Letter in Full: Open letter regarding sponsorship of Edinburgh International Book Festival

Dozens of Scotland’s top writers have criticised the ”perverse” and “deeply retrograde” impact of protests over the sponsorship of Edinburgh International Book Festival - here is their letter in full

We are writers who are profoundly concerned about the fate of the UK’s book festivals and other cultural events, and the likely consequences of calls for boycotts related to festival sponsorship by Baillie Gifford. In particular we are deeply concerned about the future of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF).

As citizens, we are absolutely right to keep up the pressure for fossil fuel divestment. We also call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and for the release of hostages.

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However, a strategy of protest which results in EIBF being left without a principal sponsor will jeopardise its future: this would be a Pyrrhic victory, and merely deprive writers and activists of platform and influence.

Author Mikaela Loach (far right) at the 2023 Edinburgh International Book Festival kickstarting a mass walkout from her panel show on the event's opening night to protest the festival having Baillie Gifford as one of its sponsors (pic: Harvey Blackmore)Author Mikaela Loach (far right) at the 2023 Edinburgh International Book Festival kickstarting a mass walkout from her panel show on the event's opening night to protest the festival having Baillie Gifford as one of its sponsors (pic: Harvey Blackmore)
Author Mikaela Loach (far right) at the 2023 Edinburgh International Book Festival kickstarting a mass walkout from her panel show on the event's opening night to protest the festival having Baillie Gifford as one of its sponsors (pic: Harvey Blackmore)

As public discourse deteriorates and divisions widen, we believe that books and book festivals offer an increasingly rare opportunity for the community of writers and readers to come together in the free and civil exchange of ideas. Many of our number are actively involved in climate action, environmental and social justice issues. Book festivals allow writers subject to discrimination or harassment in their home countries to have their work and their cases heard (we think of the PEN Imprisoned Writers readings, a daily feature of EIBF). Invitations to UK book festivals are a way for writers from places of conflict, including Palestine and Ukraine, to travel and share their stories.

For this vital cultural work we require a cultural infrastructure. We believe that boycotts which threaten such platforms, and which pressure other writers to comply, are deeply retrograde. Protest is of course our right and duty, but protest actions that risk the collapse of book festivals are ill-thought-out.  For whom, exactly, would this be a victory?

To have any effect on investment practices we must exert the kind of influence only friends have over each other. We believe that story-telling, witness, theatre, poetry, conversation, reading and argumentation are crucial to this process, and that it would be perverse to destroy the means of our own political leverage and influence.

Jenny Niven, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, had wanted to retain Baillie Gifford as a sponsor (Picture: Ian Georgeson)Jenny Niven, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, had wanted to retain Baillie Gifford as a sponsor (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Jenny Niven, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, had wanted to retain Baillie Gifford as a sponsor (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

Our work depends on the robustness and integrity of the platforms that allow us to broadcast and promote our words, and to engage and meet our readers. Without the support of EIBF and other book festivals, and without the spaces provided by theatres and other cultural venues, our voices will merely grow quieter, and our young and emerging writers may never be heard at all.

Here in Scotland we recall that the Edinburgh Festivals – now a global phenomenon – were established as gestures of peace-making after WW2. The EIBF is a more recent addition, and we are proud of its success and the mutual support it has established with Scottish authors and authors worldwide. If the EIBF loses its long-term sponsor the reach of these authors will be palpably reduced. We call on writers and book workers to engage in dialogue to find ethically acceptable solutions whereby our festivals are not silenced.

Signatories

Alan Riach

Alexander McCall Smith

Ali Millar

Alistair Moffat

Andrew Greig

Andrew Neilson

Andrew O’Hagan

Bernard McLaverty

Catherine Czerkawska

Chris Brookmyre

Claudia Daventry

Colin Grant

Dan Richards

David Farrier

David Greig

Denise Mina

Don Paterson

Doug Johnstone

Elaine Morrison

Esa Aldegheri

Ever Dundas

Fiona Rintoul

Gavin Francis

Gerda Stevenson

Gerry Cambridge

Hannah McGill

Prof. Ian Brown

Ian MacPherson

Jackie Kay

James Robertson

Jen Stout

Jenny Colgan

Jenny Lindsay

Jim Crumley

John Glenday

Karine Polwart

Kathleen Jamie

Lesley Harrison

Linda Cracknell

Lisa Brockwell

Liz Lochead

Magi Gibson

Marisa Haetzman

Marjorie Lotfi

Mark Billingham

Merryn Glover

Michael Longley

Neal Ascherson

Niall Campbell

Peter Dorward

Peter Ross

Polly Clark

Raja Shehadeh

Richard Holloway

Ricky Ross

Robert Crawford

Robert Dawson Scott

Rodge Glass

Ron Butlin

Sam Baker

Sara Sheridan

Sarah Moss

Sean O’Brien

Stewart Conn

Stuart Kelly

Sue Lawrence

Tom Pow

Val McDermid

Zinnie Harris

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