Reporting from "Can Scotland Play a Leading Role in Defining Heritage?"

by Emma Hill
What is Scotland’s relationship with the UNESCO Charter for the Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage?  What should it be?
How can ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ be defined?  Should it be defined at all?  Can ‘heritage’ be split into ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ features?  Should it be split?
Who defines a ‘heritage’ project?  What does ‘community’ mean?  What is the sector’s role in supporting heritage projects? Is it possible for institutions to avoid getting in the way?
Can Scotland Play a Leading Role in Defining Heritage was the first SML Thought Leadership Event organised by the Intercultural Research Centre.  The event saw speakers from across Scotland’s heritage sector come together to discuss a range of issues facing cultural heritages in Scotland today. A full description and programme of the evening can be found here.
‘Heritage is a resource rooted in the past that goes forward to the present and looks to the future’ (Mairead Nic Craith)
Professor Máiréad Nic Craith began the discussion by highlighting how understandings of heritage have developed from an initial emphasis on ‘tangible’ heritage (such as the World Heritage sites), considered of ‘outstanding cultural value’ to a re-emphasis on both the tangible and intangible heritages deemed ‘of cultural significance’ by the communities that create them.  Joanne Orr spoke of the work of Museum Galleries Scotland (MGS), the only accredited NGO in the UK to be involved in the Convention for Cultural Heritage, and emphasised that Scotland’s position in the Convention will remain problematic as long as the Convention is not ratified by a Westminster government.  She questioned whether Westminster’s lack of involvement in the Convention meant that the UK is losing its edge when it comes to thinking about heritage.
Luke Wormald detailed the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to nurture cultural heritages in Scotland.  He noted that the desire to protect cultural heritages could lead to isolating it from its communities, and explained how, through an emphasis on people and place, the Scottish Government hoped to avoid this.  Janet Archer drew on her experience at Creative Scotland to highlight the importance of people’s emotion and reaction when they encounter arts in Scotland.  She argued that the ‘intangible benefits of arts practices fuel who we are and how we feel in a profound way’ and re-stated the importance of cultural heritage to Creative Scotland.  Colin McLean noted that the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘refuses to define heritage’, seeking its definition instead from applicants and projects.  He argued that the wealth of applications received by the Heritage Lottery Fund means that engaging with heritage in Scotland is ‘not only desirable but unavoidable’.
Questions from the floor prompted discussions about ways in which ICH might perpetuate inequalities in terms of gender, language and migrant communities.  The audience also highlighted the potential of ICH for community healing.  The discussion concluded with the observation that although heritage remains an undervalued subject in UK universities, it has strong potential for the future.
Chair, Ann Packard, brought the evening to a close by encouraging the audience to view the UNESCO pages to see the ‘most remarkable list’ of tangible and intangible heritages.
 Further discussion about any of the issues raised at the event would be very welcome!
 @hw_irc was live-tweeting from the event: a timeline of tweets can be found here:

Can Scotland play a leading role in redefining Heritage?

The Intercultural Research Centre in LINCS is leading the next event in the Thought Leadership Series, which will take place on Wednesday 27th May 2015 at 6.00pm at the Postgraduate Centre, Heriot-Watt University, with the title “Can Scotland play a leading role in redefining Heritage?”

Beltane Fire Festival

Before the referendum the SNP promised that in the event of a yes vote, Scotland would sign up to UNESCO’s Charter for Safeguarding of The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

Given the result of the vote, Scotland is not in a position to sign the Charter unless it can persuade Westminster of the value of doing so – but should it? How do we define intangible heritage in Scotland today? Should language be explicitly identified as ICH and does this include British Sign Language and the languages of migrants? Does it include aspects of living heritage supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund? Has ICH any relevance at all for the Historic and Built Environment?

Involving representatives from across the heritage sector, this Thought Leadership Seminar will focus on the heightened awareness of ICH nationally and internationally. It will explore the implications of ICH for the public sector, from museums to the Historic Environment to universities. It will ask whether now is the time for Scotland to take a leading role in creatively re-defining the relationship between tangible and intangible heritage by pioneering a new holistic approach to heritage that will be of relevance on a global scale.



 17:30 Arrival, refreshments and light buffet
 18:00 Setting the Context
Professor Máiréad Nic Craith
Chair in European Culture and Heritage, Heriot-Watt University
18:10 Speakers

  • Ann Packard (Chair) – Chairperson of the RSA Scotland
  • Joanne Orr, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland
  • Luke Wormald, Head of Historic Environment Strategy, Scottish Government
  • Janet Archer, CEO Creative Scotland
  • Colin McLean, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund
19:00 Open Discussion
19:30 Informal discussion and refreshments
20:00 Event close

This event is free. You can now register online to attend



Justisigns: Promoting access to legal settings for deaf sign language users

Written by Robert Skinner

Click here to see a BSL version of this blog

How accessible is your local police force? Is your local police force prepared for a situation that involves a deaf person? What about the interpreting provisions? What specific training is needed to improve interpreting standards that go on to protect deaf individual’s rights when it comes to accessing the justice system?

