Nicola Sturgeon urges more action to tackle Edinburgh Festival Fringe ‘exploitation’ concerns

Nicola Sturgeon has called for more to be done to tackle concerns over the exploitation of people working on venues and events at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The First Minister has entered the debate over the way Scotland’s biggest arts festival is staged by suggesting its return this year offered an opportunity “to do things better and do things differently.”

She admitted that the event had “a way still to go” to address concerns which had been raised about working practices at the event, which has had an “open access” ethos since it was first launched in 1947.In an interview with actress Nicola Roy for her Cultural Coven podcast, the First Minister said there was a need to “challenge the notion” that good art had to be at the expense of good terms and conditions for artists and workers in the cultural sector.

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In her podcast interview at Bute House, Ms Sturgeon called for more Scottish actors to be cast in films and TV shows made in Scotland to help reverse a long-standing talent drain to London.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA
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She also called for new statues of notable Scottish women to be erected across the country to help redress a long-standing imbalance - but insisted she did not want to be commemorated herself.

A major shake-up of the Fringe, which has been the world’s biggest arts festival for decades, was urged earlier this year to help tackle long-standing concerns over what is described as its “pay-to-perform landscape”.

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Independent research into the future of the Fringe, led by grassroots companies, organisations and producers, recommended official standards or “best practice” guidelines are put in place for the first time for all shows and venues registering for the programme.

Last week Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, insisted there was “absolutely no place” for exploitation at the festival and pledged that all serious allegations on breaches of workers’ rights would be fully investigated.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is the latest guest to appear on Nicola Roy's podcast, The Cultural Coven.

In her podcast interview, Roy asked the First Minister whether working practices at the Fringe needed to change.

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She said: "I don’t think we should ever tolerate the exploitation of workers and artists.

"I know there have been moves made in recent years by the Fringe to address some of that, but I think there’s a way still to go.

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"We just need to first and foremost challenge the notion that great art has to be at the expense of good terms and conditions, and good working practices.

“I hope as we come out of Covid and start to see the Edinburgh festivals properly springing to life again we have the opportunity to address some of these things.

“Anything that chucks all the pieces up in the air and changes your perspective on how it all falls down again has to be an opportunity to do things better and do things differently.

“We’ve got all of that in arts and culture, but in life and society more generally, to hopefully take advantage of as we turn the corner on the pandemic and get back to, not normal, but something better than the normal we had before."

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Ms Sturgeon stressed that the value of the arts and culture sector should not just be valued for its economic contribution.

She added: “It’s also about health and wellbeing and our sense of who we are as a country. It’s really fundamental and integral to everything we do in my view.

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“The last couple of years have been a nightmare for everybody. We’ve tried our best to provide financial support. I know that will never have gone far enough.

“I do think we need to work with the sector to help with recovery and consider how, in this post-Covid world, we support not just recovery but a sustainable future.

"We’ve also got to encourage people back into theatres, venues and cinemas and to get out and about again, and make people feel safe when they do that.

"While we all want to get back to as much normality as possible, it’s really important that we’re also vigilant and take careful steps to protect against Covid.

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"Unless we do that, not enough people will feel safe enough to get back out and about to enjoy everything that our arts and culture scene has to offer.”

Meanwhile Ms Sturgeon said more needed to be done to ensure Scottish actors did not have to move outwith the country to further their careers.

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She said: “People will choose to go and work there for all sorts of reasons. The problem is when you feel you don’t have the alternative. I know a lot of artists and actors who feel over the years that they’ve had to go to London in order to establish themselves. I hope that is changing.

“The film scene in Scotland now is so vibrant and the ecosystem that we’re hopefully building around that changes that reality.

“If people want to spread their wings and go to London or wherever that is a good thing, but the opportunities should be here in Scotland so it is not a necessity.

“I think we have an abundance of talent here. As we see the presence and vibrancy of the film scene in Scotland grow then we’ve clearly got to grow the talent that supports that here.

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“That’s not just true in terms of actors, but all of the skills and trades that go around making a film. We need to make sure we’re building the supply of talent and skills here.

“My wonderful hairdresser does a lot of work on film sets. She often says to me that the default position of people making a film here is to bring talent up from London when it is actually here.”

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Ms Sturgeon was asked if she had ever come under pressure to change or “refine” her own accent.

She said: “I think there is a self-pressure when you grow up Scottish.

“When you grow up in Scotland there is an attitude that tells you how you speak is not the proper way to speak.

"Therefore you have to speak properly and that means speaking in the Queen’s English and all the rest of it.

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“Because of that there is a subsconscous pressure that you put on yourself. Too many people, partcularly people who perform in some way, there is a sense of embarrasment sometimes at your accent. I think and I hope that is changing.

“We’ve got to lose that and encourage young people to be proud of the way they speak and to be proud of where they come from and its culture.”

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Ms Sturgeon was asked whether she support moves to ensure more women were commemorated on the streets of Scotland.

She said: “

Absolutely. Women have been literally written out of history. In terms of the visible representation of women and the contribution women have made down the ages, of course we are just massively represented.

“The author Sara Sheridan has done great work in trying to redress that, but there should absolutely be many more statues of women who have contributed and the generations of women that will come after us.

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“There is lots and lots to do to make sure we turn around the imbalance, if I can put in delicately, in the representation of women versus men.”

Asked about the prospect of being commemorated herself, she said: "Nah, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s likely to be offered and there’s no good reason why it should be.

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"The thought of having to look at a granite copy of myself – it’s bad enough having to look in the mirror in the morning without something else to look at!”

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