2014: The Festival of the Referendum

And so another Edinburgh Festival finishes, leaving town with its Fringe. Last year, the outgoing Festival director announced that no work relating to the Referendum would be commissioned for this year’s event, prompting outrage. I have seen Elaine C. Smith (in an interview on the refreshing Referendum TV that has been running online throughout the festival) state that she feels that the director did that quite deliberately, knowing that it would provoke a response, and I have to accept that she knows better than I on this. Certainly, the Edinburgh Festival’s programme for this year seems to provide some evidence for that interpretation, and this has been noted: from Jenny Hjul’s somewhat irritated column in the Telegraph to Steven McElroy’s review in the New York Times that observed that the Referendum had dominated the event.

Certainly I found it exciting to be at the Festival in a way that I do not recall – the stimuli of the political shows, and that sense of the times in which we live. From Alan Bissett’s play (now booked in to the Tron for the night before the Referendum) to David Hayman’s one man show, and the cultural showcases on National Collective Presents as well as the panel debates of All Back to Bowie’s, it has been absolutely fascinating. David Greig in particular is to be commended (with all the rest of his partners in crime) for putting the Bowie show together, ranging across twenty discrete topics relating to the Referendum: Wales, Ireland, England, Britain, Tory Scotland, post-yes negotiations, media, sports, women, foreign policy…all these and many more were covered.

Hjul may espouse the view that the shows are only talking to an already-committed ‘Yes’ audience and not changing anyone’s minds, but I would not be so certain of that, were I her – certainly, all of the shows that I attended had a (albeit small) No presence in the audience. I admit it – I did see my second-ever vote No badge-wearer (why do they always – even on TV – look so unhappy and/or angry?) outside the Bowie’s yurt. As the owner of the Vote No car sticker (the one with the ’Scotland For Marriage’ car sticker, remember?) in my neighbourhood has now transformed their upstairs window into a small altar with flags, this is probably the sign of a predictable late-emerging visible ‘No’ profile in these last weeks between the Fringe and the vote itself. (And of course, for reasons that I have explored elsewhere, it is perfectly understandable why ‘No’ voters would not feel the same need to identify themselves that ‘Yes’ voters would.)

But in terms of the Festival, it has been an enriching opportunity, giving an access to discussion and debate that has been sadly lacking from the airwaves (or even the press, to a large extent), and the Referendum debate will be a sadder and smaller affair without the added dimension and depth that the Festival has provided throughout August.


“I tell you what – have you heard them? Talkin’ about independence? Tweetin’ it into existence – bein’ the TV programme.” (Catrin Daffyd, poet)

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