Edinburgh Fringe: There's no escape from politicians as key figures like Nicola Sturgeon take centre stage
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There's no escape from politicians. Even in Edinburgh at the height of the Festival and Fringe, they’re everywhere.
This time of year used to provide a rare break from political preoccupations. Parliament was in recess, politicians were on holiday and the Capital’s streets were thronged with performers and tourists. Edinburgh’s annual cultural extravaganza always included shows with a political dimension alongside the comedy, drama, dance and experimentation. There would be plenty jokes at the government’s expense. And a recently-departed ex-minister with a memoir to sell might make an appearance at the book festival.
But now politicians are literally taking centre stage. Interviewed in front of audiences of hundreds of people, key figures have been offering their reflections on everything from counselling to women’s toilets. First Minister Humza Yousaf spoke of struggling with his mental health and revealed he had sought counselling when he was transport minister – “one of the best things I ever did”. And SNP deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black, who is quitting the Commons at the next election, talked about getting grief in women’s toilets because people thought he was not feminine enough.
We have heard rising Labour star Wes Streeting say it doesn’t matter if UK and Scottish Labour take different lines on gender recognition or the two-child benefit cap. “If you believe in devolution you have to accept that people may well use those freedoms to make different choices.” Tickets to hear former Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt, now best known for her sword-carrying role at King Charles’ coronation, were in so much demand that the show had to be moved to a bigger venue
The SNP’s pact with the Greens has been a hot topic amid calls for its future to be debated at the Nationalists’ next conference. Former SNP minister Fergus Ewing compared his party to a teenager who had “got in with the wrong crowd”. And outspoken Edinburgh SNP MP Joanna Cherry claimed the Scottish Greens had become “a totalitarian party”.
With all the current turmoil in the SNP, former finance secretary Kate Forbes agreed she had “dodged a bullet” when she lost the leadership battle to Humza Yousaf. Meanwhile former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told how she had taken refuge at her parents’ home while police were carrying out the controversial search of her house an interviewing her husband Peter Murrell. She also declared her predecessor and former mentor Alex Salmond was “not somebody I want in my life”. Mr Salmond, promoting his own Fringe show with former Tory Brexit Secretary David Davies, did not rule out a reconciliation but claimed Ms Sturgeon cut a sad and diminished figure.
These apparently candid conversations have naturally hit the headlines and helped maintain the profile of those taking part – a reminder to the public that they are still around. Of course politicians are making the most of these opportunities to promote themselves, ride their hobby horses, score points and argue their case.
But the conversation-style Fringe appearances are less aggressive and confrontational, more relaxed and intimate, than hurried interviews on TV. They provide interesting insights and the chance to see and hear key players speak their mind live and unedited – a holiday from the tit-for-tat which is too typical of much political debate.