, right now, that it is struggling. It is telling us that it needs funding. It is telling us that grass-roots organisations are struggling. It is all very well to pontificate about an international strategy and about what we want to do in tartan week, but what about what is happening in Greenock, Gourock, Livingston and the Highlands and Islands? Grass-roots organisations and small local festivals are closing.

In the past couple of weeks, we have heard much about the Aye Write festival. It should not take an intervention from a former First Minister to put that sort of thing on the agenda. There are not enough former First Ministers to take umbrage with the closure of all those festivals. For that reason, the Government needs to have a very serious conversation with grass-roots creatives.

That is not a huge surprise, because, apart from the national funding cuts to the creative sector, local government, which often supplies the majority of local funding, has seen a huge cut in funding. There has been an estimated 20 to 30 per cent cut across different local council areas, which has a massive effect on small local organisations.

What about our tourism sector, which is our biggest asset? I would say that VisitScotland is the standard bearer for Scotland’s culture, but it is set to close all its visitor centres after another £5 million raid on its budget.

On what the cabinet secretary said and some of the speeches that we have heard from the SNP about the EU, Scotland’s average culture spend compares with the lowest in the EU. We do not need independence to resolve that issue; people just need to sit around the Cabinet table and resolve it.

If I had more time, I would talk about the report itself. However, I point members to page 7, which is about the national performance framework and the Scottish Government’s so-called “vision”. It is very clear to everyone who has read the report that it completely misses the mark. I mean no disrespect to the civil servants, who put a lot of work into it. There are a lot of outcomes, there is a lot of ambition and there are a lot of statements of intent, but none of those is measurable. It is a shopping list of box-ticking phrases rather than an actual strategy with actual money behind it.

Will the member take an intervention?

Jamie Greene

I am in my closing seconds, but I look forward to hearing how much money the cabinet secretary is actually going to pump into the sector.

The creatives and artists across Scotland are not pondering the details of the next American tour; they want to know how the Government will support them right here, right now. They want support from the Scottish Government to grow and develop in their communities. We have always punched well above our weight when it comes to international culture, and we will continue to do so, but I would argue that that is despite, not because of, the Government’s strategies.


Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I welcome the publication of “Inspiring Connections: Scotland’s International Culture Strategy 2024-30”, and I encourage everyone in the sector to read it. I also welcome the breadth, quality and depth of Scotland’s cultural offering—we punch well above our weight around the world.

Today, I will make a few comments on music, as a graduate of the world-leading Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which I again congratulate on being ranked sixth in the world. I am also a former professional musician and convener of the cross-party group on music.

We cannot get away from the Brexit question, no matter how much people want to avoid it, and I stress the urgency and importance of rejoining the EU, which is fundamental to the sector. No sector has been more damaged by Brexit than the culture sector—so much so that, as has been mentioned, I have, in conjunction with the European Movement in Scotland, arranged a busk against Brexit day today. To that end, I apologise to members in advance that—as I notified, Presiding Officer—I will need to pop out of the chamber for a short while to welcome the buskers outside the Parliament.

I am also hosting a round-table event tonight with prominent individuals in the music sector, to hear in more detail about their challenges and their ideas to make matters better. Such is the concern that I anticipate that the event will be well attended.

The fact that the UK Government refused concessions by the EU and the fact that the Labour Party continues to support Brexit are noted. I will briefly examine some of the issues.

As has been mentioned, for many musicians, touring is imperative. They are performers first and foremost, and taking their product to other locations and cultures is emotionally fulfilling and builds their audience and brand, yet the additional costs, paperwork and red tape, such as carnets for each country, now act as a real blocker. I have met with bands and larger organisations who are either cutting their touring or stopping it altogether.

There are multiple issues, not just with musicians touring but with trying to welcome them here, as a result of immigration being reserved. How many examples can we cite of musicians having their visas declined, with an outcry ensuing before a change of heart? That damages the profession and our international brand.

We should never forget that our brilliant artists take not just themselves but Scotland to the world. They take to the world Scotland’s brand, which—as I know from primary research that I undertook a few years back—is strong and filled with integrity and quality, and its provenance and authenticity opens doors. Our sense of fairness, ethics and capacity for innovation resonate, too, and all of that shines through in the culture strategy. The Scottish Government has previously noted our egalitarian social values in relation to culture, which is written in our DNA and is another part of Scotland’s story.

Another point to make—I do not know whether it has come through clearly enough in the debate yet—is that musicians, bands and orchestras are all small businesses. We do not often hear them talk about their margins, their cost base and so on, but that is the fact of the matter. In addition to Brexit, therefore, the cost of living crisis—which, of course, has a relationship with Brexit—has affected them hugely. Our music infrastructure is struggling, and I know, given my music contacts, that that is the case across the UK. For example, many of the music venues that operate as small businesses are closing. If, at a local level, musicians cannot perform or tour, how do they sell their product aside from through streaming, which is subject to multiple issues? Thank goodness, therefore, that the SNP has worked so hard to protect the arts.

I openly admit that I can be critical of the Scottish Government on occasion, but I have seen at first hand the determined attempts to protect our music infrastructure via the likes of the youth music initiatives including Sistema Scotland to keep instrumental instruction available and free—I cannot overstate just how important that is—and, of course, to keep our funding commitments.

Some people might not like this, but independence and rejoining the EU are the answer. That is because it is normal to be able to set immigration policies that allow the best and brightest talent to visit our country. It is normal to create embassies that act as a focal point for all our cultural assets and our diaspora. It is normal to take one’s place in the world. When a country has such a strong brand as Scotland has, it is positively abnormal to want to diminish that by clouding it under something else.

