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Scottish independence: Book festival’s ‘key role’

Nick Barley finds time to relax in the hectic run-up to this year's event.  Picture: Colin Hattersley

Nick Barley finds time to relax in the hectic run-up to this year's event. Picture: Colin Hattersley

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

THE Edinburgh International Book Festival will be one of the key forums for public debate ahead of next year’s independence referendum, according to the event’s director.

Nick Barley said the festival, which starts tomorrow in Charlotte Square, had an “absolutely crucial” role to play in allowing Scots to ask questions about the long-term future of country.

He hoped a string of events over the two-week programme would help the many “don’t knows” to find answers.

Mr Barley said one of the main themes underpinning this year’s festival was the cultural explosion in Scotland over the past 30 years and the impact the independence debate, and the result, would have on it.

He revealed he had “big plans” to explore the issue at next year’s event, which will coincide with the final weeks of the referendum campaign.

He said: “One of the great things about being the festival director is that I don’t know all the answers but I get to ask the questions.

“I’m hoping the discussion by all these amazing, intelligent people who come to Charlotte Square this month is going to throw up some of the answers. I see our role as absolutely crucial.

“There have been lots of stories about the economic contribution that Edinburgh’s festivals make, which I’m very proud of, but equally the contribution the festival makes to the public discourse is just as important. To describe us as going through a phase of enlightenment is not an exaggeration.”

Historian Tom Devine, broadcasters Andrew Marr and Kirsty Wark, writer and artist Alasdair Gray, cultural commentator Ruth Wishart and Jeane Freeman, a special adviser to former First Minister Jack McConnell, are among those taking part in debates and events.

A key element of this year’s programme – it is the 30th anniversary of the event – will be an examination of some of the iconic novels published over the past three decades and the political landscape that inspired them.

However, Mr Barley said it was “very important” for the festival to avoid inviting any politicians “whose minds are already made up” on independence – although he conceded some politicians had already booked their places in the audience.

He said: “When you look at the list of authors that have emerged into the international spotlight in the last 30 years, there is obviously something very special going on. It’s not just about looking at why it has happened, but how can we sustain that, and of course that’s a question that feeds into the referendum. What is the best future for Scotland?

“I’m genuinely not taking sides on it, but a really important question is how can we keep going this amazing cultural explosion that we have enjoyed?

“I wouldn’t say I have got any doubts about the future, but we have to be clear about what we want. Before we go into a referendum, in which we are looking at whether we’re going to be £5 a week richer or poorer, let’s ask ourselves about the long-term future of Scotland and what we genuinely believe to be the best for our country.

“I believe the culture is one of the fundamental parts of that now, though I’m not sure everybody would agree with that.”

Mr Barley revealed advance sales for the book festival were “very positive”, although tickets were still available for some of the bigger names in the line-up, such as Roddy Doyle, AL Kennedy, Val McDermid, Cerys Matthews and John Burnside.

He said: “Last year was a record year for the festival, so we don’t really want to draw any direct comparisons at this point or be a hostage to fortune, but we are very happy.”

EDINBURGH-FESTIVALS.COM

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