Councillor Norma Austin Hart, Vice-Convenor of the Culture and Sport Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council, asks whether culture is still at the core of everything we do.
Is the Scottish Labour party serious about its love for Scottish arts and culture?
Do we really want to have a relationship with creative people and organisations or do we see it as an add-on to the rest of politics?
Can the post referendum Scottish Labour Party claim to be the party that understands or wants to understand the role of Scottish culture in contemporary politics?
These challenging questions emerged during the referendum debate and frankly sometimes we struggled to find answers. Of course we can point to a strong history of supporting the arts in Scotland. The Labour-led council developed the Edinburgh Festivals over thirty years to create a global city of culture and a world class experience for visitors. The Labour party came up with Creative Scotland and the National Theatre of Scotland. Labour made museums and galleries free to everyone and won City of Literature status for Edinburgh.
Scottish Labour in Holyrood created the popular Youth Music Initiative and Bookstart and proposed that the Curriculum for Excellence would add greater weight to the place of culture.
It was also in the last Labour government at Holyrood that special provision was made for Gaelic Medium Education. The support for GME has since plateaued under the SNP. It was Labour who established BBC Alba in recognition of the precious cultural asset of a living minority language.
But do we really believe that culture should be ‘at the core of everything we do’ as we did while in government in 2003? Many Scots believe that the culture sector overwhelmingly voted Yes in the referendum and that artists, musicians, performers and creatives of all types were enthusiastic about separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. In the absence of any reliable research to confirm this, I suggest that this was another triumph of style over substance and that creative people voted broadly the same way as the rest of the population. Certainly I spoke to many representatives of the sector during the campaign who were supporting No and anxious about the one-sided representation of their views.
How do we in the Labour Party remind the culture sector that our values of social justice, fairness and equality are still at the heart of Labour support for and belief in the art and culture of Scotland; that we really are committed to ‘putting culture at the core of everything we do?
Edinburgh Labour for the Arts held its first cabaret evening a week before the referendum. It was a glitzy, heady mix of music, comedy, political banter and a surprise appearance by Horse McDonald, the soulful Scottish songstress who told us her story and sang songs to remind us of beauty and love and hope.
Scotland’s culture belongs to no one political party, it belongs to all of us. We in the Labour party can make culture core to our party’s beliefs by building bridges with everyone who makes a contribution to Scotland’s unique and thriving culture.