More important, and related to what I said about business, it is normal to have the power to create funds—to create hypothecated taxes, for example—and to create tax incentives. That is a really important point. When people claim that we could be doing something, they do not give examples related to the limited powers that this Parliament has.

It is normal for a country to decide how much money it spends in what ways and on what priorities. I would love to hear someone in this debate who is saying that we should spend more money on this area set out what they would propose cutting to get that increase in spend. I very rarely hear that from the Opposition.

It is normal and highly desirable to encourage and support diversity in music and the arts. I will never forget the difference that it made when musicians, many of whom were from the EU, joined our Scottish orchestras. The new sounds, especially in the strings but across many sections of the orchestras, made a huge difference.

Given the limitations on budget, macroeconomic powers and immigration, and given the madness of Brexit, it is a miracle that our arts and culture and creative sectors thrive in the way that they do. I salute them all and encourage them to read the strategy and to imagine what could be.

I remind members that we have no time in hand.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

We are having this debate on Scotland’s international cultural strategy at a time when artists, writers and film makers have expressed their fears for the future of Scottish culture following the closures of a film project, a book festival and an arts magazine within days of one other.

I am very passionate about local arts and engage regularly with an independent theatre in my constituency, as well as with other arts groups and enterprises. I absolutely agree that the arts and culture sector is incredibly important not only for the benefits that it provides for participants in enriching their lives but from a business point of view and for the contribution that the sector makes to our economy.

However, let us be clear: there are serious issues and concerns across the sector in Scotland. The Musicians Union has sent a brief for today’s debate, and I believe that it is important that its points are put on the record. It reiterates the point that

“the international cultural strategy is welcome”

and that it is important that the value of Scotland’s arts and culture industries is recognised and celebrated by Government. However, the union argues that the strategy glosses over concerns about culture strategy at home. It states:

“Unfortunately, this strategy is heavy on aspiration and light on detail—and crucially funding.”

The key points from the Musicians Union are that the strategy rightly notes that

“public sector support”

for arts and culture

“has been under pressure”

but does little to address specifically how the aspirations in the strategy will be funded and delivered. National performance companies continue to cut their touring in Scotland, and the idea that they will find resources and capacity to increase international touring on the back of those warm words is optimistic.

When Scottish Ballet tours internationally, it will often leave the orchestra at home, depriving musicians of work and income. National performance companies, which have faced a 20 per cent real-terms cut in the past 10 years, have been offered a 3 per cent inflationary uplift in the 2024-25 budget. Although the uplift is welcome, it does not come close to reflecting the cuts that they have faced.

The additional £100 million per year for arts and culture over the next five years, which was announced by the First Minister last year, is welcome, but it should be viewed in the context of standstill budgets over the past decade or more and as a restoration of funding. Musicians Union analysis has shown that Scottish Ballet has the lowest ballet orchestra rate in the UK, that Scottish Opera has the lowest opera orchestra rate and that the RSNO has the second-lowest tutti rate. Only the RSNO is a full-time employed orchestra. For the national performing companies, there should be an aspiration to do better.

Creative Scotland also faces static budgets and huge demand for its multiyear funding and open funding programmes. Demand has grown substantially since the pandemic, but resource has not kept pace. Insecurity of work, precarious funding and comparably poor pay must be addressed if the Scottish Government is to meet its commitments to fair work and the wellbeing economy and the aspirations of a culture strategy for Scotland.

The Scottish Government should be focusing on tangible actions that will directly impact the working lives of musicians and artists. “A Cultural Strategy for Scotland: Action Plan”, which was published last year, was too inward looking, focusing on Government actions, and “Inspiring Connections: Scotland’s International Culture Strategy 2024-30” lacks detail on how the strategy will be delivered. The sector reference group should include representatives of all the creative industry trade unions to ensure that the worker voice is fairly represented.

I urge the Government to listen to people in the sector. I do not believe that anyone will disagree with the vision that is set out in the strategy, which is that the Scottish culture and creative sector should be globally connected, with the means and opportunities to achieve its international ambitions and potential and to contribute to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing through its international work. The problem is that a strategy without sustained resources is just another publication to add to the many publications from this Government that will gather dust on the shelf, deliver very little of the ambition and amount to no more than rhetoric and wishful thinking.


Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on Scotland’s international culture strategy. Scotland and its worldwide connections have been on my mind recently, and I think that our international strategy is important.

I was lucky enough to be invited by the Presiding Officer to spend some time during the recess as part of the Parliament’s delegation to the tartan day celebrations in New York. Tartan day is a chance for people around the world to celebrate their connections to Scotland. The first tartan day was celebrated in Canada in 1987, and the event is now marked annually around the world. With streets closed for the parade, pipers and dancers, tartan on every corner and even a model Empire State building built from Scottish shortbread, I was left in no doubt about Scotland’s place on the global stage. The atmosphere was electric, with people celebrating everything Scottish, and it was amazing to see the number of people closer to home who had come to New York to celebrate with us.

I must give a special shout-out to the Vikings from Shetland. It was great to meet them and their families and friends and to see so many of them in New York. I have their badge on today.

The theme of the Government’s strategy is “inspiring connections”. Indeed, our connections are strong and global. We accompanied actor Dougray Scott, the grand marshal of the tartan day parade, who recently presented a BBC documentary on Scotland’s role in creating modern football.

