Guest blog: questioning the candidates at the Culture Hustings

Scottish elections will take place on Thursday 6th May 2021.

On Friday 23rd April, Jean Cameron and Kate Leiper attended the Culture Hustings, hosted by Culture Counts to hear candidates’ responses to five questions. In this blog they share a summary of what they heard.

We are members of Culture for Climate Scotland (Cultar airson Gnàth-shìde Alba), a working group established in January 2021. Our aim is to identify ways in which we, the culture sector, can contribute to a just, green and creative recovery after COVID-19. We believe that the culture sector is a key player in creating a society more focused on wellbeing and that we can contribute creatively and imaginatively to the challenges of climate change and climate justice. The group was initiated by Creative Carbon Scotland and is comprised of members of the Green Arts Initiative and Green Tease network (part of the culture/SHIFT programme).

An opportunity for culture

At our very first meeting we were very aware that with the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May and Glasgow hosting COP 26 in November, it was an opportune moment to initiate political engagement. We were invited by Culture Counts to submit several questions to the Culture Hustings they were hosting. Of course, given COVID-19 restrictions, these hustings were to be online. However, they were to follow the familiar format: five candidates from different parties invited to answer pre-prepared questions in front of a live, online audience. There was no guarantee that there would be time in the 90-minute event to ask all questions we submitted but we were delighted to be making a contribution.

Culture for Climate Scotland’s task was to craft our questions. This process felt very inclusive and given that this was one of our first big tasks working as a group, it was a wonderful participatory experience listening to each other and working collaboratively to get the wording just right.

We must acknowledge and thank Culture Counts for all the work and effort they put into this event. They took care to ensure that the host did not belong to any political party, proceedings were conducted fairly and that equal time was given to each candidate to express themselves. Culture Counts invited questions before the event and because of the large volume of submissions, questions with similar themes were merged.

On what was a busy agenda, we were delighted to see the inclusion of a question on culture’s role in a green and just recovery, as put forward by Culture for Climate Scotland

What were the questions?

At the event, each question was aimed at one candidate, then all the other candidates were given the chance to ‘respond’. As five questions were asked over the course of the event, each of the five candidates had the opportunity to be the first to answer. The questions covered a variety of topics:

  • The place of the performing arts in a wellbeing economy
  • The culture sector’s place in a just and green recovery
  • Aiming for a wellbeing economy
  • Freelancers, COVID-19 and the Universal Basic Income
  • COVID-19 recovery in communities
Who was there?

The Culture Hustings provided a platform for an online audience representing different parts of Scotland’s cultural ecology to hear from a range of candidates representing a variety of views, from different parts of the political spectrum.

Contributing (in alphabetical order) :

  • Claire Baker, Scottish Labour Party
  • Pam Gosal, Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party
  • Fiona Hyslop, Scottish National Party
  • Kim Long, Scottish Green Party
  • Fred Mackintosh, Scottish Liberal Democrats

In their opening statements, candidates took it in turn to share examples, from their personal experiences, each illustrating an active, individual interest and engagement in arts and culture as well as setting out their party-political perspectives.

Candidates used opening statements to acknowledge the devastating impact of the pandemic on Scotland’s cultural sector and to speak about their belief in the critical importance of culture to Scotland’s recovery.

Claire Baker recognised the creative sector as the first to close and likely to be the last to open. Fiona Hyslop highlighted the value of the arts and the role that culture has played throughout the period of the pandemic to get people through difficult times. Fred Mackintosh spoke about the huge impact of venue closures on performers and production staff and the worry caused to people working across the sector as a whole. Kim Long stressed the ongoing uncertainty facing the cultural sector whilst other industries could see light at the end of the tunnel. Pam Gosal emphasised the importance of sustainable funding models to support the cultural and creative sectors play a strong role in Scotland’s recovery.

It was heartening to hear candidates acknowledge a shared responsibility to work across parliament towards Scotland’s world-leading climate change targets and to hear several candidates reference the intersection between equalities and climate justice, environmental sustainability and grassroot recovery in communities, in responses to the different questions asked during the event.

Responses to our question

Candidates had the opportunity to expand on their environmental pledges in the specific question put forward by Culture for Climate Scotland:

How would your party actively engage, support and champion the culture sector as a key player in Scotland’s just and green recovery?

