South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has welcomed plans to bid for City of Culture status across five council areas in southern Scotland and northern England, including Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.
And he has urged all local politicians to work together to back the bid, urging local SNP and Tory politicians to stop ‘petty’ political point scoring on the issue and focus on benefits to the south of Scotland that the City of Culture status would bring.
The local authorities for Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders, Carlisle City, Cumbria and Northumberland have lodged an expression of interest in becoming a City of Culture area.
SNP councillors on Dumfries and Galloway Council have refused to back the bid, while local Tory politicians have used the bid as an excuse to attack the SNP.
Colin Smyth said: “I fully support this bid for City of Culture status and to have a joint endeavour with five cross border councils in Scotland and England is great.
“Now the decision has been taken to make the bid, everyone should be working together to back it. This is about culture, not constitutions and politicians should not be using it as a proxy for petty point scoring on other issues. We need to focus on the many benefits that this bid would bring to both Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.
“Both areas have unique and very important links with the north of England.
“Thousands of people travel across the border every day for work, education and socialising, and for us, it doesn’t even cross our minds that we’re going into England.
“Bringing the City of Culture title to our region as part of this group would be a huge honour and would have a very positive impact on our Covid recovery.
“Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders have suffered more than most during the many lockdowns due to our rural nature and the fact our economy relies so heavily on tourism and hospitality, both which were badly impacted by Covid.”
The local MSP also believes that the Borderland Initiative is about more than just the recent Borderlands Growth Deal.
Colin Smyth added: “As a councillor I was involved in the Borderlands initiative at the very start, long before the Government took an interest and there was any talk of a Growth Deal.
“The initiative was about recognising that the five local authorities have many issues of common interest, but absolutely crucially, realising that by representing over one million people, and more than 10% of the land mass of the UK, our clout and ability to influence both the Scottish and UK Governments is strengthened by us coming together and speaking as one strong voice.
“It’s easy for Governments to ignore one small council but a lot harder not to listen to five and the culture bid should just be the start of that working together across boundaries.”