The documentary also starred the world’s oldest surviving football, found in the rafters of Stirling castle, which was made around 1540. It now resides in the Stirling Smith museum and if people get a chance to come and see the football, I can tell them that it would not be allowed in the game today.

That example of our part in a global phenomenon is illustrative of a general theme in Scotland’s contribution to arts and culture. Creative Scotland and the British Council undertook a two-part research project called “To See Ourselves” and “As Others See Us”, which aimed to understand how the sector is perceived both internally and externally. The project found that the culture and arts sector is recognised both at home and overseas as ambitious and driven, and as punching above its weight on an international stage. Innovation was cited often, especially in relation to site-specific arts and the unexpected use of venues.

I can think of several examples of that in my constituency, from the City Walls bar, which is built into the city walls, to Creative Stirling’s latest endeavour in an old water mill in Killin. There are venues with stunning backdrops—for example, the Summer Sessions that are billed for Stirling will have the castle setting the scene. I remember seeing REM at Stirling castle, and it was one of those amazing memories that will stay with me for ever.

Who can forget the exciting and challenging finishing line that the climb up to Stirling castle provided during the UCI—Union Cycliste Internationale—cycling world championships? As well as cultural gains, that event brought around £4.5 million into the Stirling area—another example of the economic benefits of Scotland playing host to international events. As convener of the cross-party group on tourism, that makes me very proud. Those beautiful landscapes and urban environments are key cultural assets and a real driver for visitors.

On my recent trip to New York, I was also struck by the strong emotional connections that many people have to Scotland. As with the Scottish connections framework, we welcome anyone who feels a connection to Scotland, no matter who they are. We are an open and welcoming nation, and it is great to see the Scottish Government promote those connections.

As Angus Robertson highlighted recently, more and more people are taking DNA tests to establish the story of their ancestry. As a result, more African Americans are learning that they, too, have Scottish connections. Some of those connections might be a result of Scotland’s role in the transatlantic trade of enslaved people, so it is vital that we work to understand and address any negative historical impact.

I am glad to see the links being addressed and their future potential celebrated through a strategy that aims for an internationally connected and diverse culture sector that contributes positively to people and communities. Those connections have a positive impact on our economy. VisitScotland says that the American visitor market to Scotland made a strong recovery following the pandemic, surpassing pre-pandemic levels for both visits and spend. Scotland was the only UK region to record an increase in visitors from North America last summer. In 2022, American visitors spent nearly £1.2 billion here. Our culture and arts sector provides a great deal to us and our visitors and we must do everything that we can to allow it to flourish.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to increasing funding to the culture and creative sector by £15.8 million in the next financial year. That resource will allow our culture sector to continue to flourish and inspire even more and greater connections worldwide. That is good for Scotland, our cultural links worldwide and our growing economy.

I call Fulton MacGregor, to be followed by Jackson Carlaw, to speak for up to six minutes, and I ask members to stick to their speaking time allocations.


Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I appreciate your calling me to speak, Presiding Officer, because I was a last-minute addition to the list of members who are speaking in the debate, which I am absolutely delighted to do.

I was at the REM gig at Stirling castle that Evelyn Tweed mentioned. I think that it was actually my first gig—I was 19 at the time—and it was a really good event. Evelyn Tweed talked about her constituency and how well some of the cultural stuff is doing. On Friday, I tried to make a last-minute booking for the kids at the Bannockburn experience—I think that Bannockburn is in her constituency—but found it fully booked up. That is a good sign generally, although not for me on that particular day.

Three weeks ago, the Scottish Government published “Inspiring Connections: Scotland’s International Culture Strategy 2024-30”. The strategy is an outward-looking one that seeks to develop and advance Scotland’s excellent creative sector by way of international collaboration and engagement. Currently, Scotland’s culture sector employs 155,000 people, who, in 2020, contributed £4.4 billion to Scotland’s economy. Of all registered businesses in Scotland, 7.5 per cent are registered as part of the creative industries growth sector.

Scotland punches well above its weight on the international cultural stage. Our Celtic Connections and fringe festivals bring a huge number of tourists to Scotland annually. Music, film, theatre, video games, literature and performing arts are just a few of the cultural areas where Scotland has excelled globally.

Every member in the chamber will have cultural assets in their constituencies, and we have already heard about many of them. For example, in my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston, the television studio facility Nightsky Studios opened last year. In relation to that multi-studio film and TV complex, it has been asserted that

“Scotland has been at the forefront of storytelling culture throughout history”,

and that the best storytelling technology should be based in

“its natural home, in Scotland.”

It is that sort of attitude that has resulted in our cultural sector being so successful.

I recently visited Nightsky Studios, and I received a warm welcome. I see that the cabinet secretary is nodding, so perhaps he has had some contact with the people there, too. I think that he would be fascinated by a visit, and I encourage him to do that if possible.

With such a rich, diverse and vibrant sector in our country, it is important that we devise a strategy that will best suit the sector’s needs and allow it to flourish. As we have heard, the strategy was born out of a consultation that was launched in early 2023 that sought to gather views on sectoral needs, aspirations and motivations in terms of international activity in order to shape the strategy. Respondents overwhelmingly underlined the globally interconnected way in which the Scottish culture sector operates today. Although many respondents noted that their cultural endeavours have global reach, Europe and North America are the most common regions for international activity.

