WHAT do you know about the Independence Referendum? Or about Scottish politics in general for that matter?
Comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner realised how little he knew when he moved back to Scotland recently and, being the political satirist that he is, immediately decided to rectify the situation in a way that only he could.
The result is a one-off TV show called Rory Goes To Holyrood, which will be broadcast on BBC Two, tomorrow night at 9pm.
Letting loose Bremner’s trademark observations, gags and impressions, the programme follows the Edinburgh funny man on a journey of discovery from Aberdeen to Westminster.
Along the way he meets politicians, punters, comedians and political commentators and uses their insight to create comedy material to perform at an exclusive stand-up show at the Assembly Hall on the Mound.
Bremner reveals, “I knew next to nothing about Scotland’s Parliament, the politicians or their policies. So why do a show about it? Well somebody has to. And having moved back home to Scotland and become fascinated with the debate on independence, it’s time I took it seriously... and did some comedy about it.”
Someone else who recently ‘did some comedy’ about the independence debate is stand-up Susan Calman. Quips she made about the subject on Radio 4’s News Quiz earlier his year led to her receiving death threats.
A sensitive subject, then. So, is 52-year-old Bremner nervous about the reaction to his show?
“Warier than I was when I first mentioned it,” he admits. “When it was announced there was quite a reaction that someone was going to be doing jokes about Alex Salmond and stuff like that.
“I didn’t get it to the extent that Susan Calman did, but the strength of feeling surprised me and it didn’t help that I was perceived as coming back from the south.”
Born and brought up in the Capital, Bremner recently returned home to Scotland, one reason he was keen to learn more about our parliament and MSPs.
“Scottish politics was a blind-spot of mine. I needed to get to grips with it. To understand who the different characters are and that things have moved on since the 1970s and 1980 when I was here.”
Despite his time in England, Bremner, who made his name in programmes like Spitting Image and Week Ending before landing his own series Now, Something Else in 1987, still thinks of Edinburgh as home.
“It’s something I feel every time I’m here. I never lose that. The feelings I have when I walk around and visit old haunts... maybe it’s because, in your mind, the place where you grew up and spent your childhood is always very special.
“Funnily enough, that feeling has grown over the last ten years. Increasingly, as the years went by, I just found I felt happy in Edinburgh.
“Actually, I should be doing a programme on views because, standing on Blackford Hill or Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, Calton Hill or whatever, I’m hugely proud of Edinburgh, not just as a place but because of what it stands for; its academic and medical history and all that. It’s also an extraordinary beautiful place.”
One thing that’s changed beyond all recognition since the 1980s is Scotland’s political landscape, and unlike many, Bremner is impressed by one particular aspect of it, the Parliament building.
“I love it. The Parliament is a very European building in every sense; it’s quite unusual, quite quirky and way over budget - all of these things are quite European.
“It’s brilliantly designed and feels like it’s in another country, for all the right reasons. I like that.
“Looking into the Parliament chamber, which I had to view through glass in case I infected it with something satirical, where MSPs were debating the future of Scotland was quite a moving moment,” he reveals.
It’s that debate that provides the focus for much of Rory Goes To Holyrood, although Bremner is keen to point out that he also explores the larger political picture too.
“On the debate itself, I started the programme with an open mind and, funnily enough, ended it with a perhaps more open mind,” he says.
“There were days I was swayed by the arguments that Scotland has such a lot of potential in terms of oil, fisheries, and all that sort of stuff... and found myself thinking, ‘Yes, I could get to believe in this.’
“I called it, ‘drinking the Irn Bru’. Then I’d talk to the other side the next day and hear the caveat. So I was swinging both ways throughout.”
He still is, and believes it’s better that way. The future of Scotland is far too important to be decided by celebrities, he insists.
“The idea of celebrity endorsement, especially of something as important as this, is very questionable. That’s why I don’t want to. We become a proxy and that’s a cop out. People have to make up their own minds. That’s why, throughout my life, I have never endorsed one political party or another. Once you do, you become a mouthpiece. As a comedian you have to value your own independence and see the flaws in both sides.”
That doesn’t mean that comedians don’t have a role to play in the debate, pretty much why Bremner was keen to make Rory Goes to Holyrood.
“Traditionally that role has been lampooning politicians’ pomposity or exposing the faults and anomalies in their arguments. That’s why I was surprised that when you do the same thing in Scotland, there is a section of opinion that gets so angry about it.
“They think Alex Salmond should be off limits, even though Alex Salmond himself has a very good sense of humour and understands that political comedians are part of a healthy democracy.”
It’s a fine line, but Bremner insists the programme is less satire and more light comedy.
“This an exciting, positive and fascinating time in Scotland’s history. To leave it just to the politicians would be a huge shame, there’s a lot of fun to be had,” he says. “This programme is really about opening the door to that. It’s not telling people which way to vote, but gives an insight into who the politicians are and what we are debating. It’s a programme for people with a sense of humour, if they don’t have a sense of humour, perhaps they should watch the Chelsea Flower Show on the other side.”
Nonetheless, he’ll be ready to batten down the hatches, just in case.
“I spoke to a producer the other day and the words ‘tin helmets’ were used,” he laughs, “However, and this is a very important point to make, when we showed the programme to people, one person said it was too pro-unionist. Another said it was too nationalist. At that point we were happy. It makes fun of the parties across the board. It’s an idiot’s guide to how Scottish politics work - the idiot being me!”
Rory Goes To Holyrood, tomorrow, BBC Two, 9pm