The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11976, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on winter festivals. It will be helpful if I advise members that we are extremely tight for time; therefore, you will you need to keep to your times, and we cannot make any allowances for interventions. The cabinet secretary has 10 minutes.
In the first debate of the new year, I wish all members across the chamber a happy new year—it is a very appropriate time to reflect on and debate Scotland’s winter festivals. In particular, I welcome Claire Baker to her first debate as culture spokesperson for the Labour Party.
Eight years ago, the first Scottish National Party Government initiated the concept of and policy and funding for Scotland’s winter festivals to boost national and international celebration of St Andrew’s day, hogmanay and Burns night and to showcase the very many reasons why Scotland is a year-round visitor destination. Those dates were always celebrated, of course, but the Scotland’s winter festival programme helps to harness the significant collective potential of those key events by showcasing across the entire winter season the exciting range of events and activities that are on offer and which celebrate and promote our distinct traditions to the people of Scotland, our visitors and those with an affinity to Scotland from across the world.
Scotland’s winter festivals have three primary objectives: to celebrate and showcase our unique culture and creativity at home and across the globe; to boost tourism and the visitor economy; and to engage communities and enhance national pride.
Since their introduction, the winter festivals have gone from strength to strength. The 2013-14 events programme recorded a total footfall of around 250,000, which is an 8 per cent increase on the previous year.
Over 2014-15, we are investing around £500,000 in Scotland’s winter festivals, supporting a series of 18 funded events across 12 local authority areas. Those include the Oban winter festival, which included more than 50 events set around St Andrew’s day, and “Haggis, Beasts and Tatties”, which is a celebration of Burns at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.
Initial evidence from our most recent St Andrew’s day celebrations shows that the winter festivals are on course to deliver another great success. For example, there was a fantastic response to Historic Scotland’s celebration of St Andrew’s day, with 35,000 free tickets provided for 35 sites across the country, including Edinburgh castle, Linlithgow palace and the border abbeys.
The saltire festival in East Lothian from 24 to 30 November was also very successful. The race day at Musselburgh racecourse attracted a crowd of more than 1,500 people, and feast ‘n’ folk gave locals and visitors the chance to enjoy traditional music and a delicious Scottish menu at more than 14 bars and restaurants in the area.
To encourage people to join the celebration of St Andrew’s day, we again recruited a range of private sector organisations to offer free or discounted vouchers to attractions across Scotland. In 2014, 127 organisations signed up to be day out partners. In total, we reached out to around 270 partners in celebrating St Andrew’s day, including the Scottish Book Trust and Scottish Opera. All of that is evidence of exceptional partner collaboration and it provided visitors and communities with opportunities to sample many of Scotland’s attractions and also the fantastic natural larder for which we are renowned across the world.
Talking of Scotland’s larder, I am also delighted to now see our fish and our fish dishes being showcased on or around 30 November—as suggested by Jamie McGrigor in a previous St Andrew’s day debate—to reflect St Andrew the fisherman.
Edinburgh’s hogmanay, which is a key element of the winter festivals, is supported with a funding contribution of £100,000 from the winter festivals and £200,000 from the Scottish Government’s expo fund. It is a great success story. It generates £32 million for the Scottish economy and reaches almost 1 billion people in 200 countries across the globe. The 2014-15 hogmanay attracted more than 120,000 people over three days.
The Edinburgh event is one of the many highlights of Scotland’s hogmanay. It sits alongside a wealth of other events right across the country on or around 31 December, including for example the hogmanay concert in Stornoway. That was a sell-out and the wider festival programme there attracted more than 500 people.
We are now seeing new and innovative events to celebrate Scotland’s culture joining the hogmanay celebrations. Building on the success of 2014, on 1 January 2015, the “Scot:Lands” event invited audiences to come to the “Home Land” at the National Museum of Scotland to begin a journey around 10 atmospheric venues in Edinburgh’s old town, each curated and customised by notable Scottish artists and arts organisations from all over Scotland. That event was supported by the expo fund.
Let me take a moment to look at the three key aims of the winter festivals. First, they aim to enhance the celebration of Scotland’s unique culture and creativity and also to boost our international profile. St Andrew’s day is celebrated across the globe with events in, for example, Singapore, Istanbul, Rome and Montreal. We had 5 million people viewing the topic page on one of China’s most popular media channels, Sina Weibo. In order to promote Scotland, we have managed to showcase what are truly world events across the country and our cutting-edge culture and creativity on or around 31 December. There were unique music showcase events in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Oban, to name but a few places.
The second aim is to boost tourism. The winter festivals programme is positioned alongside other initiatives to ensure that Scotland offers a wide range of exciting and inspirational events right across the country throughout the year—they should not be seen in isolation.
The winter festivals programme both started off 2014 and brought it to a close. It was a momentous year for our country, when we celebrated homecoming in spectacular style and hosted the hugely successful Commonwealth games, which had a strong cultural programme that was part and parcel of the partnerships that drove the games. I will be interested to hear what Liz Smith says, but I am very focused on the fact that the success of our events, and the winter festivals in particular, comes from the partnerships that we have with many organisations. They are not driven from the top down and it is important that we reflect people and place.
We had a great year in 2014 with international events such as the Ryder cup and the MTV Europe music awards that have certainly put us on the global stage. Looking across 2014, we can see how the winter festivals programme, along with all the other events, helps to promote Scotland as somewhere to visit all year round, inspiring our visitors and communities to be part of all of Scotland’s brilliant moments.
We are now looking forward, into 2015, with the fantastic launch programme for the year of food and drink, which started on 1 January. Again, that is a great opportunity to showcase Scotland all year round.
Thirdly, the winter festivals aim to boost national pride and enhance community engagement and empowerment. On that subject, I want to focus on one element in particular. I was delighted to attend the finale of the multicultural homecoming celebration on 30 November last year. That programme, which was a partnership between BEMIS—empowering Scotland’s ethnic and cultural minority communities and the Scottish Government invited Scotland’s multicultural communities to celebrate homecoming. It included more than 40 different events across the country, which attracted more than 6,500 people. It was a great way to celebrate the modern Scotland and all the different cultures that form it. The finale event was held on St Andrew’s night, when we had spectacular celebrations with a range of exceptional performances, reflecting all the different communities in Scotland.
