Heriot Watt University

Thought Leadership Series


Can Scotland play a leading role in redefining Heritage?


Before the referendum the Scottish National Party 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). In the current political climate, it is unlikely that Westminster will proceed with ratification of the Charter.

Heriot-Watt held a debate on 4th June chaired by Ann Packard (Chairman, RSA Scotland) on whether or not this would impact on the role Scotland can play in leading international conversations on ICH.


  • Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, Professor in European Culture & Heritage, Heriot-Watt University
  • 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 Scotland

The context for the debate was set by Heriot-Watt’s Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, who argued that the current twin-track approach of tangible/intangible heritage should be replaced with a more holistic approach to heritage practice generally.

In her presentation, Joanne Orr (CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland) outlined the implications of the UNESCO Charter for ICH generally as well as giving insights into the benefits and drawbacks of the UK’s non-ratification of the Charter.

Focusing on Our Place in Time - The Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland, Luke Wormald (Head of Historic Environment strategy, Scottish Government) gave insights into the Government framework which sets out a 10 year vision for the historic environment in Scotland which places great emphasis on community engagement with heritage.

Janet Archer (CEO Creative Scotland) and Colin McLean (Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Scotland) emphasised the importance of ICH for their respective organisations and the manner in which they support ICH in Scotland.

Following the presentations, there was a lively discussion on Scotland’s international contribution to heritage practice. Interesting questions raised included issues of heritage and gender, British Sign Language, and whether heritage can promote healing. The debate was attended by a wide range of participants from across the heritage sector in Scotland as well as from universities in Scotland and England.

You can read our Storify account of the debate here.

Don't miss a thing!
Subscribe to our newsletter