With that in mind, recent years have shown the tremendous obstacles that events such as Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s on-going cost of living crisis have inflicted on our culture sector. Those events have undoubtedly curtailed the sector’s ability to engage internationally. The recognition of the international collaboration that happens within our cultural organisations and the need for improved resilience in the face of challenges such as the ones that I have just mentioned are the two key tenets that have shaped the three goals of the strategy.

Those goals are: to foster

“An innovative, more sustainable and economically stronger culture and creative sector”;

to invest in

“An internationally connected and diverse culture and creative sector that contributes positively to people and communities”;

and to advance

“An enhanced international reputation for culture and creativity, including Scotland’s response”

to the various global challenges that have been mentioned.

The strategy is not inert and has been devised to be adaptable to any future constitutional changes. The Scottish Government’s paper “Building a New Scotland: Culture in an independent Scotland”, which was published last February, sets out how independence would open new avenues to support international cultural activity, including visa powers and access to transformative EU and United Nations programmes. For example, the European Education and Culture Executive Agency offers a multibillion euro grant scheme via its creative Europe programme.

The strategy also recognises the need for organisations to have skills, knowledge, expertise and networking opportunities if they are to thrive in an international context. On that point, the largest structural obstacle by far is the UK’s exit from the EU. I am sure that even colleagues on the Conservative benches would agree that Scotland’s culture sector would be greatly enriched if Scotland had full powers over migration and employment and were to return to the EU single market.

There is little confidence that the Tories or Labour at Westminster have plans to reverse the untold damage caused by Brexit, but the SNP will continue to advocate for the sector by urging the UK Government to organise visa-free arrangements for touring artists; by facilitating cultural export and exchange through programmes such as the festivals expo fund; by promoting access to international platforms such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and by advocating for renewed connections with the EU, such as by pushing for a return to its creative Europe programme, which I mentioned.

I have outlined the importance of international connections in our cultural sector, but the strategy can only succeed with real investment. That is why I was pleased to see the Scottish Government increase cultural and creative funding by nearly £16 million to bring the total funding this year to just under £200 million. That investment is the beginning of the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase that funding by at least £100 million by 2029. As well as that increased funding, ensuring that the strategy is successful will be monitored via an on-going review process.

The strategy applies from 2024 to 2030, and it will be delivered in close collaboration with the Scottish Government, international networks, national bodies and the strategic cross-organisational partnership board Scotland. As well as those collaborative efforts, it will also closely align with work to implement the recent Scottish co-ordination framework—

You need to conclude now, Mr MacGregor.

—which seeks to engage with Scotland’s wide and vibrant global diaspora. I have a bit more to say, Presiding Officer—

You are not going to be able to say it, Mr MacGregor. I now call Jackson Carlaw to be followed by Keith Brown. You have up to six minutes, Mr Carlaw.


Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Please, God, spare the arts from politicians. I was so full of enthusiasm at the prospect of this debate. When I heard before the recess that we were going to be debating culture after years of neglect, I said to my team to put me down for it because I really want to be in a debate where we celebrate, nurture and encourage Scotland’s arts. I was so hopeful. The cabinet secretary has written an uplifting, enlightened and inspiring book about Vienna, where Mozart performed—Vienna, the home of Schubert, Gustav Klimt and the Spanish Riding School. I was so full of hope and expectation.

I cannot therefore believe, having read this dry-as-dust document, that it is the cabinet secretary’s own work. It does not sparkle, as did his book on Vienna. This is the dead hand of civil servants falling on the arts and is a complete travesty of the ambition and enterprise that we would hope to see. It is a polemic on independence and Brexit. It is Stalinist in its direction of the arts. It says, “You will celebrate climate change and you will talk about our colonial past”.

I do not want the arts to be told what to do. If artists want to discuss, celebrate or perform those issues, I want them to do it organically. I do not expect the Government to tell them any more than I expect it to tell them about tractor production factory figures. That is not what politicians should be doing. As I have pointed out, in 29 pages, our five national companies are mentioned in a footnote on page 3, which simply says what they are.

The strategy does not talk, as Clare Adamson did, about the enormous contribution that Scottish Opera has made with its productions of “Ainadamar” and “Il trittico” directed by Sir David McVicar, which are now being performed in different continents of the planet. It does not talk about the work that we are seeing being done by other production companies. I hope that Scottish Opera will perform in the Parliament later in the year, as will the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

It does not talk about the pressure on the Edinburgh festival. I heard Brexit mentioned time and again. I have here the programme for the Edinburgh festival, which includes major companies from Germany, Amsterdam, Berlin, France and Ireland. I remember the debates that we had on Brexit in the previous parliamentary session. None of them were going to be coming. They were all going to be unable to perform here in the United Kingdom, and here they are all coming.

Will the member give way?

Jackson Carlaw

I recognise the on-going challenges that there are as a result of Brexit, but major companies are overcoming those challenges to come here and our major companies are overcoming those challenges to go elsewhere.

As Michelle Thomson said, there are far smaller companies that we want to encourage and nurture, so let us work together because I think that we probably all generally agree that we want to see a visa scheme for the arts to ensure that as many companies can perform wherever they need to perform around Europe.

I give way to the cabinet secretary.

Angus Robertson

Will Jackson Carlaw perhaps spare a second to reflect on a specific suggestion? He might not like the wording—it might not sparkle enough—but it is an important and deliverable suggestion that there should be a support service for cultural export and exchange. None of his colleagues have yet mentioned that. The suggestion comes from the sector, and we are very interested in delivering it. Will he and his colleagues welcome that suggestion?

