Labour, culture and cultural labour

simon macfarlaneSimon Macfarlane is a candidate for Labour’s Glasgow & Rutherglen List. He says accessible cultural opportunities are vital for our wellbeing, and we should push for a greater role for arts in schools, social care and beyond.


Glasgow is home to many of our national arts institutions – including the National Theatre, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and RSNO. Our city’s strength in the visual and modern arts is epitomised by the Tramway currently hosting the Turner Prize exhibition. January in Glasgow means Celtic Connections which is just one strand of a vibrant and dynamic music scene. A list of our cultural resources includes our museums, galleries, art school and conservatoire.

For anyone who thinks that art isn’t a political issue, all of these bodies are facing three per cent cuts courtesy of the Scottish Government. The situation in local government, which across Scotland is the biggest supporter of the arts, is even worse. The SNP’s tartan Tory budget will mean massive council cuts across all areas in the year ahead, and non-statutory services like culture are likely to be the place where the axe cuts deepest.

We have an abundance of culture opportunities and expression in Glasgow and Rutherglen, yet we know access and take up are influenced by background and wealth. We are members of the Labour Party as we want to see the transformation of our society through the fairer distribution of wealth and power. Our vision is of everyone having the opportunity to fulfil their human potential not just economically but socially and culturally too.

As an MSP I would campaign to support our creative industries and challenge them to ensure they are more accessible. When arts and creativity are taken out of the city centre into local communities, and aligned to support for working class people to create their own work, there is almost always a hungry audience and many positive spin-offs. But too often this type of work is only funded on a one-off or ad hoc basis. We need to see an increase and shift in resources to support community based arts in the widest sense.

We need to take the broadest approach to recognising and supporting creativity, including building esteem for online forms of art. We also need to support artists in making a decent living. As an MSP I would push for a greater role for art of all sorts in schools, social care and the public realm as a whole. As well as improving the quality of public life it would also provide opportunities for artists. We’ve seen good examples of art and music projects helping dementia sufferers – we need to move from these approaches being newsworthy to being mainstream.

I don’t know whether raves will have replaced tea dances by the time I retire, but one thing I know for sure: having enjoyed a wide range of culture experiences throughout my life I don’t want sat in a circle round a telly for large parts of my day in my final years.

I worked at the RSAMD, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, for a couple of years. It was impossible not to be impressed by the dedication and talent of students and staff, but then as now I wonder why there are not a broader range of routes in to the arts. We know the SNP have slashed college places and this has impacted on creative courses. The Labour Party is rightly committed to restoring college places. But we should go further and look at how apprenticeships and other vocational routes can help more young people in to careers in the arts.

As Bertolt Brecht put it “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” If we are serious about political change then we should be serious about supporting art and culture.

Art for all!

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10 thoughts on “Labour, culture and cultural labour

  1. “For anyone who thinks that art isn’t a political issue, all of these bodies are facing three per cent cuts courtesy of the Scottish Government.”

    Actually its a direct result of passed down Austerity cuts from the UK Government level of our constitutional Union set up which Simon and Labour in general are all too aware of.

    Being members of Better Together and pro union advocates Labour gave and are still giving Westminster the power and authority to impose all manner of cuts at UK level which of course includes Scotland as part of the UK.

    So to actually once again See SNP BAD being promoted on the basis of Labours support for all the consequences we have to endure for our place within the union is sickeningly risible.

    Is there any chance of Labour actually coming up with anything which shows Labour good because they supported the idea of being subjugated beneath Westminsters Neo Conservative jackboot?

  2. I was beginning to wonder why this site was suddenly getting lots of articles posted when previously you could literally go weeks with nothing happening. Then I realised … its Labour “wannabees” trying to big up their chances of getting selected for the ever more precious List Seats at the Holyrood election. Fair enough I suppose.

  3. “The SNP’s tartan Tory budget …”

    I had high hopes that the “SNPbad” articles would die away after Johann Lamont’s post refrained from it. Unfortunately, Mr McFarlane has waded into the fray with all “SNPbad” guns blazing and dashed my fragile hopes. Ah well, perhaps one day Labour activists will realise it is counter productive … perhaps … but not today.

  4. Thanks for kick starting campaigning against cuts in the arts. Worthwhile co-ordinating with the unions in the Scottish Federation of Entertainment Unions (Musicians Union, Equity, BECTU, NUJ etc). MU will put a motion on the issue to STUC annual conference in Dundee in April.

  5. Simon I could hear the sound of the violin playing as you spouted ot the same old same SNP BAD drivel let’s not forget that it is the Scottish Labour section who voted with the Tories against granting the FFA Full Fiscal Autonomy to the Scottiish government. Never mind Betolt Brecht you want to listen to the real folks in Scotland who scrimp and scrape from day to day and week to week to put food on the table and keep a roof over there heads, I don’t think that art is their number one priority and this being the case it is because of the likes of yourself sucking up to and catering for the Scottish Labour section elite and the Tories and putting art before the ordinary folks needs that the Scottish Labour section are heading for a wipeout at the Scottish elections.

  6. I am sadly old enough to remember the Scottish Labour refrain from decades ago—-if the SNP fights on cultural issues then Labour will be with them.
    The truth has proved somewhat different. The most important cultural event in human history is surely the advent of radio and television broadcasting.
    Scottish Labour has fought tooth and nail to prevent Scotland gaining a fair share of BBC funding—-funding which we pay for through the licence fee.
    For Scottish Labour culture, like history, is fine if it comes from elsewhere.

  7. Labour don’t even believe Scotland has its own distinct culture at all. They tell us its all part of a greater “British” culture.
    Don’t see why Labour should expect the SNP to get on board that point of view at all let alone agree to fund it.

  8. The arts are for everyone and we should strive to make that a reality. Only a philistine checks the birthplace of an artist before looking at the work produced and the SNP are philistines.

    1. Any evidence of the allegations you have laid against the SNP there Terry? Or is just more SNPbad drivel?

    2. British jobs for British workers—-one Gordon Brown.
      Does he believe the same for artists?

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