POLITICIANS are set to get “soapbox slots” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to sell the case for or against independence - just weeks before Scotland goes to the polls.
MSPs and MPs will be invited to take to the stage and given just a few minutes to try to win over festival audiences.
The move comes after some major venues decided to shun the referendum debate during the festival, with just two shows being staged at the four biggest festival venues and concerns that the debate is being sidelined during the world’s biggest arts festival.
Although more than a dozen Fringe shows will be tackling the referendum debate, the vast majority have been instigated and programmed by “Yes” campaigners.
The soapbox initiative is being run as part of a mini referendum-inspired festival.
At least 15 different events are planned next month by publishers Luath Press, who say they wanted to ensure the referendum debate was properly represented during the Fringe.
It is hoped the “Scotland’s ReferendumFest” events at the Quaker Meeting House, on Victoria Street, will become a major hub for “sparky” discussion and debate on the referendum a the Fringe.
Writers, academics, historians and campaigners will take centre-stage in the events, before the politicians and other campaigners involved in the referendum debate get the chance to shine - but for a maximum of just five minutes each.
The Fringe venue will be a far cry from a parliament chamber or a conference hall - it will have a capacity of just 60.
Gavin MacDougall, director of LuathPress, said: “We have seen a huge interest this year, all over Scotland, in the referendum. It was clear in March and April that things would be really ramping up by the summer.
“We felt there was a clear need to do something to mark what is the most significant democratic event in Scotland’s history.
“We also believe there is a great opportunity to organise some lively and worthwhile events during the festival. We’re using a space on the top floor of the Quaker Meeting House, which is normally a place of worship.
“There are no other events in in the space there during the Fringe, so we’e able to take it over. We’ve got three events every afternoon during Scotland’s Referendumfest at the moment, but we have the flexibility to add more, if the demand is there.
“In each event, in the break between the first and second half, there will be a five-minute slot, with some sort of gong or timing device, with speakers that we will pre-arrange in advance. We will be seeking as wide a spectrum of viewpoints as possible.”
National Collective reveal line-up
Elsewhere in the Old Town, the artistic movement for independence, National Collective, is lining up its own cabaret-style event, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, with singers Billy Bragg and Aidan Moffat, author Alan Bissett and theatre-maker Kieran Hurley confirmed in the line-up.
Promoter and “Yes” campaigner Tommy Sheppard has programmed a string of independence themed events, including lunchtime cabaret show All Back To Bowie’s at a new arena in St Andrew Square Garden.
Actor Brian Cox, playwright David Greig, singers Ricky Ross and Karine Polwart, and authors Janice Galloway and Ewan Morrison will all be appearing in the show.
MacDougall insisted Luath Press does not have a political agenda - its website declares it is “not aligned to any political party or grouping” - and pointed out it had recently published “A Guide For Voters” to help steer voters through the debate.
Around 20 books inspired by the debate will have been published by the firm before Scotland before Scotland goes to the polls, he said.
Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party: “This sounds quite fun.
“I think there has got to be some scope in the referendum debate for something that isn’t just dry, statistical, economic argument, but that gets under the surface of the issue and tries to engage in a different way.”
Gavin Brown, Conservative MSP for Edinburgh and Lothians, said: “While you wouldn’t want to see the Fringe being dominated by independence events, the idea of having one event which takes an unusual approach to looking at the issue could be interesting. It could either flop or get people talking, but either way, it’s an original approach.”
Scotland’s Referendumfest is at the Quaker Meeting House during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 18-22 August.