SCOTLAND’S showpeople have suffered disproportionate hardship during the coronavirus crisis and the survival of their unique culture is now under threat, experts have said.

A group of researchers has warned current support structures amplify existing discrimination, with many families facing almost a year without income.

They said showpeople have operated fairs and circuses across Scotland for generations, with such events representing “living traditions unbroken since the Middle Ages”.

However their culture is “precious and fragile”, and the history of marginalisation they have faced in Scotland is reflected in inadequate Covid-19 funding arrangements, the experts said. 

Support has been more “forthcoming” in other parts of the UK.

The Fair Scotland Cultural Heritage Group said: “With Covid-19 a frighteningly large number of small family firms who sustain these events stand to go out of business - permanently. 

“With it goes an irreplaceable piece of Scotland’s history and heritage, and one of the key bonds that holds this unique cultural minority together.”

It called for assistance with access to finance, as well as 100% relief on licenses for a year – similar to business rates relief – and the inclusion of funfairs in the Scottish Government’s Events Industry Support Fund.

The group also argued any money spent preparing to reopen funfairs on July 15, before the Scottish Government apologised for giving out the wrong advice, should be refunded. Funfairs were eventually allowed to reopen from August 24.

The group said: “If not addressed, we believe this will threaten an already vulnerable culture and a sector...that faced significant discrimination and disadvantage even before the onset of the pandemic and lockdown measures. 

“We believe the current arrangements amplify this discrimination and threaten the survival of one of Scotland’s most unique and distinctive cultures – and the wider cultural and civic traditions they sustain.”

They sounded the alarm in written evidence to Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.

The submission was written by Dr Mitch Miller, a showperson and lecturer, Dr Andrea Salvona, a researcher, and Dr Tara S Beall, an artist and researcher.

They said the population of showpeople in Glasgow is 6,000-strong, with “significant pockets” elsewhere in Scotland.

While funfairs could reopen from August 24, this was “too late to save the season”.

In Scotland, they said, fairground licences need to be applied for up to two months in advance, are non-refundable and can be rejected until the very last minute.

Due to the crippling impact of Covid-19, very few families will be able to earn a living until spring next year.

Meanwhile, many showpeople were disqualified from loans as their businesses lack fixed operating costs.

The experts said they were “astonished to learn that the Event Industry Support Fund also excludes funfairs”.

They said it is “incomprehensible” that events such as the Kirkcaldy Links Market – which was established in 1304 – and St Andrews Lammas Fair have not been considered “key cultural events, given their historical significance to those communities and indeed, to other aspects of Scottish culture”.

The group said: “Equally important is how the lack of income places an already marginalised community in a very vulnerable position.

“The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has recognised that vulnerability and reports showpeople suffer significant prejudice and discrimination and as our combined research shows, a history of marginalisation in wider Scottish society. 

“We feel this is reflected in the fact that in other parts of the UK, many local authorities have been flexible in allowing showpeople access to funding.”

The Scottish Section of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain said its members have “fallen through the cracks”. 

In written evidence to the Holyrood committee, it said: “there is no safety net financially for us that we can effectively access”.

It added: “Especially in Scotland, showmen have not had access to funds that their colleagues in other parts of the UK have at least been able to apply for.”

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland, which administers the Events Industry Support Fund, said it was “set up to support businesses and freelancers in the events industry who have not yet received support from any other Scottish Government Covid scheme and provide financial relief at a time when events are not able to restart”. 

She added: “Funfairs were given permission to restart from August 24, whereas the majority of the events industry is still not able to take place.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise how difficult it has been for those sectors and activities which have had to wait to re-open and we’re acutely aware of the potential impact that has had on people’s livelihoods. 

“However, our priority every step of the way has been keeping people safe.

“We have worked with funfair operators and the Showmen’s Guild to explore a safe recovery and reopening and guidance has been published that must be strictly adhered to.

“The Scottish Government took immediate steps to address the financial impact of coronavirus with more than £2.3 billion for businesses. 

“We continue to explore what support we can provide to showmen and we urge the UK Government to do the same.”