Artists for Independence?
Ben Judge, who runs the Edinburgh festival review magazine, ‘Fest’ has written exploring the issue of why there isn’t more focus on the independence referendum at the festival (‘Scotland the Brave?’) :
It is strange that at the world’s most famous arts festival, taking place in the heart of the Scottish capital and comprising some 2,871 different shows, it requires work and patience to find any indication that the independence referendum is a mere thirteen months away. Indeed, it is possible to count comfortably the number of independence-minded productions on the fingers of one hand. So why is it that Scottish artists, comedians and playwrights seem so disengaged—at least creatively—from the debate?
That’s just not true. So there must be something else going on.
The truth is that Scottish artists, comedians and playwrights aren’t disengaged at all – as Unstated and the slew of Yes-supporting artists has shown (TradYes being the most recent). The theatre critic Joyce McMillan has even noted here:
Among practising artists, it’s a long time since I heard anyone express a definite intention to vote “no”. The only exception that comes to mind is the playwright, artist and general genius John Byrne, who is so incensed by the Scottish Government’s blanket ban on smoking on stage that he refuses to consider voting “yes”. For the rest, the young National Collective group of artists and writers for independence seems to be recruiting new members by the hour; and almost all the main creative voices – from our national Makar Liz Lochhead to singer/musicians like Karine Polwart and Pat Kane – are either offering strong support to the “yes” campaign, or declaring themselves “don’t knows”.
In August 2011 the Observer asked five writers their views on independence and was slightly embarrassed and surprised when they all came back in favour of a Yes vote (‘Scotland and England: what future for the Union?’). Iain Banks, David Greig, Janice Galloway, AL Kennedy, Shena McKay all articulated strong, non-nationalist reasons for independence.
Banks wrote shortly before his death of how he’d wished to see Scotland an independent country. He wrote:
The system we have at the moment does not reflect the way Scots really feel. It does sometimes come down to very specific issues: I’ve talked to a number of Scottish writers in particular, and we all felt that we would vote for independence purely never to be part of any more unnecessary illegal, immoral wars.
The question of independence only really became germane with the end of one-nation Conservatism and the Labour party stopping being the Labour party when it became New Labour and pro-privatisation. A lot of Scots would vote for nationalism just to save our already semi-independent version of the National Health Service.
Support for independence comes from across the board from the likes of Jim Kelman, Kathleen Jamie, Irvine Welsh, Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, who’s stated:
If the referendum was tomorrow, I’d probably vote yes. We’ve had New Labour, never worked. The coalition’s clearly not working. There’s one Tory seat in Scotland. The Tory government, they’re good for comedy, but Scotland’s clearly a different country politically, and culturally as well. It’s the third option.
Probably best to avoid constitution-by-celebrity, but clearly there’s widespread, probably disproportionate support for Yes, so there must be other, structural, cultural issues at play.
As someone commented to me on reading Ben Judge’s piece: “One answer does immediately strike me, that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the writer, is that the vast majority of shows/performers on the Fringe tend to be from elsewhere (The Fringe is, after all, the ultimate in self-invited performers.)”
This is true – and it’s one of the best and worst bits about the festival is that the world descends on Edinburgh.
But the reality is that if the leadership and directors of the festivals are not from Scotland, if the director of the National Theatre of Scotland is not from Scotland, if the director of Creative Scotland is not from Scotland if the Director of the EIF has never been from Scotland, why should we be surprised that so few of the performances are from Scotland?
This is taboo. We’re not supposed to talk about it. But we shouldn’t act all surprised.
It’s not all bad news – as Matthew Young writes today (‘Is the Edinburgh festival any good for music?‘) he set up Song by Toad partly because he was inspired by the eclectic music he saw at the festival, yet by his own admission though there’s some music from local artists this year, it’s been a struggle. See his Pale Imitation Festival here.
So some of it is about wider forces – who’s got the money to compete at the festival, some of it’s about the wider issues of the commercialisation and commodification of culture. Some of it is about the huge commissioning and pulling-power of London tv and media, and that’s just a reality. Some of it is about who’s genuinely innovating, and some of it is about who’s the best – I love the fact that the very very best of world culture lands in Scotland in August. That’s amazing.
But some of it is about issues of cultural ownership and leadership that we should look at honestly.
If you want to come and see very engaged artists discussing the issues of independence, come to the Assembly Rooms, Monday 12 August, 2.30 – go here for your tickets.