It was very clear to me that our multicultural communities are keen not just to celebrate home and St Andrew’s day in their own particular way but to share that celebration in an open and inclusive manner, and that is something that we will build on with BEMIS in 2015 and beyond.
Boosting our unique culture and our creative sectors has become a key part of what we do, and our winter festivals are a key element of our year-round programme. I am keen to build on that momentum by planning for 2015-16, with my officials. We will review the winter festivals strategy to ensure that, in keeping with our programme for government, we do all that can be done to boost local economies and encourage greater community participation in the events on offer. We will also look at how we can broaden things out to ensure that different activities happen in our more remote and rural areas, and I want to build on today’s debate and welcome any ideas and suggestions that members might have for boosting the winter festivals.
I thank all the communities, organisations, businesses and other partners that have worked so hard to make Scotland’s winter festivals a great success story, and I look forward to building on our impressive achievements as we move into 2015 and beyond.
That the Parliament notes the contribution that Scotland’s Winter Festival programme makes in promoting Scotland both nationally and internationally as a world-class cultural tourism destination and the perfect stage for events all year round; acknowledges that the programme of St Andrew’s Day, Christmas, Hogmanay and Burns Night celebrations is gathering momentum year-on-year and offers visitors, the people of Scotland and all those with an affinity to Scotland a real taste of the nation’s distinct traditions and contemporary culture through the promotion of Scottish music, arts, food and drink; recognises the role that the festivals have and will continue to play in supporting Scotland’s successful programme of themed years, and welcomes the contribution that the winter festivals make in helping to promote Scotland as a great place to visit, study, work, invest and do business all year round.
This afternoon’s debate gives us the opportunity to recognise the diversity of celebrations and festivals that take place in Scotland over the winter months. However, I want to take a moment to reflect on the tragic accident that happened in George Square in the run-up to Christmas. Our thoughts are with those who lost loved ones in the midst of the Christmas festivities; it was heartbreaking to see families experience such shock and loss at that time of year, and I wish all those injured a full recovery. Again, we saw Glasgow having to pull together to deal with a difficult time, and it showed how the idea of community lies at the heart of the city.
Although the focus of the official winter festivals programme is the period from St Andrew’s day in November to Burns night later this month, for many Hallowe’en and bonfire night mark the start of many exciting opportunities to gather and celebrate during the dark months. Winter festivals do not always mean big gatherings; they are also about the community-led celebrations that mark our winter months. All of them play an important role in our lives, support our local and national economies, boost the tourist trade, promote Scotland as a year-round destination and showcase and share some of the best of Scotland’s rich culture.
Winter festivals have grown in popularity in recent years and are increasingly seen as an important part of community life. Scotland is a northern country and, as our days get shorter, winter festivals provide a focus for celebration and entertainment. The winter festivals programme, which is delivered and supported by EventScotland, promotes landmark cultural days by offering a wide range of major ticketed and free events that encourage participation. However, we need to strike an appropriate balance between the commercial aspect of such events, with a recognition of the importance of that aspect to their viability, and the need for inclusivity at a time of year that for many people can be expensive.
The popularity and success of the festivals can be seen in the figures in VisitScotland’s briefing. In particular, Edinburgh’s hogmanay programme has grown over the years; indeed, it was the only festival in the Discovery Channel’s recent list of top 25 world travel experiences, which is pretty impressive. Increasingly, people who come to the city at this time of year are spoilt for choice and although the big events remain the focus, other innovative and imaginative events are springing up. Now in its third year, the Scot:Lands event, which the cabinet secretary mentioned, takes audiences on a new year’s day treasure hunt through a series of venues in the old town, staging music, dance, film and other events.
Although there is a focus on our cities, which are the key tourism destinations, winter festivals also encourage people to go further afield. Last year’s St Andrew’s day celebration in St Andrews attracted almost 10,000 people to the town over the course of the weekend, which boosted the local economy significantly. Burns night events extend from Dumfries and Galloway’s big Burns supper, an imaginative and modern celebration of the bard’s work that has grown in recent years, to the “Haggis, Beasts and Tatties” event at Eden Court in Inverness.
It is smart and indeed important to highlight those events that are uniquely Scottish, as such an approach encourages people to visit us in order to have a special experience. However, we must ask whether we are doing enough to promote what we have and to promote and support international marketing; as we have read today, Scotland’s export figures stalled in the final quarter because of a depressed European market, and we need to be flexible and look at where we need to grow future tourism markets. To ensure the continued success of our festivals and Scotland’s brand in general, we must do more and look at new and innovative ways of promoting our unique and sought-after brand across the world.
I was pleased to read yesterday that VisitAberdeen is pushing forward with plans to develop a Chinese version of its tourism website. We all know about the benefits of overseas tourism to Scotland and of the particular strength of the Chinese tourism trade. It is estimated that the Chinese spend £125 billion on overseas leisure and business. To put that into context, it is apparently on average 50 per cent more than Americans spend.
We know from recent surveys that Chinese tourists appreciate the countryside, built heritage and culture. Scotland has all three in abundance, so we are in a prime position to benefit from their tourism. However, according to yesterday’s report, only 1 per cent of the Chinese population speak English. Multilingual websites are therefore an important tool in promoting what our country has to offer to as many countries as possible.
Promoting Scotland as a destination is increasingly culturally focused. We cannot rely on our weather as our selling point; as we saw with the unfortunate cancellation of Stirling’s hogmanay celebrations due to high winds, it can still have a negative impact on our festivities.
Winter festivals provide opportunities for business and activity over the traditionally quieter seasons. For example, I recently met representatives from the Scottish Showmen’s Guild and heard that the growth in winter festivals supports its members outwith the fairs season.
While the growing success of the major festivals is important, particularly to tourism and the economy, smaller local festivals are increasingly playing an important part in the local economy and vibrancy of an area. They are increasingly innovative and imaginative and, with the involvement of the local authority, arts trusts, local groups or schools, they are often more inclusive and collaborative and engage more directly with the community. The Kirkcaldy lantern parade in the run-up to Christmas was a beautiful example of community engagement. It had lantern-making workshops so that people could join the parade, a bringing of the light song composed for the event and a fireworks display. Is the cabinet secretary confident that we have an integrated strategy and that enough support and advice are being targeted at more regional and local events, which might not return the big tourism figures but provide community activity and celebration and support a domestic tourism market?