Jackson Carlaw

I am happy to work with the cabinet secretary on such matters, but he should also understand that, as well as Brexit, the changes in rent arrangements on short-term lets are having an impact on the ability of artists to come and perform here. Although I do not want to dwell on it, because it is a controversial subject, we have heard from artists who are concerned that other recent legislation might inhibit their performance.

We know that there could be a potential tourist tax. That, too, could have an impact on our arts and crafts sector. The Aye Write festival being cancelled, as Neil Bibby said, is a dangerous sign.

Yes, the UK Government has intervened with the theatre tax. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber said that it is a once-in-a-generation transformational change that will ensure that Britain remains the global capital of creativity, as has the director of the James Bond films “Skyfall” and “Spectre”, Sir Sam Mendes.

What we lost the opportunity to do in the previous session of Parliament, which I hope that we can yet recover, is to capitalise on the opportunity that there is in the modern streaming sector for film and television, when we failed to back the Pentland integrated film studios initiative. We need an integrated film studio here in Scotland—not just studio capacity, but post-production and the ability to see, from soup to nuts, major film productions produced here in Scotland.

We have the scenery and the talent, and in the creative arts sector, as Clare Adamson’s visit to the Scottish Opera production studios demonstrates, we have the ability to create a whole flourishing employment sector for young people in the creative arts in Scotland, so we need to get behind that.

I realise that time is short, Presiding Officer.

“Do you hear the people sing?”
Singing the songs of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!”

People do not want the creative arts to be told by Government what they want to do.

Alex Cole-Hamilton will be thrilled that the UK Government has backed the Edinburgh film theatre. Our former colleague Donald Cameron was there just a few weeks ago with £1.5 million of money to open it up.

I want the international audience to be moved by Scottish song. I want them to be marvelling at Scottish dance, to be inspired by Scottish acting, to be challenged by Scottish paint and sculpture, and to be provoked by Scottish writing. Let us not lead the artists—let the artists lead us. Our job is to back them, not to direct them. They do not need pamphlets. They need practical support, and that is what this Parliament should be celebrating and delivering.

Keith Brown is the final speaker in the open debate.


Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

It is a point of consensus, I think, that Scotland has always been one of the world’s most culturally identifiable and, indeed, most culturally prolific countries. Because of that, huge affinity with Scotland is felt around the world. As has been mentioned, the report is the first to outline Scotland’s international culture strategy for the future, but it also outlines where we are now and it shows clearly that devolution has allowed Scotland to formalise that affinity, to turn it into a relationship between Scotland and those around the world who have an interest in Scotland, and to use it for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

Much of the debate has—perhaps inevitably—centred on funding. I give no credibility whatsoever to those who argue that we should be spending more money on culture—and spending more money on transport, health and education—but who at the same time gleefully accept cuts from the Westminster Government or attack the Scottish Government’s tax-raising initiatives. There is no credibility in taking that position.

It is also true to say—given the constrained environment that we all find ourselves in—that it is worth our while to look for ways in which additional finance could be raised. The only member who has done that is Michelle Thomson. I, too, would like to suggest a couple of things. The first is a plea to the cabinet secretary to ensure that imagination informs what we do—which is one of the points that Jackson Carlaw, I think, made. It would be useful to hear the cabinet secretary confirm that he is willing to push the various agencies that are involved—I am talking about Historic Scotland, VisitScotland and so on—to make the most of the assets that we have.

I will give a couple of examples of those assets. About 20 years ago, I was, believe it or not, responsible for taking the Wallace sword—or the “Braveheart” sword—to New York, as we sought to exploit the aftermath of the movie, although I understood that if the sword was lost I could never return to Scotland. It was hugely well received and there were queues around the block of people coming into Grand Central terminal to see it. Afterwards, the benefits from that meant that the renovation works that were needed at the Wallace monument were basically funded by increased visitor numbers because of the interest that the sword and—of course—the movie had created. I think that such things could be done in many more areas.

In the mid-1980s, I wrote to British Telecom, which had then been newly privatised and was £2 billion in profit. I suggested that it buy the house in which Alexander Graham Bell was born—which is only a stone’s throw from Bute house in the new town—and develop it. I suggested that it perhaps use telecommunications—or whatever it is called these days—students to explain to people the development of the technology that had allowed Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi to do what they did with the invention of the telephone, and that it use an international pool of people who could come to do that. There are two visitor centres for Alexander Graham Bell in Canada and one in the United States, but he was born in Edinburgh, where that has not been exploited, although it could be. The same applies to John Logie Baird and what he achieved—albeit that he did it when he was in London. There is massive potential for us to capitalise on such things.

As the committee heard, there are buildings all round the country, that for a variety of reasons, provoke niche interest around the world, including clan-based interests. I do not think that we are properly exploiting them, but if we did, perhaps by niche advertising, we could massively increase the number of visitors to Scotland and to those buildings and sites. That, in turn, could help to fund development when it is very hard for the Scottish Government find the money for that.

It might not be the done thing to say this in a debate about culture, but given the constrained financial circumstances that we find ourselves in, a more imaginative commercial approach could pay dividends. The money that would be raised could fund other initiatives and free up money to do some of the things that have been mentioned in the debate.

The Edinburgh festival and the fringe festival have been mentioned. I was born in Edinburgh and have been going to festival and fringe events for more than 40 years, but there is more to Scotland than Edinburgh and lots of other parts of Scotland also need investment. We must confront the choices that have to be made because of financial constraints. There is no point in imagining that that is not an issue. Other parts of Scotland must have their say. I want to see the festival, the fringe and the various other festivals that go along with them, prosper. We all do, but we must also acknowledge that there are other parts of Scotland.

