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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Culture and economic success

THE NEW SNP administration is bringing fresh thinking to some of the established 'truths' of this country, but being a minority government is unable to force its own views through the Parliament. It needs to carry at least one other major party with it on any individual issue. This could well turn out to be a very good way of governing the country.

One of the established 'truths' already gone is the slogan "The Best Small Country in the World", promoted by the last Labour government. This was plastered over all the arrival areas of our airports and many of us found the slogan unhelpful, especially if we had just flown in from demonstrably richer, healthier, smarter small countries such as Iceland, Denmark, or Ireland. It was obviously not true and no amount of promotion could make it so.

But some things are true and they don't need overly exaggerated claims made for them. We are indeed a small country with a tiny capital city in global terms, but for one month each year Edinburgh becomes the undisputed arts capital of the world. The International, Fringe, Film, Book and Art Festivals have been in top gear and with four of the five with new leadership they're showing no signs of middle age.

Between them, the summer festivals contribute at least £135m of tourist income to the Scottish economy.

Indeed, the decision of the Film Festival to move from August to late June is a great example of its organisers' confidence. August in Edinburgh had just become too "noisy" to make the kind of impact a modern film festival needs to shine in a global marketplace. This summer I met a young film maker from London who, until this year, hadn't even been aware that Edinburgh had a world-class film festival

It's often said that tourists don't visit Scotland for the weather and this can only be true of this year. But Edinburgh has developed a world leading brand as a festival city and with its mixture of superb culture and heritage, manageable size and increasingly international travel links it's in a great position to exploit this brand.

As Richard Florida pointed out in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, economic success is closely linked to the amount of creative and cultural activity that flourishes in an economy.

So it is time to look again at our cultural policy. The outgoing Labour government had developed a disappointing Culture Bill which gave too much control to politicians and not enough to creative professionals. That needs to be rethought.

The SNP has offered a helpful £2m extra funding for the development of the summer festivals, but has earmarked the money for "promoting Scottish work", which is exactly the kind of interference politicians with an eye on voters are likely to go for.

However, the best approach to safeguarding the quality of Scottish work is to make sure that the very best of the world's artistic achievements come here to provide competition - for that crucial month at least.

We must effectively promote the festivals to ensure that the capital remains at the top of the world league table.

The rest of the world needs to know they're the best too.

Ian Ritchie was a member of the Cultural Commission. He is a board member of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Edinburgh International Science Festival.

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