Frank McAveety

Cultural Identity, Sporting Achievement, and selling Scotland to the World

Reports have been swirling lately that the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport is for the chop following the Olympic Games. This, perhaps, is understandable given that the department has been the focus of much of the attention of the Leveson Inquiry. That there are problems in that department is undeniable, with Ministers and subordinates apparently working at cross-purposes. However, while there are undoubtable problems within this department, that does not mean that the various functions of the department are incompatible. I would argue that quite the contrary is true.

In fact, I’m mildly jealous of the DCMS. Not a sort of personal jealousy, but rather that England has a department which co-ordinates these inextricably-linked policy areas in a manner which simply doesn’t happen in Scotland. In 2003, Jack McConnell made Frank McAveety Scotland’s first cabinet minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport – a role in which he was succeeded by Patricia Ferguson. During that period, the minister led the way in bringing the MTV Music Awards to Edinburgh, successfully bidding for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the establishment of the Culture Commission which ultimately poposed the establishment of Creative Scotland. However following the 2007 election Alex Salmond scrapped the post and divvied up its responsibilities across a number of ministerial posts:

  • Linda Fabiani was created Minister for Europe, External Affairs, and Culture – outside of cabinet, working beneath the First Minister. Following the first re-shuffle Mike Russell succeeded her and became Minister for Culture, External Affairs, and the Constitution. Fiona Hyslop was demoted from the cabinet, swapping jobs with Russell, to become Minister for Culture and External Affairs. Following the 2011 election she retained her responsibilities but the post was elevated to Cabinet Secretary level.
  • Jim Mather was given responsibility for tourism as Minister for Enterprise, Energy, and Tourism – under the Finance Secretary. He was succeeded in this post by Fergus Ewing.
  • Shona Robison gained responsibility for Sport as Minister for Public Health – under the Health Secretary. Following the 2011 election she retained responsibility for sport as Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport – again under the Cabinet Secretary for Health.

The logic in this division has always escaped me. Major Events strategy is the responsibility of the Culture Secretary, EventScotland is accountable to the Enterprise Minister. With the exception of the second Homecoming Scotland (largely a tourist focused venture, although why we’re hosting a second when the first was such an abject failure is beyond this writer), sporting events dominate the coming years. The Commonwealth Games are to be held in Glasgow in 2014 and, following that, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. In addition to the ministerial dis-joinder, the the administrative organisation of responsibilities in the Scottish Government is even more erratic – the broader question about which requires greater consideration than I can give it on my meagre blog.

“Housing and Regeneration, Culture and Commonwealth Games” is within the Directorate for Governance & Community. Oddly enough despite being in the name, Culture isn’t actually within that division at all! Arts & Culture fall within the Directorate for Strategy & External Affairs. Tourism is within the Directorate for Enterprise, Environment & Digital – which at least vaguely ties in with the responsibilities of the Enterprise Minister.

Anecdotally, I recall an occasion in which the researcher to the MSP for Greenock, who wanted to submit a series of written questions relating to the Tall Ships Races in his constituency but didn’t know to whom the questions should be addressed. Sailing is a sport (therefore the responsibility for the Public Health Minister), I reckoned, but the event is supported by EventScotland (Enterprise Minister), but one of the questions relates to Major Events Strategy (Culture Minister). Stumped, I contacted the Cabinet Directorate who didn’t, initially, know who was responsible either! Eventually I was advised to separate the questions and submit them to the most appropriate minister for each. This certainly does little to instil confidence that government decision-making in such matters is coherent or co-ordinated.

Certainly, I find it astonishing that the minister for the Commonwealth Games and Sport works beneath the Health Secretary, rather than the Culture Secretary (who has no supporting ministers). It also affirms what many within the upper-echelons of Scottish Sport suspect, which is that the Scottish Government is more concerned with sport being a tool for tackling Scotland’s obesity problem than with the development of elite sport, which is inextricably linked to cultural identity and Major Events Strategy.