This question was first directed to Kim Long, representing the Scottish Green Party, who expressed her delight in a green recovery now being considered a mainstream topic and that other parties are also keen to tackle it. She spoke about a need for fresh thinking, a more participatory democracy, possibly embedding artists in local and national government projects. She outlined the need for investment funding to transform town centres, which could include converting unused spaces into low-carbon arts spaces, thereby cultivating possibilities for the cross-pollination of ideas. She would like to see the Scottish Government amend procurement strategy so that local artists are given more opportunities and expressed her support for the Universal Basic Income and a four-day working week with no loss of pay. In summing up, she said that we had to now be bold and going back to how things were before COVID-19 was not an option.

Pam Gosal, from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, confirmed the need to create new jobs in new green industries and that the culture sector has a very important role to play in this. Her party proposes a Circular Economy Bill, which would involve work in education and awareness to engage businesses, an area the culture sector would be able to contribute towards.

They are also developing an electric vehicle action plan and aim to tackle housing, making it more efficient through working with developers. The culture sector also has a big role to play here. She emphasised that it’s very important that local councils are better funded so that creative cultures and local artists can be knitted into the planning processes.

Claire Baker, from the Scottish Labour Party, confirmed that we need to work collaboratively and collectively and to set ambitious plans. She pointed out that the culture sector also has a responsibility to look at reducing its own carbon footprint. Some practitioners, have very low footprints. However, this is not the case with larger international touring companies. She believes that culture should be part of the transformational change, for example, fitting electric vehicle charging points at heritage sites or retrofitting buildings into cultural spaces. She would also like to see changes in procurement policy, which allow local artists and organisations more employment opportunities, and a clear carbon reduction plan for all businesses working with the public sector.

Fred Mackintosh, from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, began by reminding those of us who live in Edinburgh how strange it was last year without the festivals. He pointed out that it has allowed us to reopen the debate on sustainability, referencing as an example the miles covered by touring companies and long-distance international tourism. One solution could be providing more sleeper trains to Edinburgh from central Europe? He acknowledged that we need to focus on decarbonising and that this is an area that has to be looked at in all sectors.

Fiona Hyslop, from the Scottish National Party, began by stating that small countries can move swifter, faster and smarter to tackle climate emergency. She said that she was also expecting communities to make major shifts to meet carbon reduction targets. She believes in the power of culture and that through community work, artists can help communities to creatively think, express and mobilise themselves. She confirmed that her party’s manifesto includes creating 20-minute neighbourhoods and the repurposing and retrofitting of buildings, thereby freeing up space for artists to use. She also highlighted her party’s proposed major infrastructure programme, which will aim to help drive the economic recovery and which includes investment in the arts. With every new public infrastructure project, 1% of the budget will be for commissioning arts, thereby freeing up £150 million for commissioning cultural activity and community arts. She summed up by saying that her party is aiming to create a wellbeing economy and to improve diversity.

Strong messages

Consensus building and co-operation were strong messages given in answer to questions across the hustings, as was a commitment to a Scotland that nurtures access and better representation for under-served communities. Several proposals were made to address the precarity of freelance workers in the cultural sector and strengthening the resilience of the sector more widely. The majority of candidates advocated for a model of minimum income provision. All acknowledged the need for better local-national partnerships and a role for the cultural sector to support this, including participatory decision-making processes.

For more details of party manifestos, we recommend the summaries of the key pledges relevant to the arts, screen, heritage & creative industries, published by Culture Counts.

Conclusion

In this election week, we invite all incoming members of the next Scottish Parliament to recognise and harness the unique ability of Scotland’s creative and cultural sectors to work with empathy and imagination across communities. We ask MSPs to seize the opportunity to engage collaboratively with our sector so we that we can embed our energy, our innovation and commitment to play our active and meaningful role in the green, just and creative recovery that Scotland deserves.


Authors
Jean Cameron is a freelance creative producer based in Glasgow. Find her on Instagramand Twitter.

Kate Leiper is an artist and illustrator based in Edinburgh. Find her on Instagram: @kate_leiper_artist.

Both are members of Culture for Climate Scotland (Cultar airson Gnàth-shìde Alba) Working Group

The post Guest blog: questioning the candidates at the Culture Hustings appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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