Legislation is in place that recognises the human rights of deaf people to ensure equal access to the legal system. On 20 October 2010 the European Parliament adopted the Directive on the Rights to Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings. This means everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

  • to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
  • to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court

The principle that every European citizen is entitled to equal access to justice is well established and is enshrined in EU legislation and case law. EU Member State’s Public service providers are under an obligation to ensure equality of provision of their services across language and culture.

What does this mean for the average deaf European citizen? This means that your local Police Force is under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to facilitate the provision of their service to deaf people. Before this can be acted upon police forces first need to know what equal access means, what steps need to be taken and how this can be delivered.

Justisigns is a 30-month project funded through the European Commission Leonardo Da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme, and the aim of the project is to promote access to justice for deaf sign language users, with a particular focus on police settings. Jemina Napier, Graham Turner and Robert Skinner from the Languages & Intercultural Studies department at Heriot-Watt University are conducting the project in collaboration with consortium partners: Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education in Switzerland, KU Leuven in Belgium, efsli (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) and EULITA (European Legal Interpreters & Translators Association).

The project is scheduled to end in May 2016. The first phase of the project involved conducting a survey of the nature of legal interpreting provision for deaf people across Europe (Napier & Haug, in preparation). In sum, it was found that although there are some established provisions for legal sign language interpreting across Europe, it is inconsistent. Furthermore, there does not seem to be a uniform approach across Europe to the training/ certification of legal interpreters, and the (lack of) availability of interpreters for legal settings is a Europe-wide issue. It is, however, difficult to identify legal sign language interpreting needs when it is not possible to identify the number of deaf sign language users in the legal system

The consortium has decided to focus on deaf people’s access to interpreters in police interviews for the next stage of the project until May 2016, as this is an under researched area. The goal of the project is to collect data through focus groups and interviews with deaf people, interpreters and police officers about their experiences. The information we gather will then be used to develop training materials and to offer workshops/ courses to these key stakeholder groups. By applying research in this way we can ensure deaf people and interpreters influence how equal access to the legal system is established.

In the 1990s, a ground-breaking study ‘Equality before the Law’ from the Deaf Studies Research Unit at Durham University was published (Brennan & Brown, 1997). In this research a range of issues were identified such as:

  • Lack of understanding and appreciation from the legal profession around what it means to be deaf and be part of a linguistic/cultural minority group.
  • Negative attitudes towards interpreters.
  • The awareness and need to use a registered/qualified interpreter who has been trained to work in court/police settings. In many cases CSW or family/friends were used to act as interpreters.
  • Lack of training opportunities to prepare trained interpreters to effectively work in Court/Police settings.
  • Treatment of deaf people as mentally disabled or “dumb”.
  • Failure from legal professionals to make adjustments that enable the interpreter to do his/her job.
  • Failure from legal representatives to video tape interviews with deaf suspects/witness/victims.
  • The need to develop internal policies that promote the use of good practice, such as booking a qualified interpreter; filming an interview
  • Few deaf people understood their own legal rights.
  • Deaf people do not always understand the reasons for their convictions – thus questioning the outcome of their “rehabilitation”.
  • Challenges with providing a faithful and accurate interpretation between English into BSL and BSL into English

While this list represents a scary reality, where deaf people are at risk of being wrongly convicted, our preliminary research has found some level of progress in the UK over the last 18 years. For example:

  • There is legislation in place that insists on equality before the law.
  • It is recommended that only qualified interpreters are used in the legal system.
  • Some interpreters have received legal training.
  • Some police forces have in place policies to guide officers when it comes to interviewing deaf suspects/witnesses/victims.
  • A few police forces in the UK have begun to develop online videos, recognising the specific linguistic and cultural needs of the deaf community.
  • Deaf professionals are now working within the legal system.

What our research so far reveals is that some forms of good practice exists. Unfortunately, we are not seeing a consistent approach to ensuring that the rights of deaf people are protected. Often good practice is achieved because individuals recognise the linguistic and cultural differences of deaf people. This tell us that what is needed is quite basic, a shared recognition and appreciation that deaf people belong to a distinct linguistic and cultural community. Once this definition has accepted the values of the legal system can begin to meet the needs of this community. The linguistic challenges interpreters experience in legal settings still persist, many of these challenges appear because of how the language is used and the vocabulary differences between English and BSL.

