Scotland the brave?

Alistair Brown, 27.09.2017
What’s at stake in the new Scottish culture strategy
I spent last week in Edinburgh meeting with civil servants and members of the Museums Association (MA) to find out more about the new cultural strategy being developed by the Scottish government.

The strategy has been a source of confusion for many since it was announced in the summer. After all, a cursory glance shows plenty of arts bodies in Scotland have their own plans and visions – not least the national strategy for museums set out by Museums Galleries Scotland, which covers the period until 2019.

So should we see this new round of consultations and strategising as a purely bureaucratic exercise? Perhaps not. The Scottish government has been better than others in the UK at prioritising the role of cultural institutions in the wider life of the country, and it has been some time since they checked in on how the different moving parts of Scotland’s cultural scene all fit together.

There are some meaty administrative questions to be addressed. What will the future role be for Museums Galleries Scotland? Will it continue with its multiple roles as funding body, development body and advocate for the sector? There’s a real possibility that the Scottish government, hungry for savings, will see an opportunity to merge some functions with other Scottish arts or tourism bodies.

Elsewhere, the cultural strategy is expected to be focused on the themes of equity, access and excellence. Fiona Hyslop has already pronounced on the need for more equity in pay in the cultural sector, particularly for freelancers – undoubtedly an issue for many in museums.

It’s hard to imagine the government south of the border making similar statements – but with the MA’s Salary Guidelines published later this month, pay in the sector will be under scrutiny, and we’ll be arguing for a strong line on pay throughout the UK.

If pay issues come under the equity heading, it’s less certain what the Scottish government will propose under the other two headings.

However, its recent Programme for Government for the next year gives some clues, including the promise of a Cultural Youth Experience Fund to accompany the Scottish Year of Young People in 2018, and support for placemaking initiatives including Paisley’s bid for City of Culture 2021. Museums should feature prominently in both.

The government’s consultation over the course of the winter will be an opportunity for Scotland’s museums to shape these ideas and set out how they can have a positive impact on Scottish society – I’m looking forward to discussing ideas with Scottish colleagues over the months to come.