As some of you know, I've got a bit of a background in the creative sector, both in my earlier career as a professional actor then later – with my political hat on – as Convener of Culture and Sport at the City of Edinburgh Council, where I was responsible for delivering projects from the Assembly Rooms refurbishment to the Glenogle Baths restoration. Supporting creatives is something which is close to my heart – we need artists of all trades, because art is what makes life. But it also makes economic sense – it's the fastest growing sector, worth £4billion to Scotland's economy and employing 74,000 people.
The constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith is a particular hub for creativity. It's full of extraordinarily talented people – from writers and fine artists to successful software, digital and advertising companies; film production companies and more than 11,000 people employed in design.
Art is also an integral part of community life here. Recently I was at the opening of a new mural which was inspired by the work of children at Pilrig Park School, not least the fantastic "tattie birds" and "flying fox" creations (see picture) This is one of many new murals popping up around Leith as part of a project led by Leith Late's Morvern Cunningham (also in pic) – the new Leith Late Festival programme is due out very soon, I'm told.
Clusters of creativity such as we have here rightly grow from the grassroots up, independently of political interference, but we need to make sure the infrastructure is there to allow talent to flourish. Things like affordable workshops and studios, small business incubator hubs, theatres and event spaces. We can romanticise the image of the artist in the garret reheating gruel—or porridge—for sustenance, but that's not very funny in real life.
In Edinburgh a lot of work has been done to boost the sector – the council won 'Entrepreneurial City of the Year' last year, recognizing their success in creating an environment that encourages talent .
The question is what lies on the horizon. Will the viability of our creative hubs such as Leith survive Brexit? We have created a less helpful environment for the creative industries by voting to leave the EU. This was not discussed during the campaigns, but as is the case for other industries, cutting the creative industries off from a potential workforce and potential clients must be damaging, and those are not the only things that will be lost. For example, Creative Edinburgh is engaged in a two-year project funded by the European Commission to promote and support the creative economy. That two-year project may be safe from the storms of Brexit, but what will replace such projects in the little Britain of the future?
There are lots of things that could be done at Westminster now to better support the creative sector. We could do with loosening the austerity noose that is strangling public services for a start, to see whether the support that central and local government offered the arts could be restored.
We could look at the threshold for new quarterly digital tax reporting and how it will affect self-employed people in low paid, irregular work. The additional accounting costs are a tough ask for sole traders struggling on an income of around £10k– it could force many a talent out of business at a time when they need our support.
Since we are heading down the EU exit ramp, we must secure the flow of people who make our creative industries viable. We need immigration policies that will bring people here and let them study, work and make their homes here. We need easier immigration, and more of it. After Brexit the Scottish Government produced detailed compromise options for Scotland within the UK, offering plans that would have met our differing immigration needs. If the political will is there, it could be done, but these efforts were met with a wall of intransigence.
The creative industries need more Government support for exports and help to open markets and guarantee payments. If the arms exporters can get it, why not creatives? We need creatives to be high up the agenda on overseas missions, with Government selling the ideas and products. These creatives are making a damn fine fist of it, and it is about time they got much more recognition and assistance.