It is just one month until the Scottish independence referendum, so it seems odd that the subject is on the fringe of the Edinburgh Fringe programme.
There have been some efforts to include it in the cultural programme, notably Theatre Uncut and TalkFest’s one-off events, both taking place at the Traverse, and a variety of comedians have chosen to tackle it at as part of their set. But generally it has not been talked about enough. So the daily All Back to Bowie’s events are fulfilling a real lack.
The events have been created by a collection of directors, artists and playwrights including David Greig, Swimmer One, Cora Bissett, Karine Polwart and Peter Arnott. They have pooled together to provide a creative forum at Edinburgh’s Stand in the Square venue in the lead up to the impending referendum. They are a reaction to the misinformation, preconceptions or general ignorance surrounding the real issues of an independent Scotland – most recently made apparent by public declarations from ‘VIP’ figures wading into the debate, from Bruce Forsyth to David Bowie.
The event I attended was on the question of Welsh independence. David Greig explained in his introduction that as a collective they had decided to make light of – whilst also celebrating – the artistic legend that is David Bowie, in response to his famous public plea at the Brit Awards. That plea, if you didn’t know it already, was: ‘Scotland stay with us’. Their aim is not to create political spin or to plead the case of the ‘Yes’ campaign, but to discuss and consider the question of national identity and independence.
The event in question was called ‘The Dragons Have Been Bled – Wales and an Independent Scotland’. As well as engaging in discussion with interesting practitioners and artists, the events intend to poke a bit of fun at themselves; each title refers to a Bowie song, and the venue is jokingly referred to as ‘a yurt set up on Bowie’s rooftop terrace’.
It started and finished with chillingly emotive folk music from A New International. There were also poems, delivered second hand or remotely by Welsh poets Lucy Ellinson and Catrin Daffyd. The guest speakers included, among others, Neil Murray, producer of the National Theatre of Scotland. He spoke engagingly about his hometown of Newport’s history and compared the model of the ‘more radical’ Welsh National Theatre to the NTS. We also heard from native Welsh speaker and theatre maker Buddug James Jones. She told us about her show at the Underbelly, Hiraeth, the title of which is a word referring to the complex feelings of conflict one can have towards one’s own home country. Interestingly, it is untranslatable into English, although there is a similar word in Portuguese.
What was refreshing about the event was that we were listening to the opinions of non-politicians, or people who aren’t policy makers or bleeding ‘financial experts’. Anyone who has been following the referendum’s public debate will notice the excessive attention given to commentators on fiscal matters, as if immediate economic policy were the only factor to consider. The events are exploring the idea of nations, land and people through poetry, music and even spoken word created by us, the audience. These artists have created a public forum that, unlike Question Time for example, is not allotted to specific debates, which are then easily combated by the strategically planned spin of the political class.
Speaking to Greig after, he admitted that audience feedback suggested that most who attended these events are of the Yes persuasion, but there have been a good few who have come ‘from the other side’, so to speak, or who are undecided. Either way, the discussion should not be ignored for the sake of ahh-rt. It may be an international festival, but it does take place on Scottish soil. The debate on independence should be further ingrained into Edinburgh’s cultural program and events like these are necessary.
All Back to Bowie’s is running daily at 12.20pm at the Stand in the Square until 24th August.