We also see local festivals supporting the retail sector. Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular, so town-centre festivals provide a way of broadening the experience of shopping and help to keep our high streets alive by ensuring that they get a share of the festive shopping. We need to continue to change the way in which we use retail and public space. As our amendment says, I recognise the hard work of all the volunteers, community groups, trade associations and small businesses that do so much to make such events happen.
This debate is to be followed by a debate on mental health, which is a huge health challenge of our times. While that debate will no doubt attempt to address broad and complex issues, if we are talking about health and wellbeing as factors that underpin good mental health, we should acknowledge that winter can be a challenging and particularly isolating time for many people. In a small way, winter festivals or winter activity can provide important and valuable opportunities for people to come together, socialise and benefit from a collective experience. We should do all that we can to support them and to encourage wide participation.
I move amendment S4M-11976.2, to insert at end:
“; also recognises the many local and community-organised winter festivals that take place throughout Scotland, and commends the hard work of volunteers, local groups and small businesses that make such events a success”.
I congratulate Claire Baker on her new appointment.
I am sure that we have all attended some local winter festivals in recent weeks, and we are now looking forward to the Burns season. As the cabinet secretary said in her motion and as is shown in the evidence she gave in her speech, the winter festivals are hugely important on a national and international scale, especially in terms of the visitors that they attract and their contribution to the economy and as a celebration of Scotland’s unique culture. The cabinet secretary is also right to point to the important influence that they will have in Scotland’s year of food and drink and the various other themes in forthcoming years. We need only look at the impressive financial benefits of the hogmanay season to see the importance of that influence.
Winter festivals are also important to local communities. They can often provide a major community focus in areas that might not always have the same degree of economic and social advantage, and it is entirely appropriate to mention the vast army of volunteers, which Claire Baker has done in her amendment, who do so much to enhance the cultural experience in their own small town or village. Many events would not happen without them, and it is important that we support them in whichever part of Scotland they are.
Several times in the past, the cabinet secretary has spoken about the intrinsic value of culture for its own sake. I agree, as do the majority of commentators who make it their business to explore Scotland’s cultural activity. Some interesting articles and papers have been written in recent weeks, including over the Christmas period. I have been struck by some dominant themes that they contain.
First, if the referendum year created divisions in the arts world, as it did elsewhere in society, it also fired up a new intellectual debate in Scotland. That is incredibly healthy—it can be the theme through which we look at the celebration of our winter festivals.
Our artists have a great many interesting things to say about culture, especially on how the evolution of a nation’s culture can come about only through healthy self-criticism and freedom of expression. That is important. The cabinet secretary said that we must ensure that winter festivals are more accessible and meaningful for all. That has very much been a desired aim of our winter festivals. However, there is a broader issue on which to reflect.
The underlying theme concerns financial constraints. Local authorities, which often run our winter festivals, are under fire because they sometimes have to make difficult choices about how to prioritise their spending. Some have been criticised because they have chosen schools, social care or roads spending above spending on cultural bodies such as libraries and museums.
We should not forget—I am sure that the cabinet secretary is not in a position to forget—that, although Creative Scotland was able to disburse £90 million in its recent round of funding grants, the bids that came in were for well in excess of £200 million. Although that shows the extent of people’s cultural aspirations, there is a danger that, in some cases, some of the smaller events cannot be afforded.
That raises issues about resources and it flags up a tension in the arts in Scotland, which is that valuing the arts for their own sake, which is so important, sometimes does not sit easily with financial management. We need only read passionate comments from the film industry or listen to artistes in our orchestras and choirs to know how strongly people in the arts feel that tension.
That point was very much taken on board by Janet Archer—and the cabinet secretary—when Creative Scotland was trying to get over its problems two years ago. Those tensions remain—they are real tensions. Some of them are financial and some are about economic management.
It is an interesting time in Scottish culture because people have new ideas that are flourishing. To bring all that together, we need a seriously coherent strategy with overarching themes that interact with industry, tourism and lots of other businesses. That is an area that we must consider because it is a real challenge for the cultural sector. I hope that the Government can take that very seriously.
I move amendment S4M-11976.1, to insert at end:
“, but believes that in order to provide the greatest support for winter festivals, along with all other cultural activity in Scotland, there needs to be a fully coherent arts strategy that provides arts bodies, both local and national, with the integrated support and funding priorities that they need in order that Scotland can enhance its cultural reputation both at home and abroad”.
Fifty years ago, as a student, I obtained temporary employment with the General Post Office at Christmas, helping to deliver a larger than usual postbag. We were paid off on Christmas eve and the regulars did the postal delivery on Christmas day. Shops were open, newspapers and milk were delivered to the house and my general practitioner father had surgeries on Christmas day. In short, when I was a youngster there was very limited celebration of Christmas. New year was an entirely different matter. When we went first footing to neighbours’ houses, we normally carried something to drink, something to eat and something to burn.
A great deal has changed. The focus is perhaps less now on individual action and much more on organised events. Let me gently tweak the tail of the Tories, because when their amendment talks about strategies it is at odds with my instincts. I do not think that this is about strategies at all; it is about defining winter celebrations as things that happen locally. We have a huge amount of talent to draw on; organising and directing it through a strategy is perhaps not the way forward.
If we listen to what the arts bodies are saying, we will find that, although they agree with the member entirely about allowing creativity to flourish in local areas, they want a wider, overarching strategy, which brings more aspects of Scottish society together, to give intrinsic value to art.
Well, that is where we fundamentally disagree. I do not want to bring people together; I want to encourage diversity and local community action. I recognise that I might be a lone voice in that regard—I am not expressing the view of my political colleagues—but I just think that winter offers an opportunity for individuals to enjoy themselves and for communities and little groups to get together.
We heard that 18 funding streams were used last year, which is very much to be welcomed, because we need the anchor points that attract international attention. However, self-directed, self-organised, spontaneous celebration of the good in winter—be it a religious celebration as at Christmas, a secular one as at new year, or simply an excuse for a party on a dark night, with appropriate lubrication to keep the wheels turning—is all to be welcomed.
The word “hogmanay” is a mysterious one. It might come from the Gaelic “oge maidne”, or “new morning”, or—and this is my preference—from the Flemish “hoog min dag”, which means “high love day”. I say that that is my preference because there is the opportunity to celebrate the old new year, which comes in the middle of January, and that is something for which I feel a particular affection, because I was born on 15 October. Members of a gynaecological disposition will think about that carefully and work out why I feel as I do. My brother was born on exactly the same day three years after me, so my parents clearly shared my enthusiasm for the old new year.
I am drawing on my considerable experience when I say that I regret that there was no snow this winter—not every minister in the Government will agree with me on that. When I watched my great-niece and her brother pulling a sledge in Denmark over Christmas, I felt really jealous.
I hope that everyone had a good break this winter. I wish all members a happy new year.
Scotland’s winter festivals celebrate our nation’s rich cultural heritage, and they showcase Scotland on the international stage. There is a fantastic programme of events across the country, which incorporates three of Scotland’s most celebrated days—St Andrew’s day, hogmanay and Burns night—and rounds off the year of homecoming.
The festivals encourage everyone to get out and about in Scotland in the winter. There is so much going on. St Andrew’s day and hogmanay have passed, but we can look forward to the Burns night events. I look forward to my vegetarian or halal haggis, which I assure members that I enjoy.
Scotland is renowned for its warm hospitality. In 2014 we showed the world what a great country Scotland is. Celebratory nights—around the world—offer great opportunities for residents and visitors to continue to do that and to celebrate our rich culture and diversity.
In my constituency, Glasgow on ice returned to George Square. It promised to be better than ever and it certainly delivered, bringing the square alive on St Andrew’s day, in a celebration of everything Scottish, and continuing throughout the festive period. There was skating with a Scottish twist, and the facade of Glasgow City Council chambers was transformed by a light show, which celebrated a snapshot of Scotland throughout the night of St Andrew’s day, thanks to video artist Tim Reid and playwright Jenny Knotts.
I was happy that, on the busiest days, people in Glasgow were encouraged to travel on public transport or on foot. There were various discounts and offers, and people were given goodie bags to take home. Children, in particular, enjoyed the free goodies.
One idea that I have to offer—as the cabinet secretary said that she is looking for suggestions—is that perhaps next year, during the Burns supper events, we could try to encourage cafes, shops and retail outlets to open later in the evenings. I think that that would encourage a lot more activity.
I hope that one day we will see such great events grow and generate returns for the retail industry, for local communities and for Scotland as a whole. I look forward to hearing the reviews that we attract for the year’s activities.
The cabinet secretary also mentioned the fact that these festivals are not only restricted to winter and that we do rather well in Scotland throughout the year. To give a small example of what is happening in Glasgow in particular, we are going to have the European judo championships, the Turner prize and the British Athletics international. That is a sample of what we are looking forward to seeing in Glasgow.
I hope and I pray that we can not only consolidate what we have done to date but build on the continued success that we have had. We have seen, year on year, that we have done rather well. We seem to be reaching levels of expertise that are renowned throughout the world. I hope that everybody who has participated and helped engage in these issues continues to do so in the future.
Presiding Officer, I wish you and the other members in the chamber a happy new year.
I am delighted to have been called to speak in this debate heralding the success of Scotland’s winter festivals. As an Edinburgh MSP, I make no apology for using Edinburgh as a great example of a winter festival. For more than 21 years, the city has welcomed the world to celebrate the new year in spectacular style at the now internationally famous Edinburgh’s hogmanay, with three days of free and ticketed events featuring headline concerts, theatre, music, dance and street party extravaganzas. It is for that reason, as Claire Baker pointed out, that Edinburgh’s hogmanay is the only festival that was recently listed in the Discovery Channel’s top 25 world travel experiences.
Initial analysis suggests that Edinburgh’s hogmanay welcomed visitors from more than 70 countries, which contrasts with visitors from 55 countries in 2013-14. The highlight of the festival was of course the hogmanay street party, which was a sell-out, with more than 75,000 revellers. It included two ticketed events: the concert in the gardens with Lily Allen, which attracted 9,500 revellers, and the ceilidh on the Mound, which attracted another 3,000 people.
Of course, it is not just in the city centre that revellers have fun as part of this great winter festival. We can add to that an additional estimated 100,000-plus people watching the midnight fireworks across the city and beyond and, on new year’s day, another sell-out event, with 1,000 participants braving the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth at Queensferry, in my constituency, to take part in the loony dook—viewed by an estimated 3,000 observers.
Edinburgh can rightly claim to have had a highly successful winter festival. I also agree with some of Stewart Stevenson’s comments. Local traditions merging with modern ideas have shown that Scotland can produce events that the world wants to come and see.
Anyone watching any news programme on new year’s day would have seen the way that other countries and cities across the globe celebrate the beginning of the new year. Sydney, New York, Berlin and London all produce spectacular events but do not necessarily produce festivals as we know them; that is the advantage that we have here in Scotland.
When we had a similar debate a few months ago, there was reference to the City of Edinburgh Council’s “Thundering Hooves” reports. Those reports refer to how Edinburgh maintains its position as the leading arts festival in the world. I believe that Edinburgh has a world-leading winter festival but we cannot be complacent. There is no doubt that there are pressures on public finances, thanks to austerity and various other problems, and I welcome the Scottish Government funding.
In my opinion, local authorities, local residents and the private sector all have to come together when organising local festivals, whether in Edinburgh or elsewhere, in order to work on sustainable models of planning and financing the national assets that are the winter festivals. Rather like life in general, the world does not owe Scotland a living. We are in competition with some huge players for the revenue that is generated by tourism.
At a time of year that can be less than pleasant, we need to take every advantage that we can muster. That includes our artistic talent and flair for planning festivals—I congratulate Faith Liddell of Festivals Edinburgh on her award in the new year’s honours list—and our ability to make local festivals relevant to local residents, who enjoy the festivities as much as our visitors do.
I will finish with two points, Presiding Officer, which I direct to those outside the chamber. First, hotel accommodation charges in Edinburgh can be embarrassingly high at festival time in comparison with those of some of our international competitors, and our festivals will not work unless we have visitors. Secondly, I make the plea once again for the speedy devolution of air passenger duty, as that will make a huge difference, and not just at festival time.
