On 18 September the people of Scotland will decide whether Scotland should be an independent country. That decision is, simply, a choice between two futures.
We can be governed from Westminster, often by governments we didn’t vote for and who don’t put Scottish interests first. Or we can take responsibility for our own future; ensuring decisions about Scotland are made by those who care most about Scotland ‒ the people who live and work here. This is the future I choose.
I believe that public funding of the arts is a fundamental good. I place significant value on Scotland’s cultural life and what it can deliver. I understand that culture and heritage are both an intrinsic and instrumental good for us all. Our thriving classical arts scene is an integral part of Scotland’s culture.
That is why this Scottish Government actively supports the case for public subsidy of the arts. It is why, in the latest spending review, I prioritised the culture budget to minimise the impact of cuts on the sector. And it is why, with independence, we will continue to nurture the conditions which allow cultural and creative excellence to flourish.
We have almost doubled our planned capital investment in the sector this year, to a total of £15m in 2014/15 alone. In this term of the Scottish Government we are supporting Scottish Opera to improve Glasgow’s Theatre Royal with over £5m and contributing over £8m to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s move to its new facility at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
In the face of austerity budgets passed down by the UK Government, we’ve protected cultural spending in relative terms to ensure the stability of the RSNO, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and National Theatre of Scotland ‒ who we directly support, and we have demonstrated our commitment to encouraging overseas touring through our International Touring Fund.
This protection we provided in Scotland can be sharply contrasted with the situation in England where, even before the latest round of cuts, there had been 11% real terms reductions to the English symphony orchestras and English National Opera, and 15% reductions to the Royal Opera House and Opera North.
Independence for Scotland will unleash new creative energy. We will have a chance to build on our record as a culturally ambitious government for Scotland. I’ve been encouraged by the positive response I’ve seen from many artists who are excited at the prospect of independence and recognise the opportunities it will bring.
The Scottish Government has clearly set out what independence will mean for the future of public service broadcasting in Scotland. Let me make clear what it will mean for the players of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The BBCSSO is a world-class, exceptionally talented orchestra ‒ and it will remain a vital part of Scotland’s vibrant classical music scene post-independence.
As part of our share of current UK assets, BBC Scotland buildings, equipment and budgets will transfer to form part of the Scottish Broadcasting Service. With independence the orchestra will also transfer as part of BBC Scotland to the SBS.
The SBS will seek a joint venture with the BBC to provide the current level of content from Scotland to the BBC in exchange for on-going access to BBC services. This would include the Scottish Symphony Orchestra continuing to play for Radio 3.
Any orchestra needs a platform to be heard. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra will have additional opportunities through the new radio and television services that the SBS will introduce.
In Scotland we already raise considerably more in licence fees than is spent on public service broadcasting by our near neighbour, Ireland. However, Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ provides far more support for orchestras than the BBC does in Scotland. The BBC supports one Scottish orchestra, whereas RTÉ supports two: the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra employs 76 players whereas the two RTÉ orchestras employ 134 players. In 2014, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to play at 26 engagements whereas the two RTÉ orchestras are scheduled to play at 52 engagements. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with the support of the SBS, has the potential to outstrip the orchestral activities of RTÉ.
So independence offers a fruitful opportunity for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, but there is a real threat in the status quo being allowed to continue unchallenged.
In direct contrast with Scotland’s plans to almost double spending on public service broadcasting with revenues raised in Scotland being used for commissioning from Scotland ‒ the UK Government has forced cuts on the BBC, delivered through the euphemistically named ‘Delivering Quality First’ programme, with funds planned for the BBC’s orchestras being reduced by some 10%.
And with the BBC’s next charter in the balance there are many voices within the UK government calling for further spending reductions. Under the current governance arrangement BBC has fatefully said that any further reduction in resources beyond 2017 would mean closing an orchestra.
Let’s remember that the Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s great reputation depends not on BBC branding, but on its players and the position established under conductors such as Ilan Volkov and Donald Runnicles. The Scottish government was please to provide financial support for the recent tour to India with the Royal Conservatoire
With independence, the orchestra will be supported to further showcase its talent by seeking new opportunities, including through partnerships in the European Broadcasting Union, to perform and collaborate.
The Scottish Symphony Orchestra is part of the wider family of performing companies in Scotland. With independence I want to foster opportunities for greater cooperation and coordination of classical music throughout Scotland among that family.
To that end, with independence, we would extend the Scottish government’s International Touring Fund to support the Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s activity, to ensure that all of Scotland’s national orchestras continue to tour frequently overseas.
A vote for independence will see Scotland re-join the family of nations in its own right. Having our own voice in the world, we can provide new routes for cultural exchange, promotion and collaboration ‒ not least with our nearest friends and neighbours elsewhere in these islands.
Fiona Hyslop is a Scottish National Party MSP and cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs