Dear Jonathan,
In your position as the Director of Edinburgh’s International Festival, I appeal to you to reconsider your decision that you have taken in the name of ‘political neutrality’ that next year’s festival will take no account of the Independence referendum scheduled for September 2014, on both the grounds of cultural openness and inclusiveness, democracy and freedom of expression.
Whilst I trust you have attempted to clarify that there is no ban on the theme of Scots Referendum by suggesting that issues of “nationalism and nationhood” will be covered by what has already been chosen, namely, the Commonwealth and the centenary of the First World War, you will be effectively banning a direct and unequivocal opportunity for the richly diverse artistic community of Scotland to be able to engage, inform and promote debate on the future of the nation.

Considering, that the referendum in 2014 will be the most discussed topic in Scottish Cultural life next year and arguably in Scotland’s history in over 300 years, all visitors who will be looking forward to loving and appreciating the International Festival program will be undoubtedly baffled and shocked to find there will be a complete absence of any creative works dealing with the topic directly.

If you are to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the bloodbath of World War 1, then why not commemorate 700 years since Scotland’s decisive Battle of Bannockburn in the Wars of Independence?  Moreover, why look only to history for inspiration and not to the present time?  Siegfried Sassoon’s poems on World War 1 were being written and published from the trenches and not in some sober and reflective distant future.

It’s been little over a week since I started a petition to urge you to change your mind and open up the festivals programme, which is fast approaching 1500 signatures.  In those five days people have added their names, comments and support from the Outer Hebrides to the Scottish Borders and further afield. 

People not just from the UK, but also from Germany, Netherlands, Italy Spain, Denmark, Finland Sweden Norway, Turkey, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US have also pledged their support.  Only today someone added their name from Egypt, which as we know is struggling to become a democratic nation amongst terrible adversity.

I appreciate the weight of responsibility which you and the board of the Festival are facing regarding this decision and you may feel that it’s the last thing you wish to contend with in your final year as Director.  However, which kind of lasting legacy would you and the Festival board be liked to be remembered for?  May I make three simple suggestions.

Firstly, reconsider the weight of evidence that the current position is ‘politically neutral’.  It may be perhaps politically naive, but making choices is most certainly a political act.  The writer George Orwell offers some advice on the matter when he notes that, “the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude”.  In the Sunday Herald of 18/08/2013, there is a large range of opinions from Scotland’s most prominent artists that support this view.  Even the editorial in Scotland on Sunday, disagrees with your attempt to clarify your position in the same paper that day.

Secondly, follow where other others decide to boldly go.  Both the Directors of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the National Theatre of Scotland have already embraced the referendum and commissioned works.  This week’s announcement by recently appointed Janet Archer of Scotland’s national arts body, Creative Scotland (who incidentally contributes £5 Million pounds of public money annually to the Edinburgh International Festival) has added, “Creative Scotland does not have a position on the referendum, but also we do not have an opinion on what artists should do – artists should be free to realise their own imaginations.”.

Lastly, stick to the plan!  The third part of your own Festival mission statement is ‘to showcase the best of Scottish culture to the world’.  I would ask you to please embrace that.  Based on the hundreds of comments in my petition, not one single person has asked for a particular partisan or political viewpoint.  Nor has anyone put forward any limitations or prescriptions on what to include or exclude on the choices that the Festival makes regarding Scotland’s Referendum. 

There will of course be no doubt, many from all sides of the artistic community who have visions for Scotland future, but let’s not tie their hands or censor their creativity.  Boldness and courage are the cornerstones of the very best of artistic and creative expression.  Let’s remember this is an opportunity to explore a cultural renaissance akin to the Scottish Enlightenment and not a sadly missed opportunity that will be culturally cringeworthy.

There is a well known saying in Scotland that, “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns”.  We, ‘the Bairns’ are all part of a rich and heady cultural diaspora; a commonweal’ of Celts, Picts, Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Europeans, Asians and people from all corners of the globe, even Australia Jonathan!

This may be the people of Scotland’s independence referendum, but what this petition is clearly demonstrating is that all the world’s a stage.  It’s a truly international focus on Scotland and its emerging national voice in the world.  Surely, we all want to be part of a truly open and uncensored discussion, and we look to Scotland’s artistic tapestry of contributors to enrich us in exploring who we are with each other and the outside world.

I look forward to your considerations.
Warm regards,
Chris Law

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