SCOTLAND’S Culture Secretary is unable to take decisions about the funding of major parts of the country’s arts scene because of potential conflicts of interest, the Herald can reveal.

Since his appointment almost two years ago, Angus Robertson has been locked out of decisions involving tens of millions of pounds for Edinburgh’s Festivals, National Galleries, National Museums and the National Library.

He has also been forced to recuse himself from decisions on supporting the capital’s threatened King’s Theatre, and on the Edinburgh Filmhouse when its parent company went bust last year. 

In all the cases, the big calls were handed to his junior culture minister, who was initially Jenny Gilruth, and since January 2022 has been Neil Gray.

The simple reason is that Mr Robertson represents the Edinburgh Central constituency at Holyrood, which is home to a multitude of artistic events and institutions.

Under the Scottish Ministerial Code, ministers should not take decisions which could be seen as biased towards their seat or region, tying his hands.

Mr Gray, who represents Airdrie & Shotts, has fewer potential conflicts.

However Mr Robertson, a former SNP Westminster leader who moved to Holyrood in 2021, continues to enjoy one of the traditional perks of a Culture Secretary, attending numerous performances at various festivals.

His inability to determine the funding for large parts of his portfolio raises questions about why Nicola Sturgeon appointed him to the role.

Although cynics might speculate it leave him more time to focus on his other role in charge of the constitution. 

Mr Robertson flagged the clash between his seat and his department in his declaration of ministerial interests.

“Culture portfolio: heavy concentration of Edinburgh Festivals in Edinburgh Central,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Forbes did not record her church or family firms in official register

Mr Robertson’s hamstrung position is revealed in previously secret registers of interests and recusals obtained by the Herald using FoI law.

They show Mr Robertson is the most conflicted minister in the Scottish Government, recusing himself in five areas since being appointed, followed by transport minister Jenny Gilruth, who recused herself four times.

Clashes with constituency interests were the most common reasons, although the activity of relatives and partners was another theme.

As well as his constituency clashes, Mr Robertson also recused himself from decision making around alcohol as his wife’s PR firm promotes whisky.

However it is the Culture Secretary's exclusion from funding decisions on culture which is most striking.


One register entry states: “Mr Robertson engages with the Edinburgh Festivals, for example attending performances, and as regards the work they do for international cultural links, but all decisions on support for the Edinburgh Festivals are taken by Mr Gray.”

Another says: “While Mr Robertson meets with the national collections (National Galleries, National Library, National Museums) which have their main operations in Edinburgh Central, this is in the context of their broader contribution to cultural policy. Day-to-day decisions about the collections, on for example funding and Board appointments, are taken by Mr Gray.”

On the King’s Theatre, it said that since taking Mr Robertson had recused himself from decision making on further funding support for its development and that “Mr Gray assumed Ministerial responsibility and arrangements were put in place so Mr Robertson is not copied papers on this matter".

Mr Robertson was also shut out of decisions - and Mr Gray put in charge - when the parent company behind the Edinburgh Filmhouse collapsed “given his constituency interests”.

Mr Robertson's £347million portfolio budget for 2023/24 includes £204m for "culture and major events", around £80m of which is for the National Galleries, Museum and Library. 

The Edinburgh Festival and Fringe also get millions each year in support.

Scottish Liberal Democrat culture spokesperson Joe McCauley said: “This might help explain how Angus Robertson has so much time to jet around the world pushing separation and spinning false statistics.

“If he can’t work in a ministerial capacity on pressing issues affecting the capital then I’m sure people can think of better things to do than play dress-up diplomat, at a time when cultural assets are under threat in every corner of the country and there is a cost of living emergency.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson added: “The culture sector is facing a perfect storm but there is a vacuum in political leadership.”

The Scottish Government said: “In line with the Scottish Ministerial Code, Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests. 

“It is the personal responsibility of each Minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict, taking account of advice received from the Civil Service.”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes also recused herself from decisions about the troubled GFG Alliance which owns an aluminium smelter in her Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency.