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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Scottish Historic, Cultural and Heritage Environment

Scottish Historic, Cultural and Heritage Environment

Scotland's Isles, Seas and Hills Are Real Assets - NASA

History, heritage, culture and natural environment contribute hugely to the Scottish economy and national pride. Do they need so much bureaucracy to thrive?

A view about the over-governance of Scotland was expressed by Andrew Gilmour on The Courier (Sept 2010): Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) do not have enough Parliamentary business. He claimed that Scotland was ‘one of the most expensively over-governed countries in the world’.

He asked why it took two MSPs and one MP in Scotland to deal with the same workload as one MP south of the border. He demanded a hard look at the ‘massive bureaucratic set-up in Edinburgh’, without advocating abolition of the actual Scottish Parliament. The mechanism was unnecessarily heavy.

Considering just one aspect of what the bureaucratic machine deals with, how the vast Scottish natural, historical and cultural legacy is administered, is a case study. People may wonder if it would all do very well without being ‘looked after’.

The Natural Environment

Scotland is rich in what Scottish Natural Heritage calls ‘the natural environment … making a major contribution to economic growth and quality of life’. Their mission is simply: ‘All of nature for all of Scotland’.

This organisation is funded by the Scottish government to promote, care for and improve the wildlife, habitats, scenery/landscapes, natural beauty which ‘makes Scotland special’. They aim to help people enjoy it responsibly, enable greater understanding and awareness and promote its sustainability now and for future generations.

Their studies show 11% of Scotland’s total economic output depends on sustained use of the environment, since it earned about £17.2 billion a year and supported 1 in 7 of all full time Scottish jobs a decade ago. Would that still happen without the organisation?

Earning Tourism

Linked to natural environment is the amount of sustainable tourism the country can take. Visitors seek out the natural environment, of course. They also come for historical/heritage reasons and cultural fulfillment, too. These in turn link with rural enterprise, planning, infrastructure and transport, health/education/social services provision to make discussion of the Scottish fabric a political and economic question.

VisitScotland statistics for 2009, for instance, showed that Scottish tourism brought in over £4 billion, around 15 million overnight trips were taken, UK tourists accounted for 83% of tourism spend and 39% of trips were by Scottish residents. The effects of the downturn/recession, the state of the European tourist market and other competitors have to be taken into account. Given all that, tourism is a major revenue stream.

Landscapes are recognised in their own right by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as ‘a shared resource for everyone’ irrespective of ownership, ability or background. They provide a ‘living history of Scotland’s past and inspiration for Scotland’s culture’. Besides underpinning the economy, there are social and health benefits, too.

SNH highlight the attractive and accessible landscapes including green spaces in urban environments, which promote well-being, physical health, restoration and easing mental stress. So, once everything is catalogued, the natural and open environment of Scotland is a big asset: but does it need bureaucracy?

The Sea

Historic Scotland produced a discussion paper (2009) in association with the marine taskforce of the Built Environment Forum of Scotland (BEFS), called Towards a Strategy for Scotland’s Marine Historic Environment. The introduction stated that Scotland’s unique position on a nodal sea route made its seabed of international importance.

But locally, too, it’s a real asset. The paper said the seabed/coast is affected by all periods from prehistory to the present and includes the wrecks of ‘boats, ships, aircraft and submarines of indigenous and international origins, besides harbours, lighthouses, crannogs, fish-traps and drowned terrestrial sites’.

Because the sea frequently preserved, this ‘heritage has the potential’ to reveal wide-ranging information about society. The sea also provided food, energy and defence.The paper had resonance in 2009, The Scottish Year of Homecoming, which sought to encourage people with Scottish ancestry to reconnect with their roots.

Maritime heritage also ‘contributes positively to the economic fabric’ of the country. They cited the 3000 plus visitors a year who dived on the remaining wrecks of the German war fleet scuppered in Scapa Flow and 310,000 who saw coastal and maritime sites. Would they come without this administrative system?

Cultural Dimension

To take just one category of historical assets: houses, Historic Scotland say historic buildings ‘enrich Scotland’s landscape’. They are visible and accessible doorways into the social and economic past. Listing such buildings gives protection, which has an impact on planning, development and investment.

Landscape extends to monuments, gardens, wreck sites, world heritage, castles and grand houses.

While people accept need for vigilance and statutory protection, across all varied Scottish heritage, does it need organisations in numbers?

None of Scotland’s bureaucracy, bodies/organisations charged with protection and marketing is unique. Every locality, region and country has a burgeoning industry of such machinery, so to question Scotland’s arrangements is perhaps unfair.

It’s just that with a possible referendum on separation, every aspect of management and direction of the economy, macro and micro, are up for discussion. Even the contribution of the Edinburgh Festivals has to be taken into account. Would one tourism/heritage/cultural/historical organisation suffice? The books on both sides of the border will be thoroughly examined, probably by a committee/council/body/quango.

First published on Suite 101, 15 September 2011

Image: Scotland’s Isles, Seas and Hills Are Real Assets – NASA

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