Today is the 12th day of Christmas, which traditionally marked the end of the period when people lit their homes and streets to dispel the dark, cold days of winter. For many, it also marks the time to take down the decorations and get back to a normal routine.
Winter festivals are part of that same tradition: they are a way of bringing some much-needed festive cheer to the streets of Scotland. The festivals are often rooted in history and heritage, and increasingly provide a focus for modern-day living, community activities and wider interests.
Scotland has always had its share of celebrations in winter time—from St Andrew’s day, through new year, to Burns night. Each of those exists in its own right and features different events and activities. However, given the increasing popularity of the events and the array of local, more community-based events that take place all over Scotland in the winter months, it makes sense to recognise those different celebrations and locations as part of a branding and wider marketing exercise to celebrate our winter festivals.
In reaching out via the traditional festivals, and drawing on the cultural heritage to bring in new opportunities and experiences, we see that the winter festivals form a bridge between old and new. They enable the season’s cultural events to face both ways like the Roman god Janus, after whom January is named: the God of beginnings and transitions, and of doorways, endings and time, looking with his two faces to the future and the past.
Events such as Burns night and St Andrew’s Day are rooted in Scottish tradition, but a more modern and marketable take on them ensures a focus on economic development, and the continuing growth of Scotland’s popularity as a visitor destination. It also provides an excellent balance to the rest of the year, and a counterpoint to the hugely successful cultural events and festivals that dot the calendar throughout the summer months.
As a member for Mid Scotland and Fife, I am delighted to speak today in a debate that draws attention to the increasingly popular St Andrew’s Day celebrations. That wee town in the east neuk of Fife is world-famous for so many reasons, and it is great to see the growing celebration of its namesake and international recognition of what it means to be Scottish. The 2014 celebrations in St Andrews on 30 November took that Scottish identity and celebrated all aspects of it, using influences from the past through to the present in the form of Irish dancing, bhangra beats, a pipe-band parade and a ceilidh in the evening.
The international appeal of other events that make up the winter festival season is evident—for example, in our world-famous celebration of Hogmanay, which attracts visitors from all round the globe. However, we are also seeing increasing participation by local residents and UK-based tourists who are on a staycation and are choosing to have a city break not in Berlin, Paris or Amsterdam, but in Scotland’s cities and major towns.
One criticism is that many of the events that have developed over the past few years, particularly around the festive period, are costly and add an extra financial burden to the pockets of parents, which are already overstretched at Christmas time. Initiatives such as those that have developed in Edinburgh, in which residents are, through having a local postcode, eligible for discounted entry to attractions, are to be welcomed, and I hope that they will be developed further.
Similarly, in Dunfermline the winter festival that is organised by Dunfermline Delivers was designed to attract local residents and visitors alike, and in so doing to provide a boost for local businesses. Visitors to the town centre over the festive period were able to check out the new businesses that were given the chance to trade in the town centre from 14 November until 24 December as part of the town’s venture street competition. From arts and crafts to fashion and food, there was a diverse and appealing mix of businesses drawing people to the area. Budding entrepreneurs were given rent-free premises from which to run their businesses, and the chance to win a support package, worth up to £85,000, for starting a new business in Dunfermline.
In conclusion, winter festivals continue to demonstrate their appeal as celebrations of our traditional culture, as major factors in attracting visitors and as a boost to local economies. All that sits alongside their no-less-important role as a way of providing not only fun and entertainment, but a chance for families to do things together, which we perhaps do not value enough in our busy modern world.
I, too, wish you, Presiding Officer, and other members a happy new year.
It seems to be particularly appropriate that we are celebrating Scotland’s winter festivals right at the beginning of 2015, which is, of course, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s international year of light. UNESCO, which is the cultural arm of the United Nations, will in 2015 stage events around the globe to highlight the central role that light plays in human activities.
Of course, there is nothing new under the sun—even the thin winter sun. Light was accorded just as much importance by our ancestors, who celebrated the winter solstice to brighten the cold months when daylight was scarce. Our Scottish winter festivals have their origins in that time. The UNESCO blog on the subject this week points out that, on a fundamental level through photosynthesis, light is necessary to the existence of life itself and has revolutionised society through medicine, communications, entertainment and culture. For that reason, this year’s Nobel prize will have light as its theme.
However, it is not just Nobel laureates who will contribute to UNESCO’s global celebrations. In Dumfries this coming Burns night, as part of the big Burns supper winter festival, 2,000 children will celebrate the year of light with a spectacular carnival. Each of them will carry a glittering lantern, and the parade will trace a journey to the centre of the earth through the centre of Dumfries. It does not seem like a year since I led a members’ business debate celebrating the big Burns supper, which has become the premier Burns event in the winter festivals calendar. Despite being launched only in 2012, the big Burns supper has gone from strength to strength. I am particularly glad to hear that it has been awarded a £30,000 grant this year from EventScotland. This year’s festival has been extended to nine days, and includes everything from Nina Nesbitt, to the Undertones, to the contrasting Burns tea dance and the Burns supper burlesque show, “Le Haggis”. There is a very special treat after the Burns night parade, when Regular Music and the National Theatre of Scotland collaborate on “Janis Joplin: Full Tilt”, which has been described by one reviewer as “brilliant and intense”.
There are also dozens of events in the emerging talent strand of the festival. There are far too many to list in the time that I have available, but I want to highlight the work of a young woman called Robyn Stapleton, who is a local girl from Stranraer and a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s traditional music course. Robyn, who will be singing as part of the emerging talent programme, has a stunning voice and seems set to become a leading Burns singer for the future generation. She spent her final year at the conservatoire researching and revising the traditional music of her native Mull of Galloway. If anyone has the opportunity to hear her sing, I very much urge them to take it.
This year, the big Burns supper festival has extended its community involvement, which might be of interest to members who have mentioned the importance of the arts at local level. The big Burns supper has launched a festival within a festival in north-west Dumfries, in the Lincluden and Lochside areas, in an outreach programme that is aimed at involving residents of those low-income areas. Eight acts, including the award-winning Skerryvore folk-rock band and Canadian vocal group Countermeasure, will put on free pop-up shows in the area, there will be performances of the very popular “Hamish the Haggis” children’s show, and much more is still to be announced.
