Has the EU helped or hindered Scottish culture?
The European Parliament Information Office in Edinburgh held a REACT-style event on 24 January 2014, on the eve of Burns' Night, at the Scottish National Gallery.
The panel discussion on whether the European Union has helped or hindered Scottish culture was organised with the support of the European Commission Office in Scotland. Andrew Neil, Scottish journalist and broadcaster, was joined by three distinguished guests and representatives of Scottish culture both on a local and international level.
Professor Richard Demarco, CBE, Scottish artist and promoter of the arts discussed the issue with Dr Donald Smith, playwright, novelist, performance poet and Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Dr Margaret A Mackay, Honorary Fellow of the University of Edinburgh's Celtic and Scottish Studies department.
In view of the upcoming European Parliament elections on 22 May, the audience joined the panelists in reflecting on the EU's role in Scottish culture in the past and looked ahead at what the future might bring.
Per Johansson, the recently appointed Head of the European Parliament Information Office in Edinburgh, kicked off the night as he addressed the audience of around 130 people. Mr Johansson emphasised the importance of the upcoming European Parliament elections in May and the Act. React. Impact. campaign. He reminded the audience that the European Parliament is the only European institution whose members are directly elected by the citizens.
Andrew Neil warmed up the audience with a few jokes before stressing the relevance of the topic at hand as he rightly claimed that culture is often forgotten in the EU debate. He wondered whether EU funds for culture are being spent in the best possible way. A quick show of hands in the room showed that most people needed no convincing and believed the EU had had a positive impact on Scottish culture, although there was a considerable group of 'undecided'.
Dr Donald Smith stated that Scotland is not contributing enough and not getting the best out of the EU cultural policies. In addition, the Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre felt that Scotland is sometimes under-represented and misrepresented in the EU. "We need more Scottish applications for EU culture programmes. This is a Scottish problem."
In her opening words, Dr Margaret A Mackay focused on the history of her own field, ethnology and folkloristics and how things had changed throughout time as European cooperation increased. To her, the international heritage that arose from this situation is a vital part of Scottish culture. As an example she referred to the Museum With No Frontiers which is a success story made possible by EU funding.
Prof Richard Demarco, CBE, was certain Scotland has every reason to believe it is a great cultural factor in Europe . According to him, the value of Scottish culture cannot be overstated. Reflecting on the early days of the Edinburgh Festival, Prof Demarco could not imagine a future in which Edinburgh no longer is a European cultural capital.
The discussion then commenced and soon the audience was invited to ask questions. The added value of culture spending through EU institutions was addressed along with Scotland's cultural identity. Many felt ignorance of Scottish culture, both in the south of the UK and in Scotland, harms its image in Europe. The effect of the economic crisis on the ability of organisations to participate in projects was also addressed, which led seamlessly to a discussion on the commercial nature of culture and entertainment.
Andrew Neil skilfully summarised the evening and checked in with the audience again to find that many more were convinced of the positive consequences of EU funding for Scottish culture. Guests were invited afterwards for a dram and some sweet canapés.
This event was streamed online on the Huffington Post UK website. Discussion on Twitter was facilitated under #ReactScotland.
You can watch the entire event below: