When the Politicians are away does the Parliament play?


One might imagine that during a Parliamentary recess that the Scottish Parliament building would go into a mothballed state, with a vacant, voiceless chamber and unlit, unused committee rooms. But not so for Mirralles’ masterpiece!  As the doors open to release the MSPs retreating to their constituencies for the long break, the Scottish Parliament breathes in new life, new visitors, new ideas and new wisdom.  Always a place where people are welcome, indeed often cried the Peoples’ Parliament, this summer the Scottish Parliament welcomed the world at the inaugural International Culture Summit.  A joint venture between the Scottish Government, the UK Government, the British Council and the Edinburgh International Festival,  this proved to be an innovative and inspiring event that brought together representatives of more than 30 nations to explore the theme of “Culture as an International Dialogue”.  Generously hosted by the Scottish Parliament the Summit was opened by the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick MSP who extended the warmest of Scottish welcomes to those taking part in discussions around:

1) The role of the arts and culture in deepening and broadening our understanding of complex relationships between cultures and nations.

2) Sustaining private and public support for culture.

3) Skills for the future for the creative industries and the role of technology.

I was very honoured to be able to attend this event which gave a unique opportunity for lively discussions between Culture Ministers, prominent artists, thinkers and others responsible for formulating cultural policy.  Breakout sessions examined how the arts enrich the lives of people around the world and contribute to the wellbeing of nations.

The Summit opening session showcased Scotland’s culture in an outstanding performance from the National Youth Choir of Scotland.  The tone of International solidarity and friendship was set by Scotland’s  Makar, and fellow Lanarkshire lass, Liz Lochhead’s reading of Robert Burns’  “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”.  As the resonate tones of Liz’s voice filled the Chamber in the final verse:

“Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that. “

The enthusiastic applause showed that none of Burns’ hopes had been lost in translation on the delegates from the four corners of the world.

I was particularly moved by the presentation from Jasleen Dhamija, Philosopher of Living Cultural Traditions from India, who explained that a billion people worked in traditional craft industries around the world, passing their skills from generation to generation.  Ms Dhamija was appealing for recognition of traditional skills as creative activities to be valued and protected; Ms Dhamija said:

“Today a galaxy of ministers of culture, artists, thinkers and social scientists are gathered together to address the role of culture in facing global challenges.

“I would like to reach out to all of you to recognise the importance of this sector which not only addresses our economic problems but which provides a new format for our educational system to tap available skills.”

There were moving presentations about the role of culture during crisis and war and also the role of culture in healing communities and countries post conflict.

Amir Nizar Zuabi, Theatre Director and Writer in Palestine, spoke about the difficulty in maintaining theatre and performance under Israeli constraints and was inspired by the public support for his endeavours:

“Every day when I wake up and go to the theatre to rehearse, there is a reason. The reason is I am part of a greater endeavour of nation building. I’m part of a greater endeavour of creating a culture.”

Theatre director Haris Pašović  gave a vivid account of daily life during the siege of Sarejevo, where death or injury from sniper fire was a daily threat. He explained why he had persevered and organised a film festival during the siege of Sarajevo as he recognised that despite the horror, fear and hunger he was convinced that access to concerts, theatre, exhibitions and film was feeding a greater need of the people of Sarajevo.

A video presentation from Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, eloquently introduced and embellished by Harold Mitchell AC Executive Chairman, Aegis Media Pacific, told of the healing in East Timor through access to music tuition and musical instruments which allowed a celebration of their culture.

In holding what is considered this highly successful Edinburgh International Culture Summit during the Year of Creative Scotland, and in partnership with the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival, the Scottish Government has enhanced Scotland’s reputation as a vibrant centre for international cultural exchange and strengthened its place as a creative, dynamic nation engaged in the global cultural debate.  In the words of Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop “Scotland is a creative nation, rich in heritage and contributing to the World.”