Culture Q&A with Fiona Hyslop

Written by Fiona Hyslop on 10 September 2017 in Inside Politics

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop talks about the importance of culture to Scotland

Fiona Hyslop - Image credit: Holyrood/David Anderson

The SNP manifesto for the general election had almost nothing in it about culture. Do you feel that amid Brexit, that culture has slipped off the priority list? 

The SNP published a manifesto for culture. Whilst responsibility for culture is devolved and we have a very strong record of support in government, we recognise the many implications UK government policy can have on the sector in Scotland, so we have the benefit of a stable Scottish Government and a strong team of MPs and Westminster to press for cultural interest to be protected.

We have a thriving cultural sector in Scotland and our global reputation is enhanced by it. We are committed to strengthening the sector’s ongoing success and I’m proud of our many achievements and policies in government.

For example, we are investing in our screen sector which is seeing record spend in production, we are protecting free access to our national collections – enjoyed by over 5m people every year, we core-fund our fantastic national performing companies and support them to tour internationally, and we have given over £19m of funding for the world-renowned Edinburgh’s festivals which so many people are enjoying in our capital right now.  


Significant amounts of arts funding, as well as collaboration, comes from the EU. Does Brexit concern you from that aspect and how will Scottish arts organisations continue to be supported? 

The threat of an extreme Brexit should not be underestimated – no industry is protected from the damage it will have - so protecting our membership of the European single market is a priority, as well as having a voice in the development of future trade policy.

EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Creative Europe are essential to the sector in Scotland, as well as the many creative partnerships held with our European neighbours. For example, I recently returned from the Lorient festival in France where over 20 per cent of their programme was dedicated to celebrating Scotland as their ‘country of honour’.

The Scottish culture sector received at least £59m in funding from the EU over 2007-16, supporting around 650 projects. This provides vital finance for the sector, but just as importantly, the EU’s funding programmes support cultural collaboration and professional development which can only be fully achieved as a result of freedom of movement. 

European cultural collaboration is central to Scotland’s open international cultural outlook and EU membership is a very important modern dimension to this. 6.1 per cent of the creative industries’ workforce is made up of non-UK EU nationals. Artists from around the EU work in Scotland, join our performing companies and can travel freely to experience our unique culture and world leading festivals. Unfortunately, it is perfectly conceivable that the UK Government is threatening this through a hard Brexit that destroys freedom of movement.


Have you seen any Brexit effect on tourism in Scotland? 

We are often told in our many conversations with stakeholders that the continued uncertainty around the right to remain has deterred some in the tourism sector from returning this season, or from applying for jobs. This has led to a reduced pool of workers, particularly in rural areas.

The extreme Brexit being pursued by the UK Government will harm the industry’s future prosperity. Currently, Europe provides seven out of our ten key visitor markets and almost 17 per centof those employed in the sustainable tourism growth sector. I have held roundtables with the industry and have heard first-hand the concerns around staffing, trade and customs, increased costs and replacements for EU funding.

The importance of tourism to Scotland’s economy cannot be overstated. In recent years we have seen increases in overseas visits and tourist expenditure – ensuring this growth continues is a priority for the Scottish Government. 

In December 2016 we published proposals to protect Scotland’s membership of the single market and prevent the irreversible damage the UK Government’s extreme Brexit will have on our economy. We continue to discuss these proposals with the UK Government.

The period to March 2019 will be crucial in determining what kind of country Scotland will become. The views of our tourism sector will be essential to this, and we will continue to work with industry to ensure its voice is heard.


A report in June suggested that the supply of workers and performers for Scotland’s screen industry may be threatened if free movement stops after Brexit, with other parts of the arts such as theatre and dance also expected to be affected by the loss of free movement. What will the Scottish Government do to mitigate that? 

Scotland’s cultural and creative companies should be able to recruit the talent and skills they need from as wide a pool as possible We don’t accept that freedom of movement from the EU has to end and are working hard to keep the whole of the UK in the single market, which would maintain this important right for people in Scotland to study and work across the EU and for our fellow EU citizens to do the same here.

We also believe that powers over immigration should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament and it is now clear the Home Office is examining a system of immigration control that could fit with our proposals. Indeed there is a growing consensus in Scotland that immigration policy should be decided here.

UK Government policy and targets could see the working population, and therefore the number of people contributing to public services and the economy, fall significantly in Scotland.

Our Edinburgh festivals have been very vocal on the harmful policies being pursued by the UK Government which could have a severely restricting impact to the growth of our culture and creative industries and damaging our openness as a country.


Permission has been granted to build the Pentland film and TV studios on Greenbelt land. Why could this not have been located elsewhere? 

As discussed previously with Holyrood magazine, that we can’t answer this question due to ongoing planning process.


There are a lot of initiatives to support Gaelic in Scotland, but very little to support Scots. Why is that? 

The needs of Gaelic and Scot vary and the Scottish Government is a strong supporter of all of Scotland’s indigenous languages. 

We work with our agencies such as Education Scotland and Creative Scotland to develop policies and fund projects that support and grow learning and use of both languages. We have a joint Scots policy with Education Scotland and a dedicated Scots language co-ordinator in Education Scotland who advises on the curriculum –  for example, the SQA now has a Scots Language Award that can be studied at SCQF levels 3-6. Other organisations such as the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Aberdeenshire Council have developed their own Scots policies in line with ours, and we would encourage any others who wish to do the same.

We provide funding to the Scots Language Centre, Scottish Language Dictionaries as well as the Association for Scottish Literary Studies which works across education, culture and international projects.

The aim of both Gaelic and Scots policy is to enrich Scottish cultural life by putting in place the necessary measures to ensure both Gaelic and Scots have a significant place in Scotland’s future. 


Culture is at the centre of regeneration of the waterfront in Dundee. How do you think that model could be replicated in other places in Scotland?

Revitalising Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas and strengthening local communities are key priorities for the Scottish Government. Culture and heritage-driven regeneration strategies have the potential to transform Scotland’s economic outlook, acting as a positive catalyst for change and boosting the economy of our cities and towns.

Dundee represents an excellent example of how this has been put into practice: home to the new world-class V&A Museum of Design, the flagship development for the city’s Waterfront Project, Dundee already makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy and to the promotion of our rich cultural tradition worldwide. With the V&A due to officially open in 2018, the city is set to continue attracting inward business investment and promoting tourism growth, thus further benefitting Scotland’s wider economy.

There are many other areas across Scotland with a wealth of heritage and cultural assets that investment and partnership working, such in Dundee, could be key to unlocking their potential. This model has the possibility to stimulate economic and social regeneration, and empower local communities by tackling and improving the issues of social inclusion and deprivation. 


How many shows will you see in the Edinburgh festivals? 

Throughout August I will have seen 17 performances. The 70th anniversary programmes have been truly brilliant and I can honestly say that it will be difficult to pin point what show will be the highlight for me.

However, our festivals don’t stop at the end of August – to name a few coming up in the following months we have the Scottish Storytelling Festival, Scotland’s Winter Festivals spanning St Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay and Burn Night, Celtic Connection and the Glasgow International festival of visual art.

They say a week is a long time in politics but over the last 12 months we have had an EU referendum, a Scottish Parliament election, local government elections and a general election. How has it been for you?

It has definitely been a turbulent time in politics. The EU referendum and the recent general election were tools used by the Tories to settle internal party politics, and now we as a country are dealing with the consequences.

In Scotland we face being taken out of the EU despite our overwhelming vote to remain, so for me in government it has meant facing extreme challenges we didn’t ask for and working hard to find solutions to overcome them.


What is the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?




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