Scottish political parties debate issues affecting museums

Nicola Sullivan, 18.04.2016
Culture-specific hustings held at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Scottish politicians had a number of tough questions about how they would ensure culture is properly funded and accessible to all at a political hustings in Glasgow.
The culture-specific event, which took place at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, was organised by Culture Counts and saw representatives from five political parties set out their election pledges for culture in Scotland and debate their cultural policies.
On the panel were Claire Baker, the Labour MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife; Baroness Annabel Goldie, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives; Fiona Hyslop, the culture secretary during the previous Scottish National Party (SNP) administration; Zara Kitson, standing for the Scottish Green Party; and Jean Urquhart, standing as the Rise candidate in the Highlands and Islands.

Responding to a question from the floor on how the parties would improve the financial position of local authorities, which fund many regional museums, Hyslop said that despite the fact that culture is not statutorily protected there had not so far been a “disproportionate” reduction in funding for culture when compared to other council services.

However, the Green Party’s Kitson said that the “harsh reality” of the impact of cuts to local authority budgets should not be denied. “Local governments are getting into a situation where statutory spend is all that they are going to be able to deliver,” she said.

Kitson said the Green Party would increase revenue for local authorities by replacing council tax with a “fairer” tax based on the value of residential properties.

Similarly, Baker said the Labour party would also replace council tax with a land-based tax and use the new powers granted to the Scottish government raise the basic rate of income tax by a penny – a move that would generate £500m, and avoid cuts to education and other local services, including culture.

Goldie, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives added that local authorities needed a “degree of certainty” about their annual funding allocation.

When questioned by Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the Museums Association, on what measures can be taken to put museums on a sounder financial footing all panellists agreed that entry charges were not the answer.

Kiston pointed out that barriers to going to museums were not just financial and that more needed to be done to engage harder to reach communities. She added that there should be more investment for organisations like the Glasgow Women’s Library, which connects with community “spectacularly well” through outreach work in the east end of the city.  

On the point of increasing access to culture, Hyslop said the SNP would introduce a “cultural experience fund” to ensure that all primary schools had the chance to visit Scotland’s historic estates, theatres, museums and galleries.

Hyslop spoke of the need for museums to increase their income streams and collaborate. “I’m keen to see how we can use our national institutions to help [provide] more exhibition space for smaller museums."

She also said that museums need to diversify their "income" to have a stable future.

In a recent blog post Brown said: "With more cuts on the horizon following the election, it would have been more heartening to hear a strategic view from all candidates on how Scottish museums can be supported to become more sustainable."