Scottish Independence Referendum and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This weekend I went to my first and possibly Britain’s last Fringe Festival. With the independence referendum (or #indyref in the latest of the events to be titled ‘the first ___ on Twitter’) next month and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games just finishing as the Fringe kicked off, nationalist fervour was all around in Scotland’s most prominent city. Of course a few days after there was the televised between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond.

Posters and stickers saying ‘Yes’ signs plaster windows and posts in the centre; the question which is being answered is known by all. I did not notice any ‘No’ signs. This reflects a vibrant, ‘grass-roots’ yes campaign.

On Saturday I went to “All Back to Bowie’s”; the idea being that the yurp in which the event was staged was in fact David Bowie’s roof, hosted by the affable David Greig. As a singer came up to perform, I wondered if I was in the wrong place and this was a Bowie tribute rather than a discussion about independence. However, I stuck around and the music was quite good. I was in the right place however; next up, a playwright Peter Arnott imagined Walter Scott’s patronising anger at attempts to break up the union. Each day the show picks a theme related to the indyref, and this day the theme was the Scottish Establishment. In a discussion that followed, Cameron Wyllie, deputy head of a prestigious Edinburgh private school (his position as a minor public figure in the city is interesting, perhaps partly explained by the high proportion of children at private schools in Edinburgh; the figure is a quarter); Andrew Tickell, a blogger and legal academic; and Mandy Rhodes, Managing Director of Holyrood Communications, joined Greig.

The discussion highlighted three things for me:


  • Whatever happens in the debate, Scotland has changed. There was no conditions in the assumption of a new establishment after the referendum. Furthermore, many have commented on the political interest of a younger generation in this debate. Where this will flow after September is unknown.


  • English should be wary about intruding into the debate assuming they have all the answers. I ended up not asking the questions that half-formed in my head because I actually felt very out of the loop compared to the speakers, despite having read and thought about the issue a lot. The British (read English) ‘establishment’ warning Scots they cannot survive on their own comes across, needless to say, as patronising and galvanising for the yes supporters. Furthermore, whereas south of the border we have not fully grasped that a large proportion of our country may soon disappear, in Scotland the issue has been omnipresent. I struggled to keep up with the nuances of the arguments presented.


  • This is an argument of heart, not head, however much it is framed otherwise. The unionists talk of the economic insecurities of an independent Scotland and the prospect of Scotland constructing the skeleton of a new nation-state is daunting. Furthermore while Scotland believes it has little say in national policy, neither, of course, does any other region of the United Kingdom. But all of this could be largely insignificant to someone who feels they are far more Scottish than British. I imagine to some extent people find justifications to be on the side of the debate which matches to their own self-identity.


Elsewhere, the Fringe was an eclectic mix. It is strange to remark that the Fringe is a much English as Scottish: the omnipresent BBC; the vast troupe of English performers and the mass of Southern attendees. The elaborate web of links between Scotland and England exemplified at the Fringe is about to get shaken up.

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