Jamie Greene made a comparison with Ireland, but there are pretty big differences that help to explain the different approaches. First, Ireland has a budget surplus. It would be nice to have billions of pounds of budget surplus. Also, Ireland has not had to deal with Brexit, but is a member of the European Union and it is, of course, independent.

If members want to see the effect of that, they should look at the effect that Brexit has had on people from Scotland’s ability to tour across the EU. We have heard many examples already. Our space has been taken up by Irish initiatives. The committee heard that it is often the case that Scottish artists get to go to Europe only because Irish artists are willing to help them to get across—in particular, to Germany but also to venues in other countries. In my view, that shows the benefit of being part of the EU and of being independent. Some acknowledgement of that would have helped the debate.

The committee has heard evidence about the long-lasting effects of Brexit on artists whose careers have been put in jeopardy because of their inability to get into European countries, which happens for various practical reasons that we have heard about—mainly visas, but also cost and other difficulties. It will be very hard to reverse that and it will take a long time.

Will the member accept an intervention?

The member must conclude.

Keith Brown

I am about to conclude.

If we want to have a real debate, we should all start from the same place—understanding the financial pressures and not pretending that they do not exist, or that they exist in Wales but not in Scotland. We must start from an honest place if we want the sector to thrive.

We move to the winding-up speeches.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

As we have heard today, Scotland’s culture and creative sectors are world class. As Michelle Thomson said,

“we punch well above our weight”

when it comes to influence and global recognition, whether in our world-leading festivals and our food and arts sectors.

International cultural engagement can bring a world of benefit to Scotland. As Alex Cole-Hamilton said, our vibrant and diverse culture attracts tourists from around the globe. An international strategy can deepen relationships with our international partners and increase opportunities for collaboration. Many members have said that we should welcome the importance of international engagement to Scotland’s cultural sector.

The struggles that are faced by touring artists since Brexit are noted. As Clare Adamson pointed out, the increased regulation and costs that are associated with touring are hurting artists and making Scotland less attractive as a cultural destination. If cultural collaboration is to remain strong, the regulations that are placed on artists and creatives must be made simpler. As my colleague Neil Bibby said, a UK Labour Government will push for a touring agreement with the EU to keep Scotland as a premier place for global talent.

Will the member take an intervention?

Foysol Choudhury

I will in a minute. I have a lot to go through.

Today, however, the warm platitudes that the culture sector is given do not reflect the situation on the ground. Last year, the Scotland + Venice project, which facilitates Scotland’s participation in the Venice biennale, had its funding paused by the Scottish Government. The project’s mission statement is that it will

“promote the best of contemporary art and architecture from Scotland on the world stage”,

but it has had to petition the Scottish Parliament to fight for its participation in that international festival. That does not align with the sentiment of the Government’s motion or the strategy.

The Scottish Government has neglected the culture sector for too long and the sector is feeling the effects of that. Meghan Gallacher mentioned the 10 per cent cut to Creative Scotland; there have also been standstill budgets for our national performing companies, and funding has been pulled from Edinburgh Deaf Festival. None of that points to a Government that appreciates the value of Scotland’s deep and rich culture or to one that wishes to make it accessible for all.

As the cabinet secretary, Angus Robertson, said, the sector has been hit with various pressures in recent years, but we must understand that it is during such times that Government co-operation is key. In Edinburgh, the Filmhouse will be able to reopen its doors after getting an award from the UK Government’s community ownership fund, and the King’s theatre has received funding that will go towards making that facility accessible for all. Those projects will mean revitalisation of a community hub and they will mean culture being made accessible to people who were previously shut out. They are examples of what we could achieve if the Scottish Government were to fully support the sector.

Scottish cultural institutions must have sustainable and predictable funding, and should not have to rely on philanthropy in order for them to operate. As my colleague Neil Bibby said, if we want our culture to continue to be strong abroad, we must have a strong culture sector domestically. The extra funding that will be available for culture over the next five years will help to support the sector, but the work must not stop there. We cannot allow one of our greatest assets to be let down by SNP inaction. That is why Scottish Labour’s amendment calls on the Scottish Government

“to convene an urgent summit with the culture sector to discuss how to protect and support Scotland’s festivals”

over the coming years. As Neil Bibby outlined, Scottish Labour is committed to using the culture sector to grow Scotland’s soft power globally.

The focus on promoting Scottish culture and the recognition of the importance of international collaboration are welcome. However, as has been made clear today, if we are to be strong internationally, we must support the culture sector at home.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am pleased to close on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I will support the amendment in the name of Meghan Gallacher.

When it comes to the culture sector, Scotland is truly able to punch above its weight on the world stage. We have heard that today from many members. Culture is a fantastic area; the international footprint of Scotland is renowned and continues to be so. We have heard comments about Brexit, but international individuals are still coming to Scotland and we are still sending people to other parts of the world. I look forward to seeing that continue.

The Scottish Government’s international culture strategy follows publication of its 2020 culture strategy. The strategy includes the opportunity that the Government wants to promote. It is the first time the Government has published an international cultural strategy of this kind. I welcome the fact that, today, in our debate, we get the chance to talk about the positives of the sector.

Certain aspects of the strategy—for example, the value of the international cultural exchanges and knowledge exchanges, and the engagement with the cultures of many countries—are vitally important. The strategy talks about the bodies that we have in Scotland, including Creative Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland and the British Council in Scotland. All those have important parts to play, along with Historic Environment Scotland, which looks after hundreds of significant sites across the country. We know that many of those sites have suffered of late because of the pandemic, but they are now starting to develop and move forward.