The job of the Tourism Minister is principally to sell Scotland to the world. For a small country like Scotland cultural identity is crucial to that job. I was lucky enough to attend the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, and since then I have never been in any doubt about the contribution that sport can play, too, in developing and promoting a nation’s cultural identity. London is proving that again. If one asks why we seek to promote culture and sport the connection between cultural identity, sporting achievement, and national identity becomes obvious – to help sell our nation to the world.

A single cabinet minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport could better perform those three roles together than three ministers working to different ends.  When one considers that cultural identity is as crucial as sporting achievement to selling Scotland abroad,the merits of a single Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport become obvious.

By way of background to this post, I previously worked on culture policy in the Scottish Parliament. In addition, my father is a former Olympian and is presently the President of his sport’s governing body – I grew up in a house dominated by the politics of sport. The only thing that qualifies me to write about tourism is that I like going on holiday, I suppose.

Broadcasting Should Be The Nationalists’ Holy Grail

BBC Scotland
A recent Scottish social attitudes survey found that 65% of Scots would back independence if they were £500 better off. The slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” has been the cornerstone of the nationalists’ case for independence for the past four decades, while the unionist case invariably relies upon Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) reports which show Scotland receives more public expenditure than it raises. I would contend that all of these are entirely erroneous.

No nation’s people have ever voted for independence because they would be a few quid better off.

Scotland has a unique cultural identity. This unique cultural identity is essential to a nation’s independent character, particularly where small countries are concerned. Language, literature, music and theatre played a crucial role in Irish nationalism. However while I would always contest that the very best bits of Scotland’s cultural identity are those parts which are uniquely Scottish it’s hard to argue that Scotland is culturally independent from the rest of the UK. Why else would John Swinney have felt it necessary to reassure Scots that they’d still be able to watch EastEnders in an independent Scotland?

It would seem odd therefore that, despite the fairly broad competence of the Scottish Parliament and Government there has been virtually no shift in Culture policy under the SNP. The work to establish Creative Scotland was begun while Frank McAveety was Culture Minister, with concrete proposals emerging by 2006. The Gaelic Language Act was introduced to Parliament by Peter Peacock in 2004. The only major celebration of Scottish Culture in recent years has been the disastrous “Homecoming Scotland”, which was initially the brainchild of Jack McConnnell. Even then, “Homecoming” appealed more to wealthy American tourists’ sense of Scottishness than our own.

Of course, the zenith of Culture policy is broadcasting – which is presently reserved to Westminster. It is through broadcast media that the vast majority creative output is consumed. In their first term in power the SNP recognised the importance of broadcasting to the nationalist cause. They established the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, who recommended the creation of a dedicated Scottish television network.

Similarly the Scottish Government’s National Conversation considered the question of Broadcasting. Their consultation document proposed as an interim measure that:

  • Responsibility for MG Alba should be devolved to the Scottish Government.
  • The Scottish Government should be granted the competence to establish a “Scottish Digital Network”.
  • The creation of a Scottish division within Ofcom.
  • The creation of a Scotland-wide Channel 3 licence, to be regulated by Ofcom Scotland.
  • Assigning Scotland a share of broadcasting revenues (i.e. from spectrum sales and licence fee), with the ability to vary the licence fee for Scotland.

The SNP dominated Scotland Bill Committee has made similar recommendations relating to the devolution of broadcasting, though such a move has not attracted the political onus that devolution of Corporation Tax has received. However even if the SNP were successful in having broadcasting devolved to Scotland it would take years to implement any substantial shifts in policy.

If the nationalists’ want to be certain of victory in an independence referendum then they need to foster a greater sense of independence within Scotland’s culture. And to do that they need to do more than hold the occasional festival of Scottishness or commemorate 700-year-old battles. Promotion of the gaelic language will play an important role in the development of Scots culture. So too will the promotion of literature, music and the arts. However in order to engage with every section of Scots society broadcast media are required.

The development of Scots broadcasting will be crucial to making Scotland culturally independent. John Swinney sought to reassure Scots they could still watch EastEnders. However in a culturally independent Scotland, nobody would want to.