Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Q&A with Fiona Hyslop
What has the personal highlight of this past year been for you in terms of your portfolio?
It is difficult to choose just one but the opening of V&A Dundee was a moment which put Scotland on the international stage in the world of design. The museum is a powerful symbol of the city’s new confidence and a major addition to Scotland’s world-class collection of visitor attractions. Having been involved with the project from the early stage since I took on the Culture brief in 2009 I was instrumental in securing £38 million of Scottish Government funding towards its construction and the museum is already proving a valuable asset in both cultural and economic terms.
Seeing Scotland’s screen sector really begin to flourish as a result of Scottish Government funding has been a particular highlight. As well as movies like Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots bringing benefits to screen and tourism, we’ve seen the launch of Screen Scotland and the new BBC Scotland Channel as well as Channel 4’s decision to open a creative hub in Glasgow.
In terms of external affairs, the official opening of the Scottish Government’s hubs in Paris and Ottawa have been crucial in showing the world that Scotland is an open and outward-looking country, particularly in the midst of the current Brexit uncertainty. The hubs promote trade and investment, and work to show Scotland is open for business and an attractive place to invest, visit, work and live.
What do you see as your main priority in the brief in the coming year?
Leaving the EU, particularly in the event of a disorderly no-deal Brexit, will be hugely damaging to our key sectors, not least the creative industries, but also the wider culture and tourism sectors.
It is essential that Scotland remains, and is seen to be, an outward looking and welcoming nation, open for business and cooperation with our European and international partners, despite the damage a disorderly exit will inevitably do to the economy.
The Scottish Government is active here – through support tools to help businesses prepare for leaving the EU and through our outreach work internationally via our overseas Hub network, as well as our practical help for EU citizens living in Scotland to settle here – all of whom are welcome and make a significant contribution to our communities and society, not least in our culture and tourism sectors.
Scotland did not vote for Brexit and my main priority over the coming year will be working with my team to prevent a catastrophic no deal, something which will have huge ramifications for our culture, creative industries and tourism sectors.
What was your response to Jeremy Hunt’s decision to withdraw Foreign office support for Nicola Sturgeon’s overseas visits? How has this impacted external relations, particularly with Europe?
Being charitable, Jeremy Hunt was in the middle of a leadership election campaign and clearly had to say something that would convince the Tory rank and file that he would be tough on Scotland.
The Scottish Government has offices around the world which, in the midst of the Brexit uncertainty, are an essential means of promoting Scotland’s increasing trade, diplomatic, cultural and policy interests.
However, taxpayers in Scotland pay for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are as entitled as everyone else in the UK to know that they are being represented effectively overseas.
Ultimately, Mr Hunt’s somewhat childish stunt didn’t achieve much. He lost the leadership election and lost his job. Ironically, perhaps the only thing he achieved was to help strengthen the case for Scottish independence as the only way to ensure Scotland’s voice is properly heard on the international stage.
News reports suggest that Scotland recently lost out to New Zealand on a lucrative deal to be the location for a new Amazon Lord of the Rings TV series because of Brexit. What action is the Scottish Government taking to protect Scotland’s creative industries from the effects of Brexit?
Scotland has a thriving screen industry which is highly attractive to international inward investment. We have significantly increased funding and support for the screen sector, creating Screen Scotland to provide high-quality, specialist advice and practical support to productions. This, in addition to our stunning locations, skilled crew and enhanced development and production incentives, maintains Scotland’s well-deserved reputation as an attractive base for productions.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that any form of Brexit – let alone a catastrophic no-deal Brexit which is now looking increasingly likely - will be hugely damaging to our key sectors, not least the creative industries. Scotland’s creative industries and culture sectors are important parts of our economy which have benefited enormously through our EU membership, from freedom of movement to participation in funding programmes. Unrestricted access to a market of 500 million people is vital to ensuring the continued development of our creative industries sector.
The recent increase in tourism has risked it tipping over from being a positive to a negative. How is the Scottish Government ensuring that tourism benefits residents and that negative effects are mitigated?
Tourism makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy – in 2018 alone it is estimated overnight tourists and day visitors spent around £10 billion and the sector accounts for over 200,000 jobs in Scotland.
Our breath taking natural scenery and rich historical sites attract significant numbers of visitors from around the world. This is great for creating jobs and investment, but we do recognise it can put pressures on communities, services, transport and facilities – particularly in our rural areas.
In June we launched another round of £3 million for the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) to areas pressured by tourist activity, which is aimed at helping local communities improve their facilities as well as enhancing the visitor experience both now, and in the future.