Brian Ferguson: Debate among artists a good thing

IT WAS all a complete coincidence, I’m sure, but there was still something spooky that I was on my way to the new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre when I had my first ever face-to-face encounter with a Cybernat.

English musician Billy Bragg spoke up in favour of Scottish independence. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
English musician Billy Bragg spoke up in favour of Scottish independence. Picture: Stephen Mansfield

The gentleman sitting opposite me on the train was largely unremarkable – apart from the “Proud Cybernat” badge he was sporting. I’d no idea how long he had been there as I had been distracted for much of the journey by the online furore over David Bowie’s dramatic intervention into the independence debate at the Brit Awards.

Perhaps my travelling companion was one of those who left one of hundreds of greetings on Bowie’s Facebook page that I had just been reading with a mixture of bemusement and grim resignation.

At the time of writing, there are now almost 2,000 comments. They are extremely hard going, but as a snapshot of the wider independence debate, they are also fascinating.

So too is the wider debate surrounding artists and celebrities, and whether their views are worthy of mass exposure – even when they have nothing particularly new to add to previous pronouncements.

Although there appears to be a growing numbers of writers, performers and showbusiness personalities getting involved, I could count on one hand those willing to publicly debate in Scotland in support of a “No” vote. This cannot be healthy, no matter which side of the political fence you are on.

Bowie’s four-word plea certainly gives plenty of food for thought to those who insist that you have to be based in Scotland to have a valid view. If Sir Sean Connery and Alan Cumming are entitled to their views despite living far away from Scotland then surely the likes of Bowie is as well.

Likewise, it would be nonsensical for supporters of independence to trumpet the views of Englishmen like film director Ken Loach and singer-songwriter Billy Bragg one minute and express outrage at Bowie’s involvement the next.

A few days before Bowie’s intervention, Surrey-born comedian Marcus Brigstocke found himself embroiled in all manner of bitter and ill-mannered arguments after speaking out against Scottish independence.

Intriguingly, it was left to Bragg to leap to Bowie’s defence last week, saying his intervention would encourage English people to discuss the referendum, adding: “Obviously we don’t have a vote, but we can have an opinion. We should have a better debate about what independence means and its pros and cons.”

How ironic it would be if there was more serious debate between artists in England about the prospects of an independent Scotland than north of Hadrian’s Wall.