Music and Government Policy. My speech at the BASCA AGM


Thank you very much for that kind introduction and it is a real pleasure to join BASCA at its Annual General Meeting.

You know, people still ask me – what’s the difference between my current job as an MP and my previous job as a musician, and I think I can say with a great degree of confidence that I’ll never get an encore in the House of Commons.

I spent a wonderful 15 years as a musician in the music industry, and when I compare and contrast both of these careers I sometimes wonder what on earth I was thinking of by getting into this particular business. One minute everybody’s hanging on your every word cheering you on, next minute everybody’s aggressively challenging your every word and shouting you down.

It takes me back to my maiden speech in the House of Commons when I happened to mention that I was the first Member of Parliament that has ever appeared on Top of the Pops.

Up until that point there was the usual bored indifference that accompanies any speech in the Commons – but when I mentioned this you can see them all trying to work out who I appeared with and what I did. Then some crusty old Tory actually shouted out “that’s the chap that played with Cliff Richard.”

I had to put him right that I was actually with the Gaelic rock band Runrig. I am, of course, not the only member of Runrig to want to stand for Parliament.

Our former lead singer stood twice for Labour and was beaten twice, whereas I stood once for the SNP and was immediately successful, so you can imagine I like to remind him of that. For most rock bands, at the back end of the tour bus, the talk is all about sex, drugs and rock and roll; for us in Runrig it was Scotland’s constitutional question.

But since I was elected, I reconstituted the all party music group and secured the first ever debate in the House on the music industry. There’s the all party intellectual property group and there are now regular debates on the issue. I think that the engagement and debate with the industry is now a lot better and Members of Parliament and Government are a lot more responsive to the industry and its issues.

And to the eternal derision of my Parliamentary colleagues, I have put together an MP rock band. We’re imaginatively called MP4, because, well, we’re 4 MPs. It’s totally cross party. We have 2 Labour members, me a nationalist, and we even have a Tory drummer. Don’t ask me how we found a Tory drummer!  Interestingly, the Right Honourable Greg Knight MP was even a deputy chief whip in the Thatcher Government.

We thought about just getting a drum machine, but with them you can only punch the rhythm in once. With Tories you can do it as much as you want.

Now, the X-Factor finalists need not worry about being usurped by another boy band, and we have no intention of giving up the day job. But we are the only Parliamentary rock band anywhere in the world – so that therefore makes us the best Parliamentary rock band in the world.

You know, there’re a lot of similarities between being an MP and a musician. Us MPs, like you musicians, have our audience and our fame. Unlike you, most people totally hate us whilst they love you.

I want to talk to you about today about what our country can do for your music, not the usual- what music can do for your country.

We in politics like to talk about what music contributes to the economy and we like the fact that we lead the world in the quality and output of our creative industries.

But what is government actually doing to support our artists and what is it doing to ensure that creative industries are successful and continue to thrive?

Because, looking at what is going on, there are a number of things that concern me about the drift of Government thinking and, looking at the way forward are we doing the right thing, and are we giving the necessary support to the sector?

Firstly it’s worth looking at the big debate that is emerging in Government about how support should be distributed through funding bodies such as the Arts Council.

Maria Miller, in her first big speech as Culture Secretary, went as far as to suggest that there must be some sort of economic return for financial support.

She said that the UK Government should ask cultural bodies, artists and organisations to justify public funding by demonstrating what the Culture Secretary’s says is – “the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay”.

What a thing to suggest – that financial support should only be predicated if Government sees a healthy return for its investment.

Artists and musicians shouldn’t have to forward a business plan to secure funding, they should be out creating wonderful works and it saddens, if not surprises me, that the UK Government have adopted this recidivist approach and in Scotland it is not an approach we intend to follow.

That is not to recognise that the cultural sector does make an invaluable contribution to our economy- of course it does.

But we value our artists and cultural works because they touch our imaginations and because they excite an emotional response, unrestrained by their economic value. Imagination and creativity should not be constrained by economic concerns.

But, of course, artists and our creative industries make an invaluable contribution to our economic life and I’m going to come on to that.

We are now in global competition with others who want overtake us as brand leaders. Aspiring nations see the UK’s success and they want a part of it. They are investing in their sectors and they are making progress and catching us up.

Our task in Parliament and the job of Government is to give you, the artist, the most stimulating environment possible to create your great works; whilst at the same time making sure YOU see a healthy return for the work you provide.

Then, we have to ensure that the infrastructure, the industry and the economic environment is also given the best possible support, to grow and develop and be the best in the world.

Artists should get on with producing their work and those of us in the support sector should be engaged in making sure that sector is world class.

You as the artists should expect that your Government does all it can to support, grow and develope your creative industries, so that you can secure the best chance of securing international success and market your work.

We are in the worst recession of modern times and we can grow our way out of this on the back of the talent, creativity and sheer invention of the people who live and work in our creative sector.

The creative industries are just about the fastest growing sector in our economy, so we should be investing in success. We can grow the economy on the imagination of the artists of our country- what a way to secure our future.

The UK is an incredibly successful, creative nation. All over these isles it is just something we do well. Our creative industries contribute some £36 billion per year to our economy each year – that is £70,000 every single minute for the UK economy. Our creative industries employ 1.5 million people in the UK and around 8% of our gross domestic product is predicated in our creative industries. Internationally they account for around £1 in every £10 of the UK’s total exports. With the right support, they have the potential to bring even more benefits to our culture and economy.

Outwith the United States, the United Kingdom is the second largest exporter of music worldwide. It is a huge, successful and fantastic industry, which has gone from strength to strength. Last year, we saw incredible success for UK artists, particularly in the US market.