The strategy highlights the generation of £4.4 billion for Scotland’s economy and support for nearly 70,000 jobs across Scotland. That is good for us and good for the sector. It is important that we analyse that and look at what we can achieve, as we go forward.

As I said, the pandemic had a massive impact, as the sector told us when it came to committee. It talked about areas of concern and the closures and difficulties that it has to deal with. The Government has had to listen to that, and we have to acknowledge it when we talk about what is happening in the process. Conservative members understand the importance of the sector and the opportunities that we need to give it to ensure that we continue to have fantastic worldwide potential that expands and goes forward.

We have heard many contributions to the debate. The cabinet secretary talked about the importance of the cultural sector, funding and the realisation that we need to have opportunities. However, they need to be funded. He has heard, as we all have, that there are still areas of real concern across the sector.

My colleague Meghan Gallacher talked about the deep-rooted culture in this country and our need for a business model that is successful and inspiring. VisitScotland has a chance to do things, but closing its information centres is the wrong direction to go in and the wrong message to send out to our communities and the world at large. Funding is vitally important.

Neil Bibby talked about a sector that is struggling. He said that it has had a crisis and a perfect storm. We on the committee have also heard that. People have come forward and told us about the power that we have, the way in which it is managed, and the fundamental problems that the sector faces. All those issues are important.

The convener spoke about Scottish Opera and the RSNO. They are great, but—as was alluded to—they are footnotes in the strategy. That needs to be looked at. We cannot talk from the rafters about the things that we have if we do not give them our full support. I am inspired by those organisations because they work really hard to achieve on many of the issues—sometimes, with one hand tied behind their back.

Jamie Greene gave a good speech about how the Scottish Government cannot put its head in the sand: it cannot blame other people. It has been running the country for 17 years. The running costs of the Edinburgh fringe, its affordability for performers and the availability of accommodation are very important to any organisation. The Government has heard from the grass roots about where we are on that, and about how cutting funding for local government has had a massive impact on many sectors.

Jackson Carlaw gave a passionate speech, as we would expect, and showed where the priorities should be and how we should realise them. We have five phenomenal national companies that give us opportunities and real pride, but they need to be supported, as do the ideas that we are trying to achieve in the coming years.

It is worth looking at our international culture strategy. I repeat many of the things that have been said in the debate. The Scottish Government has a role to play in that. The strategy boldly claims that independence would open new opportunities. We have heard that many times before. In reality, we know that that could be an issue when it comes to funding. The United Kingdom’s international influence and its broad financial shoulders could be risked in that process. We already know that.

It is right that the Parliament debates what Scotland’s fantastic culture sector is built on. It has a worldwide reputation. However, the strategy fails to show the ambition that the culture sector wants and needs, following years of being treated as an afterthought. At the moment, the Government is playing with some of that; it is attempting to show that there are opportunities, but at the same time it is giving individuals, companies and organisations a difficult strategy to manage.

I want to see ambition, but that ambition needs to be realised and to have opportunities behind it. It cannot be the strategy that makes things happen; the public and the processes need to make them happen.

The creative sector is innovative and sustainable, and it has a strong cultural impact, but the Government must turn that narrative into reality. It must provide support and put its money where its mouth is if it is going to ensure that the strategy, our culture and the environment around it are to succeed. We want all that to happen, and we have the ability to make it happen, but it needs to be endorsed by the Government and the Parliament. If we can do that, success will breed success.


Angus Robertson

Before I respond to the points raised, I thank all members who contributed to this afternoon’s debate, which I think has been positive. I also thank all the cultural organisations and individuals from across Scotland who contributed to the development of the strategy.

The knowledge and expertise of those working in our culture and creative sectors is, as ever, invaluable in ensuring that the proposals that we take forward have the interests of the sector at their heart. That is exactly what this document is—it is a product of co-operative working between the Scottish Government and the cultural sector.

As I noted in my opening speech, creativity is critical in finding new ways to build international partnerships and in building on our international cultural links, which is a priority for the Scottish Government. We remain an open and outward-looking country where people from around the world can come to enjoy our wonderful and unique music scene. We want our creative professionals and organisations to be able to take their work to audiences and markets around the world and to build those partnerships.

Our culture is informed and inspired by our global connections. The experience and knowledge gained by travelling to other countries is important, but the skills that are developed through collaboration and special friendships deepen that understanding. Those principles underpin our international culture strategy.

The starting point for this work was always the needs and interests of Scotland’s cultural and creative organisations and professionals in their international engagement. The development of the strategy was informed by in-depth consultation and engagement with stakeholders throughout the sector, drawing on their knowledge and direct experience of the impacts that international activity can have and the barriers that exist to developing it.

As we work to deliver the strategy, we will continue to collaborate closely with stakeholders to ensure that activity under it reflects their priorities and that there is joint ownership.

Will the member take an intervention?

Angus Robertson

I have not even got to my feedback on Mr Bibby’s contribution, so I will give him an opportunity to intervene after I do that.

The Scottish Government is also making resources available to carry out the work. We have committed to increasing funding to the culture and creative sectors by £100 million by 2028-29.

A number of members raised specific queries about the recovery and flourishing of the culture sector. Given the challenges, discussions with cultural organisations are on-going constantly—including with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. We take all those concerns seriously, but we also take the opportunity to echo the predictions of, among others, Shona McCarthy, who talked on the radio this morning about her confidence that this year’s fringe will be a tremendous event. We remain seized of the need to ensure that it continues long into the future.

