TIMES SEEM TO BE pretty tough right now for Scotland’s cultural sector. The difficulties at Scottish Opera have been well publicised — after being refused a bail-out from the Executive, it has sacked its chorus and withdrawn from all productions for the 2005/06 season. In Edinburgh, one of the country’s best known and loved theatres, the Kings, may also go ‘dark’ for the first six months of each year as a result of another funding crisis.
But if these are the answers, then surely we need to rethink the questions. After all, what is the point of tying up capital in the form of an empty theatre building or an opera company’s infrastructure, if they aren’t actually mounting any productions?
Make no mistake about it, the provision of cultural and heritage activities in Scotland is a key part of our economy. Far from being the icing on the cake, the impact of our creative sector forms a decent slice of the economic cake itself. The tourism industry, for example, brings in around £7.4bn a year and a fair proportion of that gets spent on culture and heritage activities. After all, people do not visit Scotland for our weather.
The various festivals are all going from strength to strength and Edinburgh has just won the world’s first ‘City of Literature’ status. Both the world’s top-selling computer game, Grand Theft Auto, and the world’s top-selling book series, Harry Potter, hail from Scotland.
And all of this creative activity is of vital economic importance, according to Professor Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University. In his highly regarded book, The Rise of the Creative Class, he argues that truly successful modern economies are thriving in geographic areas where there is also a high level of creativity. Modern, knowledge-based economies will do best where there are also varieties of open, challenging, dynamic ideas in circulation.
Tolerances of ‘different’ groups, such as immigrants or gays, are also important as indicators of a vibrant, diverse, society. Modern knowledge-based workers are very mobile — they can generally live and work anywhere they like, so if the Scottish Executive’s ‘Smart Successful Scotland’ policy is going to succeed, we need to create and nurture a society that such people will want to choose to live in.
I was talking recently to the chairman of one of Scotland’s leading companies, who although born and educated in England, had decided to move his family to Scotland some 20 years or so ago as a result of several visits to the Edinburgh Festival. As a result of this experience he had concluded that Edinburgh was rather a good place to build his career, as, indeed, it has turned out to be.
Bright Scots have always tended to leave Scotland to build their careers, but we need them, and others from elsewhere, to choose to come back to Scotland in order to build our economy in the future.
Ireland has traditionally experienced the same population decline as Scotland, but has successfully managed to reverse this in recent years by building a modern, diverse and cultured society, including the introduction of tax breaks for artists, writers and musicians.
So, as a fundamental part of Smart Successful Scotland, we need to support, grow and nurture our huge variety of cultural and heritage activities. They are what makes Scotland a great place to live and work.
Ian Ritchie is a member of the Cultural Commission.