When I spoke about the big Burns supper last year, I pointed out that it is really special because Dumfries is a living stage and is the place where Burns lived and worked. People can visit the pubs that he drank in and the house where he lived. Similarly, the people of Dumfries, including north-west Dumfries, have a direct connection to the people and places who inspired the bard. They speak the same language as him and have the same humanitarian values. Therefore, the festival within a festival is an excellent development of one of our most successful winter festivals, so I am delighted to highlight it in the debate.
I wish everybody a happy new year. As others have said, winter festivals contribute to national and local economies, but they do a lot more than that, as they also contribute to our wellbeing. At this time of year in northern countries such as ours, the nights are long. The sun, when it appears, does not rise much above the horizon, many of the trees are bare and the plants have died back. It is apposite that mental health is being debated later this afternoon, because the depths of winter are often particularly hard for sufferers of conditions such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
The social benefits of winter festivals were probably understood long before their economic opportunities. Many cultures over many millennia have celebrated festivals of light, bringing people together to celebrate a common culture. The druids and others celebrated the winter solstice, and it has been argued that, in the fourth century AD, Pope Julius I decreed that the birth of Christ be celebrated at this time, partly in order to prevent people from continuing to celebrate pagan festivals. In Scotland, of course, we have continued to celebrate the new year as a separate festival.
The Celts did not celebrate only the solstices and equinoxes; they also celebrated quarter days in four fire festivals. There was Samhain—the precursor of Hallowe’en—at the end of the October, which marked the start of the dark half of the year, and Beltane, at the beginning of May, which marked the beginning of the light half. In between those fell Lammas, around the end of July—which, interestingly, is around about the time when a number of the common ridings take place—and Imbolc, at the end of January. Imbolc is now celebrated in other parts of the Celtic world as St Brigid’s day. However, in Scotland, we have the good fortune that our national bard was born at the end of January, which gives us the opportunity to have more cultural celebrations at that time of year, and, as we all know, the Burns supper season stretches out throughout February.
Although Robert Burns spent time in Edinburgh and the Highlands, he lived and worked first in Ayrshire and then in Dumfriesshire, and it is the area that we know as Burns country that has the greatest potential to benefit from those celebrations. As Joan McAlpine noted—and as I have celebrated in previous debates—that potential for Dumfries, where Burns died and is buried at St Michael’s church, was recognised in 2011 by an enterprising group of people who launched the big Burns supper to coincide with the weekend of Burns night in 2012. That was only three years ago, which is extraordinary because it seems to have been on our calendar for a lot longer than that. The success of that very modern and eclectic celebration of the life of Robert Burns is demonstrated by its expansion after only three festivals from a weekend event to a nine-day event, which now involves 100 shows in 50 venues, and a Burns night carnival involving more than 2,000 people from Dumfries and Galloway.
This year the wonderful Spiegeltent will be in town again, hosting a variety of acts including comedy, cabaret and music from folk to heavy metal. It will also host the burlesque “Le Haggis” Burns supper, which Joan McAlpine mentioned and to which I referred in a debate on festivals last year. As I said then, I did not dare attend it, but many people must have done so, as it will be running for a week this year.
I know that many of the organisers of the festival were on the other side of the referendum debate to myself. That might mean that I will be less welcome at the events, but it makes no difference to my appreciation of the work that they put in to ensure the success of the festival and its increasing importance to the region. I hope that this year’s festival may help to heal divides, too.
Scotland is often depicted as a country where there are four seasons, all of which are rainy. That may be true, but our seasons are distinct in terms of the amount of daylight, and I think that thathatn be turned to our advantage by the promotion of seasonal festivals that celebrate that particular aspect of our northerly part of this globe.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on Scotland’s winter festivals and, like others who have spoken, I wish all members a happy new year.
While reflecting on the success of the events, I also want to consider the opportunities that the hosting of such events provides—and not only the opportunity to have a party on a dark night, which Stewart Stevenson mentioned, or, indeed, the opportunities for procreation that he implied.
I have the privilege of representing one of the areas that held one of the first events of the current programme. I speak, of course, of the four-day celebration that took place in St Andrews around St Andrew’s day, which Claire Baker has already referred to. For a town with a population of approximately 9,000, not including the student population—or approximately 16,700, including students—to accommodate some 2,000 spectators on the final day of activities, including performances by people such as Eddi Reader and the switching on of the town’s Christmas lights, is impressive, to say the least.
Although I have no doubt that the celebrations in St Andrews would have been a success regardless of whether additional funding had been provided by the Government, I am sure that the town’s share of the £315,000 for winter festivals was gratefully received.
St Andrews has been a popular tourist destination for a long time, but it requires continued investment and attention to ensure that that success continues. The town is sometimes referred to as the jewel in the crown of Fife and is a haven for many foreign and domestic tourists, particularly golfers. To that extent, for the town and its surrounding area, events such as the St Andrew’s day celebrations are something of a bonus but are a very useful addition to the local economy and something that the local economy needs to keep ticking over.
The celebrations in St Andrews encompass the St Andrews food and drink festival, which helps to promote the local food and drink sector. As we all know, St Andrews, like many places in north-east Fife, has an excellent reputation for top-quality food and drink. Viewers of the most recent BBC series of “MasterChef” will know what I am talking about. The winner of the 2014 series, Jamie Scott, is an Arbroath man who works at the Rocca bar and grill in St Andrews, and the runner-up in the 2013 series, Scott Davies, is a chef at the Adamson restaurant in the town. In addition, two chefs from the Fairmont hotel, which is just outside St Andrews, have featured in two recent finals. We have quite a reputation for food and drink.
Scotland’s winter festivals, therefore, are not just a series of events in their own right but act as an advert for Scotland’s year of food and drink and provide an opportunity for areas that are hosting events to showcase themselves for the year ahead. I am certain that my constituency will be up there with the best of them, given its fine history of being a purveyor of good food and drink. I also hope that St Andrews will reaffirm its excellent reputation as a tourist destination in time for the Open golf championship later this year.
I conclude with a statistic. Information from the Scottish Government shows that attendance at cultural events and places reached 89.6 per cent of the adult population in 2012 according to the most recent data available. That includes attendance at places such as libraries, live music events, cinemas and theatres. I am pleased that attendance at cultural events in the town may increase this year following the successful reopening of the Byre theatre in the latter part of 2014 after a deal was reached with the university.