We have been able to do that mainly because we have fantastic imagination, talent and creativity within the UK.

But, we are also successful because we have built up that world-class infrastructure— that has been able to ensure that emerging talent has been identified, supported and mentored.

We must, therefore, do absolutely nothing to threaten that incredible conveyor belt of talent, support and nurturing.

Yet successive Governments have sought to almost undermine our creative sector by adopting strategies that are almost counter productive to our position as a huge provider of content.

There is even a sense in the sector of being under siege because of the tone and drift of the Government’s thinking about how we look at our creative economy.

When those who speak on behalf of the sector come to Whitehall to put their case to Ministers, they are dismissed almost arrogantly. Their evidence, which at times the Government have charged them to produce, is dismissed as “lobbynomics.”

People like Vick and Simon are also told, usually in a patronising and sneering manner, that they don’t really understand the business environment in which they are working.

And we know that there is always competition for the Minister’s ear. But some of those who now have access that ear just now are not always providing the sort of stuff we in this room would like to hear.

There are the self-serving protectionists. The self-appointed digital rights champions who believe in an anarchic view of the internet where all of your works should simply be given away for nothing.

The belief that just because your products exist mainly on an online environment they can be taken for nothing.

Imagine if this logic was translated to the High Street? Imagine if you saw a clothes retailer for example, Next or Marks and Spencers with a sign in its window saying – Everything inside absolutely free, open all hours? That would of course be utter madness and totally unsustainable, but this is what goes on every hour of every day online. Recorded works, films, TV programmes and digital books simply taken for nothing. Artists, musicians and authors going unrewarded for the work they provide and their works reduced to valueless commodities.

I made seven albums. I spent months, and in some cases years, making what I thought were top products. I refuse to accept that these works can simply be reduced to worthless products without any value that can simply be taken for nothing.

Worse than that it is illegal.

But the Internet service providers (ISPs) and the search engines that direct people to those illegal sites are reluctant to do anything about it. And why should they? They’re in the business of the sharing of content and produce none of their own. If anything, illegal downloading actually increases their business, so it comes as no surprise that ISPs are so reluctant to actively stop this activity

Not only does it lose artists revenue, it costs jobs. It’s not just you the artists that are in this industry there are the engineers, office and studio staff, there are the retailers and assistants, there are the back office suppliers, the cleaning staff. The Creative Coalition did some work on this with the TUC and they found that up to 20% of jobs in this sector are at risk from people who simply take your work for nothing illegally.

And it is not just the ISPs; there are the huge, mainly West coast American content sharing industries that get the access to Government.

Some of them, like Google, are almost in a monopoly position when it comes to platforming your content and Google have met Government Ministers on more occasions than the rest of the creative industries combined.

And remember the Hargreaves Review? This was started by the Prime Minister, no less, who contended that such were the restrictive nature of our Intellectual Property and copyright laws that a Google could never emerge in the UK.

Let’s not go into if this is something that is even desirable, but he contended that something had to be done about our restrictive IP and copyright laws, laws that actually protect and serve our content industries, so that it would benefit large American companies that provide no content of their own.

It is these people almost perversely who get the access and that’s how the agenda is shaped and the legislation emerges.

And therefore it is the artist, the creator and those who are prepared to invest in talent have become this massive inconvenience, an afterthought, that must be grudgingly accommodated and managed.

The idea that the inventor or creator is the owner of important intellectual property rights is barely recognised. Whatever rights they want to assert must be collectivised for the greater good.

If we had a Minister who was exclusively concerned about supporting the sector what would she or he do?

Well, first is to recognise our strengths, then analyse and then play to them exclusively.

As I’ve said, we are a huge producer of content, we produce more per head of content than anywhere else in the world.

The first thing this Government should do is to ensure that it sees itself as the supporter and champion of our creative industries and that policies must be designed to grow the sector.

Currently in Europe we are seen to side with nations that do not enjoy our success in producing content and almost perversely we are seen to support their priorities.

When it comes to intellectual property rights and copyright, we must also ensure that this is totally protected. Intellectual property is a property right. If it is infringed it is the same as an infringement of a High Street product.

Copyright must be seen as an enabler of growth not a barrier. The way that this Government is pursuing further copyright exceptions demonstrates that it still very much sees copyright as a restriction to growth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We are successful because artists and industry are protected. Copyright grows economies and rewards invention and creativity. The very things we need to get ourselves out of this current situation.

It must also start to legislate on the Digital Economy Act.

This was passed in the last Parliament and it should now be up and running. We have perhaps lost a generation to illegal downloading because of a failure to act.

People aged between 18 and 25 are now so used to illegal downloading and filesharing that it is now almost impossible to get them back.

We can’t lose another generation. Again, there are some positive signs that this new generation are seeing the value of IP rights and the many excellent education initiatives are bearing fruit.

I visited a school recently and saw that childrens drawings had the copyright symbol and there was a healthy respect for the emerging intellectual property rights and respect for peoples creative works.

But the provisions to deter people from taking your work for nothing must now be enacted so that we can properly secure that cultural shift to making sure that all of our works have some value and should not be taken for nothing.

But most importantly, Government must financially support the sector. Take seriously the tax breaks for artists. Invest in the SMEs that are the engines for growth.

Promote our wonderful music sector round the world.

End musician poverty and ensure that musicians always secure the return for the works they produce and aren’t expected to work for nothing.

See the possibility and potential of growing our economy in this dynamic, creative sector.

Music is the industry that always keeps giving, always keeping us entertained, even taken for granted. It’s time to give something back.

Our country can repay you for all you do by growing your sector. So, no longer should it be what you should do for our country anymore, but what you should expect that your country should do for you.

Thank you for listening to me.

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