Brexit: "We need to carry on talking to each other"

Brexit: "We need to carry on talking to each other"

Interview with Jude Henderson, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, about Brexit and the possible consequences for the cultural sector in Scotland.
By Bambi Bogert


Jude Henderson is director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, which represents the professional theater, dance and opera sector in Scotland. One of the keynote speakers of Programme Brexit during Europe Day 2018, she feels that collaboration matters now, more than ever.

What have the reactions to Brexit been from the Scottish arts and culture sector?
The main message is that we are committed to working with our European partners, we want to remain open to collaboration. The majority of our members definitely don’t want to leave the European Union – Scotland voted not to leave. And we are really keen to stay in contact, to build new relationships and maintain the relationships we already have. We believe that theater, dance and opera are a vital part of who we are. Of understanding ourselves and, more importantly, other people.

What will the immediate effects of Brexit be? Not just for Scotland, but for European artists in general?
I think there will be a number of impacts. For artists there may be issues bringing their work to and from the UK. Everything will possibly be more difficult: it will take longer to set up partnerships, it will cost more. But a lot of things depend on whether we have a transition period. If so, it will give us more time to work out how to make the necessary changes. Britain has driven a lot of cultural policy and diplomacy, so the question is: how will it be when we’re no longer in Europe, but have to operate alongside Europe? I don’t think anybody knows yet. We hope that ultimately all this will bring people closer together. That it will be an object lesson of why not to go!

Are there any upsides to the Brexit?
Well, perhaps there is a slightly belated recognition of how important culture is. We all have our own cultural traditions and history, but it is our shared values that are actually really important. And I think that some of the decisions by the Commission and the Parliament in terms of increasing the culture budget for Europe are recognizing this. It’s also really important that we hear the voices that are not being heard. I think that what Brexit shows, along with the rise of populism and nationalism, is that some people feel they have no voice. The only way they can show how unhappy they are with the status quo is by these big, explosive votes. Which in the end won’t benefit them. So really we need to carry on talking and listening to each other. And theater, dance and opera are an amazing way of doing this.

What makes Scotland different in its approach, culturally?
I think there is a valuing of culture and education historically in Scotland that is perhaps more European than in England. We have a different education system in Scotland, we have a different cultural heritage. There is a distinct identity, which is not the same as in England. For example, a recent survey of Scottish households showed that most people are very supportive of spending government money on culture. Regardless of their socioeconomic background. So there may be some differences between England and Scotland. I do think the need to listen to one another is really important, because we won’t mend anything by continuing to say that people are just so completely different, that we can’t talk to them, or hear them.

How is Scotland dealing with the looming Brexit?
Well, it’s been slightly traumatic for our country. A lot of people voted to stay in the UK, because they were worried about leaving the EU. And now there’s talk of Scotland potentially becoming independent so we can remain part of the EU. Bear in mind that every single area of Scotland saw the majority of people voting to remain. And our government is really clear as well, they are doing everything they can to remain outward facing. It’s so important that we don’t become insular, small and stuck on our island. We know that we belong in Europe. We’re really committed to staying here.

What would your advice be to artists and people in the cultural sector?
I think it’s to just keep talking to one another. Keep in contact with the people you already know, ask them to introduce you to new people, build new relationships. If we do have a transition stage, we’ll be pushing really hard in the UK and Scotland to develop new partnerships. And I hope that these existing and new projects can be a bridge to a new way of working. Which will have to involve working together. Because we always have done – and we always will.

Picture: Paul Dallimore (The Standard)