The Justisigns work is not complete. We are still running further focus groups and interviews. To support our research we are looking for volunteers in Scotland and England to participate. If you would like to contact us about your experience please email

The evidence we collect will be used to inform the development of training materials and recommended guidelines for police forces.

A research symposium will also be held as part of the project on Saturday 7th November 2015, to discuss various methodological approaches to conducting interpreting research in legal settings. See or

More information about the project can be seen here: with a version in BSL at

All information collected through the research will remain confidential. The project has received ethics approval from the Heriot-Watt University School of Management & Languages Ethics office.

Future directions for Scotland’s culture

by Cristina Clopot

Last Sunday was a day of passionate discussions at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. What’s next for Scotland’s culture? This was the central question posed by a group of cultural activists in an event organized under the umbrella of the festival TradFest. The event, coordinated by cultural activist Mairi McFadyen, with the help of Roanne Dods, was structured based on the world café model. A massive task of discussing the current situation and future possibilities was set at the start of the day.

First, a round of cultural actors from different domains shared their views on the current situation culture taking into account, among others, the recent political elections and last year’s referendum. Their aim was to provoke and raise some general ideas. The first panel included David Grieg (playwright), Adura Onashile  (actress), Kieran Hurley (writer), Scott Hames (academic), Gerda Stevenson (actress, writer), Aonghas MacNeacail (poet) and Donald Smith (director – Storytelling Centre).  Each of them delivered serious, funny, personal and general comments on their craft and the general landscape of culture in Scotland. The themes discussed included:

  • a personal list published here which mentions amongst others the use of plural when discussing culture (David Grieg);
  • HIFA festival in Zimbabwe as an example of an event embracing diversity (Adura Onashile);
  • That art can be ‘a hammer with which to shape’ reality (Kieran Hurley);
  • the interplay between politics and culture – the outlines of the current situation when culture is arrière-garde rather than avant-garde of politics (Scott Hames);
  • the beauty and richness of expression of Scots language (Gerda Stevenson)
  • speakers of heritage languages such as Scots and Gaelic and prejudices against their use (Aonghas MacNeacail)
  • culture’s effects such as encouraging human connections, the link between culture and heritage, and a need for inclusion in international debates around heritage (Donald Smith).

For further details on each ‘provocation’ please see #ForCulture on Twitter.

I had the pleasure of participating in a group where interesting and active discussions took place. We discussed about the link between culture and heritage and how this link can be seen both in a positive light (based on the emphasis that Scotland places on heritage and and its potential to assist cultural project through association) as well as a negative one (heritage perceived only as bricks and stones). The power of culture and arts to educate was also debated, as well as the need for further inclusion (as art can be perceived, at times, as elitist). A further point, later on resumed by other groups also, was that culture needs to be sensitive to diversity and multiculturalism.

The second round of provocations came after this and new ideas about potential ideas for development emerged:

  • Karine Polwart (songwriter) called for embracing difficult heritage also and the need to have conversations beyond the group of like-minded people;
  • Mara Menzies (storyteller) mentioned the need for a new narrative of Scotland, one that presents the stories of women also;
  • Tam Dean Burn (actor) discussed about politics and women and made the audience sing along with him Freedom Come All Ye;
  • Peter Arnott (playwright) discussed about the link between culture and identity and how identities are sometimes discussed in relation to the ‘Other’ (often by negation);
  • Janie Nicoll (visual artist) presented her experience at the Venice Biennale and raised the problem of artists’ wages;
  • Christopher Silver (journalist) reminded us about the power of narratives and their transformative effects;
  • Janice Galloway (writer) talked about the need for people to understand the value of culture and reminded us that artistic products cannot be prescribed through business plans.

Inspired by these inspiring ‘provocations’ we re-joined our groups to discuss ways of moving forward. The discussions in my group concentrated on 5 key terms:

  • untapped – as there is an immense potential not used, we are at a moment of opportunity
  • outward – the need to embrace diversity but also look outside to the world
  • broadcasting – a need for better coverage of culture on major broadcasting media
  • lifelong – linked with education – as a commitment for development of the individual throughout life
  • action/conversation – the need to involve in the discussion not only creators of art, but also different stakeholders such as policy makers, etc.

Other groups mentioned ideas such as understanding culture as a process and not a product, the possibility of a tax-deductible legislation for arts, creation of a manual of activism, the need to make public servants and educator aware of culture’s value. David Francis encouraged people in the audience to act as ‘bards’ of culture. Avenues for further development of this effort to reconfigure the current cultural landscape were also discussed building on the conclusions of the day. Further plans included possibilities to form a community as well as organising other meetings.

For further details about the event visit the project’s website and Twitter.