I did not take the opportunity to welcome Meghan Gallacher to her place as her party’s spokesperson on culture; I look forward to working with her in the years ahead. She made no mention of the fact that the Scottish Government is increasing funding for culture, in contrast with the UK Government, which is cutting the budget of the department that is responsible for culture by more than 25 per cent—not even the Labour cuts to culture in Wales get anywhere close to that. Unfortunately, if we look at the record, as opposed to the rhetoric, of the Opposition parties in the chamber, we see that they never confront the fact that their record on culture funding is, frankly, appalling.

Similarly disappointingly, nothing was said about the strategic proposals in the document, including those from the sector, for the development of a support service for cultural export and exchange.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I am glad that we heard that from members on the Conservative back benches. Perhaps Meghan Gallacher would now like to confirm it from their front bench.

Meghan Gallacher

The point that I was trying to make in my contribution was that there is not enough emphasis on what we need to do domestically, here in Scotland. Support from the Government is exactly what our culture sector needs. The cabinet secretary has heard that right across the speeches in the debate. What will he do to make improvements here instead of focusing outwards?

Angus Robertson

Unlike Meghan Gallacher, I have the ambition to promote Scottish culture internationally as well as domestically. One way to do that is by introducing a support service for cultural export and exchange. I think that Ms Gallacher has now had two or three opportunities to confirm whether her party would support that, but we still are none the wiser.

The issue of Creative Europe has also been raised and has yet to be answered. Neil Bibby wanted to intervene earlier. Perhaps he will now clarify whether an incoming Labour Government will accede to membership of Creative Europe.

Neil Bibby

The cabinet secretary might pontificate, but what people want to hear from him is a response to the call for an urgent summit on festivals. Some festivals are being cancelled and others are under threat. The sector has called for the Scottish Government to hold an urgent summit on funding for our festivals this year. Will the cabinet secretary hold that summit—yes or no? That is what people in the sector want to hear.

Angus Robertson

After seeking clarification from the Labour Party for the second time—or perhaps it is the third—on whether an incoming Labour Government would seek to rejoin Creative Europe, we still have absolutely no answer.

I am pleased that Alex Cole-Hamilton’s party will support the Government’s motion. It is a sensible motion that everybody should buy into, not least because the strategy has been developed with the culture sector.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Angus Robertson

No, I will not.

We will continue to develop the strategy with the sector in the future.

Clare Adamson mentioned feedback from Scottish Opera, which is one of the big hitters and one of the jewels in our cultural firmament. Its ambition to work more internationally is one that I whole-heartedly support.

Jamie Greene spoke about Creative Scotland but, sadly, failed to acknowledge its strengthened financial position, which has happened since he left the committee. Perhaps he has just not been reading the updates on all that.

I say to Michelle Thomson that it is excellent to hear a colleague with such a professional cultural background making interventions and highlighting the real damage that Brexit has caused.

Alex Rowley welcomed the international culture strategy, which is a good thing. I stress again that it is crucial to have domestic cultural recovery and support. We have to do both. It is not about having one or the other—it is about both.

Evelyn Tweed rightly highlighted the advantages of the cultural and economic benefits that we derive from international engagement, whether it be through tartan day—or tartan week, as it is now becoming—or through sporting events such as the UCI championships.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Angus Robertson

Forgive me, but I do not have enough time.

Fulton MacGregor suggested that I should visit the Nightsky studio in Coatbridge. I have already done so. I agree that it presents a positive reflection of the massive growth of the screen sector.

Sadly, Jackson Carlaw clearly had not even made it to page 3 of the strategy, which talks about Scotland’s five national performing companies. I am sorry that he does not know what those companies are. They are the National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra—

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Angus Robertson

No, I will not.

They also include Scottish Ballet, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Opera. Mr Carlaw should use his time a little more constructively. I am delighted that he has read my book on Vienna, but perhaps he should read the strategy that we are debating.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Angus Robertson

No, I do not have enough time.

I stress again that the strategy has been developed with the sector; it is not a top-down exercise.

Keith Brown made two specific suggestions. The first was that we should have imagination and that our agencies that are involved in supporting the arts, whether that be Historic Environment Scotland, Creative Scotland or others, should be imaginative in delivering and thinking new thoughts about how we can support the sector. I absolutely agree with him and look forward to working with them. Many initiatives are already under way, and we could support many more. Secondly, Mr Brown underlined a point that must lie close to the hearts of MSPs representing the broadest of swathes of Scotland, which is that we need culture to flourish in all parts of the country.

Foysol Choudhury called for a discussion with the sector—and the point was made a number of times by Neil Bibby in interventions—almost suggesting that there is not an on-going discussion with the sector at the present time, but there is an on-going discussion with the sector. It is not about headline grabbing; it is about meeting day in, day out and week in, week out, talking about the challenges that the sector faces.

I must ask you to conclude, cabinet secretary.

Angus Robertson

I can confirm that we are already having that discussion, and we will continue with it.

To finish on Alexander Stewart’s summing-up speech, Mr Stewart welcomed the international culture strategy, and I think that that is a profoundly good thing. We look forward to all parties and all MSPs supporting the promotion of Scotland and its culture internationally. I look forward to Alexander Stewart doing that, and I will be happy to work with him and colleagues in all parties across the chamber in doing just that.

That concludes the debate on Scotland’s international culture strategy.