Stumped on the stump

Alistair Brown, 18.04.2016
Culture Counts hustings in Glasgow
In Glasgow last week, I made a quick visit to the Tenement House museum – a fascinating National Trust for Scotland property – before attending the Culture Counts hustings to hear views from the main parties (notably minus UKIP and the Lib Dems) standing for election to the Scottish Parliament on 5 May.

The Tenement House staff’s patient hard work and professionalism has helped the museum to flourish. But could the same be said of the politicians aspiring to lead Scotland's cultural sector?

In a discussion that was heavily weighted towards the performing arts, it appeared that many hadn’t done their homework. The representatives from the Greens, the left-wing coalition RISE and Labour didn’t seem to know about the existence of Museum Galleries Scotland (MGS), instead mistakenly referring to Creative Scotland as the government agency for the museum sector (in spite of the excellent advocacy work that MGS has been doing in advance of the election).

And many were surprised to hear Annabel Goldie of the Conservatives argue for direct state support for Glasgow’s Kelvingrove – but perhaps that really is party policy?

Fiona Hyslop of the SNP, current and probably future culture secretary, was at least more at home with her portfolio. She stressed the need for free entry to museums to be maintained, the need for museums to diversify their income streams, and proposed a Cultural Experience Fund to challenge the "not for me" attitudes that prevent some communities engaging with culture.

But Hyslop also has a nine-year record of government to defend, and seemed on shakier ground when quizzed on her responsibility for local authority cuts.

She assured the audience that there has been no "disproportionate reduction" in local authority spending on culture over the last parliament, but ducked any further responsibility – saying that local authority funding “is not part of my brief”.

With more cuts on the horizon following the election, it would have been more heartening to hear a strategic view from candidates on how Scottish museums can be supported to become more sustainable.

For museums of all sizes, from the Tenement House to Kelvingrove, there were more questions than answers at this event – not least the concern that the voices of museums in Scotland are not being heard by the politicians who matter.