It may be darkest January, but Scotland is already alive with vibrant, multicultural events.
Glasgow is buzzing thanks to Celtic Connections, the biggest winter music festival in the world featuring, among others, Québécois folk stars, a French-Lebanese guitarist and a Malian singer-songwriter. Perth’s River Tay is transformed into a winter wonderland for the Riverside Light Nights event, while in Edinburgh the Burns&Beyond festival has an East Asian feel to celebrate the confluence of Burns Night and the Chinese New Year.
Yet these global spectacles are accompanied by a hint of poignancy: by the time they finish next month, Scotland will have been taken out of the European Union, an international community that is as much about exchanging cultural experiences as it is about trade and policy.
Brexit threatens to be catastrophic for Scotland’s creative and cultural sector. Outside the EU we risk being deprived of vital funding for cultural projects, and of the international talent that makes our festivals the envy of the world.
With EU exit now a certainty on Friday, and with a no-deal withdrawal still a real threat on 31 December, I want to outline the steps the Scottish Government is taking to protect this vital sector and ensure that Scotland remains a dynamic, open cultural nation.
Let’s start by looking at just some of the benefits of EU membership. Thanks to free movement, the EU gives us access to a market of 500 million people who can come here freely to write, act, perform, or contribute to our cultural life in other ways. Being in the customs union allows our world-class musicians, bands and ensembles to tour across Europe without the hindrance of customs checks between borders.
Cross-border cultural exchanges
And of course, there’s the funding: the Scottish culture sector received at least £59 million from the EU between 2007 and 2016, supporting 650 projects. Many of these were supported through the Creative Europe programme, the EU’s principle funding initiative for the European culture sector.
From a festival of string music featuring the Scottish Ensemble alongside musicians from Germany, Estonia and Norway, to a dance and theatre project involving young people from countries including Scotland, Belgium and Denmark, these were projects which facilitated collaboration and cultural exchanges across borders. Many of them simply couldn’t have happened without the support of the EU.
With our access to these benefits set to come to an end, today I’m welcoming leading figures from Scotland’s creative and tourism sectors to a round-table discussion to consider the best way the Scottish Government can support them as they prepare for the many implications of leaving the EU.
Thousands of talented performers
Among the organisations represented will be the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Contemporary Arts Network. These organisations stand to be affected by Brexit in a variety of ways.
A fifth of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s players are from elsewhere in the EU, for example, and will be impacted by the UK Government’s new immigration rules. I’m pleased to have the chance to hear from them directly about their specific concerns.
I will also be making the case for Britain to remain part of the Creative Europe programme after Brexit, retaining a crucial source of funding for our creative sectors.
On Saturday I’ll be helping to promote Scotland’s creative industries to a global audience at the 20th anniversary celebrations of Showcase Scotland at Celtic Connections. This event introduces international producers, directors and other music industry professionals to emerging Scottish artists, with the aim of securing global touring opportunities. Every year it partners with a different country, and this year will be Finland’s turn. As well as offering six Finnish bands the opportunity to perform in Glasgow, this is a chance to build on Scotland’s links with our European neighbours – links we will continue to support and build on in the face of Brexit.
As the year progresses, attention will turn inevitably to the Edinburgh Festivals. These world-famous events involve nearly 8,000 non-UK participants – a third of whom are from the European Economic Area – drawing audiences of about 4.7 million and generating more than £300 million in cultural tourism value every year. After Brexit we risk losing access to thousands of talented performers who help to make the festivals so successful.
Conscious of the potential impact on all UK festivals from the loss of free movement, I have invited representatives from the UK Government and the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations to a summit in Edinburgh to explore the problems festivals face in relation to UK visa and immigration policy.
The current process for non-EU citizens is lengthy, complex and costly, with attendees or organisers sometimes spending thousands of pounds on visas and associated costs for a visit that often only lasts a few days. With European performers now facing a similarly difficult process to be able to perform here, summit participants will work together to develop practical solutions for visiting artists and performers in what is likely to be an increasingly restrictive immigration system.
The initiatives I’ve outlined here are just some of the ways we are seeking to protect Scotland’s creative and cultural sector from the worst effects of Brexit. Scotland may be leaving the EU, but we will remain a proudly European nation, and the Scottish Government is working tirelessly to ensure we continue to play a central role in the continent’s cultural life.
Fiona Hyslop is Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and the SNP MSP for Linlithgow