WORKERS have urged the future government to protect the arts, as political parties are now looking to publish their manifestos. 

With just 23 days to go until the polls open on July 4, we’ve been speaking to trade unionists across different sectors in Scotland to get a feel of what they want to see from the next government in Westminster

One sector often left out of the debate is arts and culture. In Scotland, the latest data shows there were 115,000 workers employed in this sector in 2022. 

This is an incredibly important economic sector for Scotland – in 2020, it contributed £4.4 billion gross value added (GVA) to Scotland’s economy

Yet those employed in the sector are often working in precarious and low-paying jobs, particularly due to the primarily self-employed nature of work. 

Speaking to Caroline Sewell, regional organiser for the Musicians’ Union, it’s clear that much needs to be done to improve the working conditions of musicians in Scotland. 

‘Austerity has corroded the industry’ 

Musicians often work project-to-project, getting paid upon delivery of certain projects, which means they can work for long periods of time without earning money. 

Most musicians need to supplement their income with non-music-related work in order to survive. 

They work anti-social hours in tough conditions and often rely on several income streams to make ends meet. 

In recent years, these issues have only been heightened as a result of Brexit, the Coronavirus pandemic and the cost of living crisis, which have collectively diminished musicians’ ability to work and earn a living. 

(Image: Tim Craig)

Workers are in this position as a result of “years of standstill arts funding,” Sewell said. 

She added: “There are long standing issues for working musicians in terms of precarity of work and relatively low pay. 

“However, on top of this we have witnessed years of standstill arts funding which has in effect, alongside years of austerity driven policies, had a corrosive effect on the sector.” 

Sewell added that the decline in the number of instrumental music teachers in schools – a consequence of cuts to music services over the years – has meant that less students take up music as a subject.  

She added: “The sector has been denied the nurture and investment it has needed to thrive and develop to its full potential whilst malpractice and unfair, exploitative working practice has remained the norm.” 

‘What would life be like without the arts?’ 

Sewell wants to see the new government ensure the creative sector is “properly funded” and offers “fair, secure work with decent pay”. 

She said she also wanted to see the new government make a deal with the EU to make it easier for UK musicians, crew and other cultural workers to work and travel within the EU without the “time-consuming bureaucracy and crippling additional costs” caused by Brexit.  

A new government should also commit to music education for “all young people”, Sewell added, as well as a review into music streaming services to ensure creators are paid fairly for their work. 

“A thriving arts and culture sector are the cornerstone of a vibrant, dynamic and inclusive society,” Sewell said. 

“We know from countless studies that engagement with the arts has a profoundly positive impact on individuals and communities as well as driving economic growth and social cohesion. 

“Investment in the arts is all too easily treated as ‘low hanging fruit’ when it comes to budget cuts wherever they may be, but we have to consider what life would be like without art and culture to enjoy and enrich our lives."