by Jan Rutherford

Brexit 365 – ‘Keep calm and negotiate’

June 23, 2017 | by Jan Rutherford

… as Creative Scotland reveal that over 90% working in the creative industries voted to remain

One year on from the EU referendum, what does Brexit mean for literature and the arts here in Scotland? Scottish Review of Books hosted an event at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh last night looking at exactly that question. The audience gathered to hear SRB Editor, Alan Taylor, lead the discussion with Graham Blythe from the EU Commission in Scotland, Janet Archer, Chief Executive at Creative Scotland and Dr Mark Hanniffy, Consul General of Ireland to Scotland.

As the event got under way, Graham Blythe took to the stage to give an insight into areas supported over the last 44 years through the EU and its predecessors. Many readers will know of and perhaps have benefitted directly from the success of the Erasmus programme of exchange which has created opportunities for students throughout the EU. Graham reminded the audience that 30 years ago crossing borders to study was an exceptional path to follow. Now crossing borders to do an Erasmus is the norm. He commented that ’60 years ago people had dared to dream of a Europe with wider borders, free trade and ease of movement. History has proved them right and Europe’s division and cycle of war has largely gone.’ The Erasmus programme has made the most of internationalism and has broadened the horizons for students across many fields of study, not only the arts.

He talked of funding for research and academic endeavour through the EU and how that funding had helped the ‘flickering of the lights of the creative curtain in Europe’. But his presentation was very much to the point and reminded members of the audience that the UK was leaving the European Union after 44 years of living and working together with our neighbours. ‘As one member leaves, others will join. Brexit will not stop the progress of the European Union.’ He felt that so far, some had perhaps given the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives, that Brexit could be negotiated painlessly.’ but that this would not and could not be the case. 

The member states have faced 12 months of uncertainty and this uncertainty needs to be removed. The remaining EU states have more to deal with than Brexit. This clock is ticking but for now, the UK remains an EU state. Until the negotiations are concluded, UK artists, universities and arts organisations can still apply to the EU for funding.  

He concluded his part of the presentation with the quote from EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, ‘Keep calm and negotiate’.

Janet Archer of Creative Scotland revealed that their research pointed to 90% of those in the creative industries in Scotland having voted to remain — with one in 17 of us Scots engaged in creative industry of one kind or another and 16,000 registered creative businesses in Scotland today. These creative individuals and organisations do attract EU funding and £23 million of EU funding has been invested in creative projects in the last ten years. She indicated that CS was working with partner organisations to find out the key concerns and sometimes opportunities that people saw in light of Brexit. At present there was concern in the sector about travel, freedom of movement, international exchange, trade and access to international markets. Many were worried about copyright and intellectual property. And she referred to an article in The Herald newspaper announcing that 14,000 jobs on the screen sector might be lost through Brexit.

From Ireland’s perspective, we very much regret the decision taken 364 days ago in the UK.

The consequences of the Brexit vote will be felt throughout the EU states but for the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the impact will be more profound and more immediate than on their neighbours. Mark Hanniffy has been in post as Consul General Ireland to Scotland for just over a year and is the sixth occupant of the post since it was established in 1998. He opened his presentation by reminding the audience that Ireland would be one of the remaining EU States most affected by Brexit. ‘From Ireland’s perspective, we very much regret the decision taken 364 days ago in the UK’ . Indeed ‘regret’ was a word used more than once by Mark. The prospect of a hard border is much on their minds but so too is the continuation of trade partnership and partnerships in the cultural sector. The European dimension has always been important to Ireland and the country is now positioning itself at the heart of Europe. Ireland has already reinvented its economy more than once since it joined the EEC alongside the UK. At that point the UK was its largest trading partner. Now only 16% of Irish exports go to the UK. Ireland is aligning itself much more with the EU — it belongs to Europe and looks to Europe for guidance and encouragement. That said, Mark Hanniffy did stress the need to strengthen relations. For example, Ireland will be the international partner at Celtic Connections in 2018 — to help bolster the unique relationship between Scotland and Ireland both politically and culturally.

Alan Taylor asked the speakers how Brexit would impact individual artists. Mark Hanniffy noted the considerable degree of uncertainty and acknowledged that for those living and working in Ireland, the ease of working with the United Kingdom is not guaranteed in the years ahead. This uncertainty may well alter the level of attention artists pay to opportunities in the UK in the short term.

The speakers had mentioned that artists and cultural organisations could still apply to EU for funding while the UK remained a member state. Janet Archer noted that the Treasury had committed to honour the period of any project funded through the EU and was encouraging people to apply. But Alan Taylor questioned whether, if he was German, French or Italian, he would be happy to hear that a Scot had applied for £100k of arts funding and received it at this stage in the proceedings. Janet Archer reminded both Alan and the audience that collaborative projects go back a long way and that people are working hard to find ways to work through current issues. She noted too that there was a strong sense of international connectivity here and that Scotland was full of people who bring creative vibrancy from all around the world. But none of this will be straightforward in the post-Brexit future that we face. Mark Hanniffy acknowledged that this was an area that would require work in the years ahead, that maintaining and strengthening creative collaborations would take effort, ‘Scotland is brimming with talent. I can’t see that they won’t continue to be in demand on European platforms in the future. But logistically it might be harder.’

Scotland is brimming with talent. I can’t see that they won’t continue to be in demand on European platforms in the future. But logistically it might be harder.

Rosemary Goring asked from the audience ‘if we might look back in 60 years and note June 2017 as the start point for a loss of the European element of Scottish culture’

Janet Archer’s response was that artists might choose to migrate to places that can support them in a more prominent way: ‘Our dance companies, our orchestras are reliant on European talent for their day-to-day business. Anecdotally we are hearing that individual artists are looking to where they can base themselves for a more secure future.’

Alan Taylor asked the Consul General how the Irish saw themselves now, posing the suggestion that Scotland might become very parochial post-Brexit while Ireland remains very outward looking. Mark Hanniffy responded that he feels that we are at a cross roads. He reiterated that the route Ireland would follow is alongside the EU in years ahead, not alongside the UK.

A sobering evening but not without optimism for continuing collaboration in the arts both within Europe and far beyond.

Find out more about the work of the European Commission in Scotland.

Find out more about the Consulate General of Ireland to Scotland.

Find out more about the work of Creative Scotland.

Blog / Discussion

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by Jan Rutherford