TWO top SNP politicians have backed the Edinburgh International Festival director Sir Jonathan Mills’ controversial decision to stay away from the issue of independence in next year’s programme.
Edinburgh City Council deputy leader Steve Cardownie said it was crucial the director of the event was left alone to decide its main themes, saying “festivals need political meddling like a hole in the head”.
And Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said a contrived effort to deal with the subject could end up being “boring”.
Sir Jonathan sparked anger last week by saying he had decided to avoid tackling the referendum debate directly in a bid to ensure the event remained a “politically neutral space for artists”.
Instead he plans to take next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 100th anniversary of the First World War as the twin themes to inspire his programme, which will be his last before stepping down.
He said these themes would still allow artists to tackle ideas of “nationalism and nationhood, political allegiances and treaties”.
Independent MSP Jean Urquhart has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament demanding the festival rethink Sir Jonathan’s decision, branding it “an act of censorship”.
But Councillor Cardownie, who is also the city’s festivals and events champion, said it would have been “fraught with difficulty” for the festival to tackle independence just weeks before voters go to the polls because of the risk of inflaming either side of the debate.
He said: “The last thing a festival needs is politicians meddling on any level.
“I respect the decisions he has made about next year, just as I would have respected them if he had decided to do something on the independence debate. Festival directors should be free from political interference. It would be almost tantamount to state intervention. Festivals need that like a hole in the head.”
Ms Hyslop, who is SNP MSP for Livingston, said art “contrived around the subject of independence” had the potential to be “boring and not engaging”.