Last month Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop announced the government’s recent conclusion that “Scots value heritage and culture”. The claim is based upon the most recent Scottish Household Survey released in August of 2014. The Secretary’s press release reports that nine in ten Scots agree heritage buildings and places should be well looked after – and nine in ten have taken part in cultural activities in the past year. All good news. But how reliable is it really?
The Scottish Household Survey is an annual event meant to collect the backbone of Scottish demographic data each year. It is a very lengthy questionnaire (we looked). It covers an enormous range of topics and an almost endless combination of variables in the questions that the Surveyors are required to ask the Surveyee. While it does cover “Culture and Sports/Exercise” as a distinct topic, it is only one of 13 topics and contains fewer questions than other more universally critical areas of inquiry. Within the larger ‘Culture/Sports/Exercise’ topic, there are but a handful of questions relating to what would generally be considered ‘heritage’. Well, actually two. Or possibly three. This is troubling for a couple of reasons.
The first cause for concern is the fact that the Scottish Government has placed so very little energy into really discovering what Scotland’s people think about Scotland’s great historic assets. The second is that it has publicly declared a very important conclusion based on really skimpy data.
The primary heritage survey question asks:
FOR EACH OF THESE, PLEASE TELL ME TO WHAT EXTENT YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH EACH STATEMENT?
A. Culture and the arts make a positive difference to my local area.
B. Culture and the arts are not really for people like meC. There are lots of opportunities to get involved in culture and the arts if I want
D. It is important to me that heritage buildings and places (important buildings, sites and monuments) are well looked after
E. The heritage of my local area (important buildings, sites and monuments) is well looked after
Then the Survey asks:
IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS HAVE YOU (OR ANYONE ELSE ON YOUR BEHALF) USED THE INTERNET TO LOOK AT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING WEBSITES?
A. Museum/gallery websites
B. Arts websites (including music, theatre, dance, visual arts, literature)
C. Library websites
D. Historical or heritage websites
E. Theatre/concert websites
F. Archive/record office websites
G. None of these
The survey does ask “why” people visited specific websites but that’s about it as far as we could discover for the idea of ‘heritage’ as separate from ‘culture and the arts’, which as defined cannot really be said to include much in the way of actual heritage. The Survey questionnaire does include a couple of really good questions listed above. but it is certainly missing important follow up and not nearly enough data to actually call ‘mission accomplished’ regarding a strong Scottish national commitment to historic and heritage protection.
At least it is a start in the right direction and we commend the Scottish government for having included the idea of ‘heritage’ in the survey at all. I fear to look to see whether the US Census community survey does so …
We do concern ourselves with these kinds of representations as others have already disputed a conclusion that Scotland cares about its history. Perhaps in the future, the Survey might dig a bit deeper into the Scottish Peoples’ idea and support for Scotland’s ancient and noble heritage – and ours.