Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Speech in the Scottish Parliament:
18 June 2008

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): It is important for us to know where we have come from to reach this point. I sat through the committee debates, listened to the arguments put and questions asked, and felt the strongly negative sense from some that somehow it is impossible to pin down the issues and that the SNP Government is failing. I suppose that that attitude could be summed up by the comment:

"The overwhelming judgement is of a weak document that hasn't been put together with any enthusiasm or determination. It just looks as if it was born to fail."

However, that was James Boyle talking about the Labour-Lib Dem draft culture (Scotland) bill, from which we have escaped—thank goodness.

When Linda Fabiani introduced the Creative Scotland Bill, she said:

"The establishment of Creative Scotland will cultivate and support the best of Scottish arts and culture and maximise the potential of Scotland's creative sector ... Creative Scotland will have a vital role in promoting artistic excellence. It will help our artists, practitioners and creative businesses to rise to new levels of aspiration, ambition and achievement".

When I look at the bill before us, I see enabling legislation that can take us to new heights. I see not only the potential for advocacy and creative Scotland being the lead body but hard evidence that the agencies that will work with it will be happy to do so and are already working in partnership.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise said clearly that they were happy with the situation, and I am delighted that the minister has accepted all of the statements from the creative industries working group report and will create the creative industries forum, which will include all such agencies and answer the question about who takes which decisions. The route map that the forum will draw up will show how each agency works.

I have already seen local examples of people applying through the gateway. If people in my part of Scotland approached HIE, it would know where they should go. I am sure that, if we were fair, we would agree that that would happen in Scottish Enterprise areas too. That is why we should have confidence that the right framework has been put in place in the bill. The bill is not inadequate but will point the way clearly.

The comment that COSLA should be involved is relevant, although its involvement must be carefully managed. It is all very well saying that COSLA should have a place on the creative Scotland board, as COSLA first argued, but there would be a conflict of interest. Other committee members recognised that too. However, a special place for COSLA in the creative industries forum is important because it also has a part to play in the route map.

Considering how the single outcome agreements are being developed, I hope that the Government will make it clear how an audit trail can be built up to show how local authorities work. If some authorities have been deficient in

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providing for culture, we should know who was in charge and what they were doing for the past eight years. Perhaps we can all work together now and ensure that we can do something to even up the efforts across the country.

It was interesting to see what happened on the question of the relevance of voluntary arts, as well as the professional sector, during our stage 1 discussion of the bill. The Scottish Arts Council, having started a flexible funding exercise in 2006, reached some conclusions about whether certain bodies should receive funding. It invited applicants to demonstrate how its work strove to be new and innovative. The danger is that creative Scotland will prefer innovation over the work that the voluntary sector does all the time to maintain people's access to the arts, which is not necessarily innovative but is continuous.

There must be some means by which creative Scotland can balance up the definition that it uses to ensure that it does not just favour innovation but allows for the work done by bedrock organisations such as Voluntary Arts Scotland and the Scots Language Resource Centre Association. Indeed, Scottish Language Dictionaries, which was mentioned by Malcolm Chisholm, was directly funded.

A debate is taking place about how creative Scotland will work. It will work in partnership and I believe that it will identify other sources of funding, as the minister said. Some language elements that have been funded through the Arts Council might not be funded through creative Scotland. We must ask whether creative Scotland will be able to measure the traditional arts in a fashion that is acceptable to us, but that is a debate for another day.

I welcome the bill. Some issues might need to be ironed out, but the bill is not a failure—it is the route to success for our arts in Scotland.


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