Scotland’s winter festivals helped to close 2014, but I am sure that the festival events that are still to take place will help to kick off 2015 with a bang. Indeed, Burns night is almost upon us and I am sure that it is eagerly awaited in Dumfries and elsewhere.
It is always welcome to hear about cultural successes throughout Scotland, and our winter festivals have done us proud once more. All manner of parties, celebrations and traditional festivals have been held the length and breadth of the country, with local communities benefiting greatly. It is fantastic to hear unanimous praise for the deserving performers and organisers, but the Parliament must also use these debates to focus attention on what needs to be done to build on the successes. More could be done by the Scottish Government to support our winter festivals, which is why the Scottish Conservatives have lodged an amendment calling for a coherent arts strategy to boost our cultural reputation.
Before explaining why I believe the chamber should support Ms Smith’s amendment, I must state that I feel strongly that the invaluable contribution of the hogmanay festival to Edinburgh’s life deserves recognition and further congratulations. As a resident of Edinburgh and an MSP for Lothian, I well understand how much the annual festivities mean to our wonderful city. We are extremely proud of our multi-day festival, which is one of a kind, and we are very grateful to all those who are involved. Around 70,000 people attended in 2013, and tickets for last week’s street party sold out very quickly. The festival obviously delivers a great boost to Edinburgh’s economy—indeed, to Scotland’s economy—with the estimates for previous years nearing £30 million. On that note, if the Scottish Government could provide a figure for the contribution of the hogmanay festival 2014-15 to Edinburgh’s economy, that would be very useful.
I would enjoy going on to touch on events such as the Burnsfest in Edinburgh, but I will use this opportunity to look at what should be done going forward. The amendment in Ms Smith’s name highlights what is clear to many people—that our arts and creative industries need a fully coherent strategy to be set out by the Scottish Government.
There are a large number of fantastic cultural successes of which we can be proud, including the winter festivals that are being held this season. However, the Parliament needs to discuss those aspects of Scotland’s cultural scene where, regrettably, things are not working as well as they should be and what more could be done to help them.
We do not have time in this debate to go into the detail of where specific organisations have struggled, but it appears that both Creative Scotland and the film industry would benefit from a clearer arts strategy. As my colleague touched on earlier, arts bodies of all shapes and sizes across the country should be provided with integrated support and funding priorities that will enable them to reach more easily their full potential. Without such a system in place, some of the wealth of cultural talent that we have in this country may be lost. I am sure that we can all agree that such a loss of talent is always a great shame.
Accordingly, I hope that Scotland continues to deliver fantastic winter festivals and that all our creative industries can strive to strengthen our well-earned reputation as one of the best countries for the arts to flourish in. In order for that to happen, however, they need a fully coherent arts strategy as soon as possible. I therefore urge all my fellow members to support the amendment in Ms Smith’s name.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and happy new year to all.
I am delighted to close the debate on winter festivals on behalf of Scottish Labour. I am a mother of three dear children, and my family get involved in winter festivals every year in my home town of Glasgow. Scotland has a strong record and an enviable reputation for arts participation. We also host world-class events such as the recent Ryder cup and Commonwealth games, which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to Scotland and promoted our image as a proud country on the international stage.
There is no doubt that, as we have heard in the debate, Scotland plays host to an impressive list of events and festivals during the winter months. Our winter festivals begin with the celebration of St Andrew’s day on 30 November, go on to the hogmanay celebrations on 31 December and culminate with Burns night on 25 January. Many local and community-organised winter festivals across the country celebrate Scotland’s rich culture and creativity, welcoming locals and tourists alike. We know that the 2013-14 winter festivals programme attracted over 250,000 people across Scotland, from the Highlands to Dumfries and Galloway, and that participation in the festivals is growing year on year.
My colleague Hanzala Malik mentioned Glasgow on ice and reminded us about skating with a Scottish twist. That event is bigger and better than in the previous year. I did not hear Hanzala disclose whether he had been on the ice, but I am sure that we will hear about that later. Jayne Baxter referred to the celebrations in Fife for St. Andrew’s day, which is important because it marks the start of the winter festival celebrations and is celebrated not only in Scotland but around the world with events to mark Scotland’s national day.
Everyone will agree that no one celebrates hogmanay like the Scots. We have got it all: from traditional fire festivals and torchlight processions, to street parties with live music and firework displays. Joan McAlpine and Elaine Murray referred to the celebrations around the big Burns supper in Dumfries, which we again look forward to. That event marks the world’s biggest celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. His work has created an enduring legacy for the nation’s arts and culture that continues to define its cultural heritage.
We in Scottish Labour fully appreciate and understand that excellence in the arts has intrinsic value but that its power can be used to drive change throughout society. Although it is inspiring to know that so many people engage in cultural and winter festivals, I am sure that my colleagues here will agree that we need to address the fact that people in our most deprived communities still participate less in cultural activities and are therefore isolated from the benefits that they bring.
On the topic of arts funding, yesterday morning the Labour press team sent out a tweet saying:
“p.44 of Tory dossier says Labour will cancel cuts to the arts budget. We won’t.”
A number of artists have expressed concern that Labour seems to be boasting that it will cut the arts budget. I wonder whether Anne McTaggart will want to distance herself from that comment by UK Labour.
I appreciate Joan McAlpine’s intervention, but it is important that we concentrate on what the Scottish Government is doing with its budget instead of looking at what is happening elsewhere and laying blame elsewhere.
The Scottish index of multiple deprivation shows that only 68 per cent of those adults who live in the most deprived 20 per cent of areas have participated in cultural activity in the past 12 months compared with 87 per cent of those adults who live in the least deprived 20 per cent of areas. Through investment in cultural activities, Scottish Labour made entry to museums and galleries free so that everyone could enjoy our nation’s history, heritage and culture. We should ensure that our winter festivals hold more free events so that more people from deprived areas can benefit from those festivals during the winter months in their local communities.
I believe that, as has been mentioned, people from communities across Scotland benefit hugely from winter festivals. Winter festivals attract tourists and boost the economy. I am proud that, as a nation, we are able to host such an extensive range of winter festivals the length and breadth of the country. Those festivals provide a great opportunity for visitors and residents to celebrate our unique culture and our distinctive heritage. I am sure that my colleagues will join me in commending the extensive work of the volunteers, local groups and small businesses that contribute to the festivals’ success.
This has been a very enjoyable debate, and I want to address a number of the points that have been made during it.
I agree with Claire Baker’s amendment and appreciate the important points that she made about local and community festivals, but I am not sure that I agree with the idea of extending winter so that it starts at Hallowe’en—winter is too long and dark as it is. In the context of local festivals, she mentioned Kirkcaldy. Town centre festivals are important from a retail point of view, whether they are held during the winter or at other times of the year. I worked with Derek Mackay, and I am now working with Marco Biagi, on the town centre regeneration plan. Culture will form part and parcel of the process of ensuring that there is vibrant life in our town centres.
Claire Baker also talked about the need for wider promotion of our winter festivals. She mentioned China. I have already mentioned our reach. Many tourist bookings are still made on a group basis, so we have to promote among groups as well as individuals. There is a constant need for innovation and one of the most recent innovations was blogmanay, which was about bringing the world’s bloggers to Edinburgh to experience hogmanay so that they could tell others about it and generate more interest. That is a good example of being innovative.
I want to address some of the points that Liz Smith made. Although I do not agree with her amendment, I appreciate her arguments and understand where she is coming from. When it comes to how Scotland expresses itself in the modern day, she is absolutely right that the past year has generated a great deal of intellectual thought. That is something that will not go away, and we want to embrace it in an inclusive way. It has merit from the point of view of how we look at the wider issue of arts and culture. I think that it would be wrong to say that the winter festivals have not been successful because of the absence of a national arts strategy, precisely because of all the arguments that have been made about spontaneity, the connection with place, the partnerships that are involved and the local character of many of our festivals.
Liz Smith made the point that somehow there is a tension between the intrinsic value of the arts and the financial aspects, but I think that the real challenge for Scotland—which I think is one that we can meet—is that it is not an either/or scenario; we can have both. Why do I say that? I will give an example after I have given way to the member.
I think that we are broadly on the same theme. A particularly pertinent example is what the film industry is saying. It is saying that it cannot do some of the things that it would like to do without the help of, for example, the broadcasting industry and parts of the tourism industry. We need to develop a unified structure—that is the point.
On the integration that is required—I know that a committee is looking into the issues—and Liz Smith’s point about everyone working together, we have done that extremely well over recent years, and particularly in the past year, when we brought together VisitScotland, EventScotland, Historic Scotland and Creative Scotland to co-ordinate what we do. Also, I chair a Convention of Scottish Local Authorities group, which brought together for the first time all the arts and culture conveners from across Scotland to address the opportunities and the challenges.
I return to my point about having a society that intrinsically values the merits as well as the financial aspects of art. Let us take the example of the big Burns supper in Dumfries, which Joan McAlpine and Elaine Murray mentioned. That is not easy or safe art; it is great, ambitious art. We have heard that the event now runs for nine days and that it generates great opportunity as well as finance for the local community. That shows that we can embrace both the merits and financial aspects of art.
Before I respond to Stewart Stevenson’s points, I will talk about the intellectual debate rather than the social debate that he mentioned.
On embracing and reinvigorating the Saltire Society, the precise point of using the opportunity presented by St Andrew’s day is to have an intellectual debate. We deliberately held Scottish book week in the first week of the winter festivals because that is a time for Scotland to reflect, to read and to think about the arguments. Therefore, although there is merit in some of Liz Smith’s arguments, this is not the right debate, nor are the winter festivals the right context, in which to think about positioning. However, I am happy to take forward that debate as 2015 progresses.
Stewart Stevenson talked about the importance of diversity. I agree. I confess that I celebrated spontaneously with my teenage daughter’s friends, dancing to a recording of Jools Hollands’s TV programme “Hootenanny”. We can celebrate spontaneously with modern music and in different ways.
In reflecting on what Scotland is, I note that some of the music showcased during our winter festivals was fantastic. As I mentioned, the Scot:Lands event was really firstfooting at 10 different venues by different audiences who had come to Scotland.
The wonderful Kenny Anderson’s fantastic film “From Scotland with love”, which was showcased at the Commonwealth games and supported by the Scottish Government, was shown again as part of the hogmanay and 1 January celebrations.
We must have authenticity. I suggest that the bridge between Stewart Stevenson comments and those of members who talked about structured events is that we should consider what we have that no other country in the world has: the authenticity of St Andrew’s day, hogmanay and Burns night celebrations. However, those must be based on energy, participation and the authenticity that lies at the heart of our tourism offer.
Colin Keir was right to say that we should not be complacent. We absolutely need to have control over air passenger duty as quickly as possible. Members will have seen the advantages that that can provide. There are problems with VAT, but tackling those would make a big difference to our tourism industry. There are practical as well as creative things that we have to do.
To look ahead, the Burns celebrations are still to come. As an Alloway girl—as the Presiding Officer knows well—I want to make sure that we celebrate Burns night in style. More than £45,000 has been allocated to support five events: the haggis, beasts and tatties event in Inverness; the big Burns supper in Dumfries and Galloway; Burnsfest at the Scottish storytelling centre; Burns unbound at the national museum of Scotland; and the inspirational Robert Burns humanitarian awards in Alloway. I encourage people to look at VisitScotland’s website, which shows the events that are happening all over Scotland.
From 15 January to 1 February we have Celtic Connections, which is one of the largest music festivals of its kind and which is carving out a global reputation. In 2014, Celtic Connections was boosted by the year of homecoming. It included 2,100 artists, 300 events and 20 venues. To return to the theme of celebrating with fire and light, we have Up Helly Aa in Lerwick. Also to come in 2015 are the food and drink celebrations, which will have creative opportunities.
The key point is that if we can marshal all our resources, all our enthusiasm and all of Scotland’s talents, we can look forward to the themed years ahead: the 2016 year of innovation, architecture and design; the 2017 year of history, heritage and archaeology; and the 2018 year of young people. Those are all based on Scotland as a country that can deliver authentic celebrations, from our winter festivals to other celebrations throughout this year and those ahead.