John McLellan: However bad Brexit gets, the Festival will remain

Aboriginal dance sensations Djuki Mala, from Elcho Island in North East Arnhem Land, return to the Assembly George Square Theatre for the entire month of August (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Aboriginal dance sensations Djuki Mala, from Elcho Island in North East Arnhem Land, return to the Assembly George Square Theatre for the entire month of August (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Share this article
Have your say

Festival chiefs are worried but there are signs the EU will cut a deal with Theresa May, writes John McLellan.

Friends of the Edinburgh Festivals, eat, drink, go to shows and be merry, for tomorrow the whole thing dies.

As this year’s season got underway, that seems to be the message from International Festival director Fergus Linehan and Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy, both using appropriately dramatic language in Scotsman interviews to emphasise how hard it is becoming to keep the show on the road.

McCarthy’s priority is tackling the soaring accommodation costs which, she said, would “kill the life-force of these festivals” if nothing was done. “If you’re an artist and you can’t find accommodation in a place offering you a platform to perform for up to a month, it doesn’t matter how much you want to do it. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.”

If the only ways to improve availability and reduce prices are either to increase supply or reduce demand, then if Linehan’s fears are realised, help might be at hand with the latter. His nightmare is not riots on the High Street for the last available hyper-inflated spare room, but tumbleweed as a Brexit apocalypse wreaks havoc.

“The idea of more intolerance and low-level racism being given fuel is just horrific,” he said. “I just can’t see how it’s not going to be a disaster. It’s not an ideological position, but I just can’t see how it’s not going to be a terrible mess. If there is suddenly a whole extra lawyer of administration, cost and complexity, it will be much more difficult for smaller operators. Anyone who is running a hospitality business is already aware that there is an absolute squeeze on finding people.”

READ MORE: John McLellan: Bullfights are horribly gripping and unjustifiably compelling

Linehan was realistic enough to recognise that “sitting down in a room with people all of whom think Brexit is a catastrophe doesn’t really get us anywhere”, and along with tourism, culture and the universities, Linehan pinpointed the importance of finance to the city’s economic future. Here is where different voices can be found.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black, a former investment banker, painted a more optimistic picture of the UK Government’s approach in a Herald article this week. “It’s pragmatic, a step in the right direction and just maybe the only game in town,” she wrote. “More detail is required on future customs arrangements but the direction of travel is positive and constructive – frictionless UK-EU trade remains the goal and we’re now a step closer to achieving it.”

Similarly, in The Times, international business law expert Barney Reynolds said, “For financial services, the White Paper presents a significant advance and offers a win-win outcome. What is key now is that the UK announces policies optimising the no-deal fallback.”

Despite Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s warning yesterday that chances of a no-deal Brexit were “uncomfortably high”, there are signs that EU officials accept that hardball has serious consequences for them too. But given over three-quarters of Festival visitors are from the UK and more Americans come than from any other overseas nation, whatever happens after Britain leaves the EU in March, tourists and performers will still be here in vast numbers next August.

READ MORE: John McLellan: SRU is no friend of grassroots rugby

The reliability of printed news

If advertising is a bell-weather of economic confidence, then the good news is that UK advertising spending in the first quarter of 2018 rose 5.9 per cent year-on-year to £5.7bn, according to the Advertising Association. Even better news for fans of ink and paper is that display advertising in national newspapers was up a point to £153m, admittedly not huge but the first increase since 2010. Spending in popular dailies grew 2.8 per cent, partly thanks to a new Tesco campaign. In the era of fake news and fast-and-loose social media, advertisers are reawakening to the reliability of print.

Wings over Scotland: a social media martyr

Fast-and-loose social media includes widespread copyright infringements, particularly the re-publication of pictures and videos where the copyright holder has not given permission. A certain amount of leeway is allowed under the “fair dealing” caveat, such as the lifting of quotes for book reviewing.

But lift too much, too often and lawyers might come calling, which is what happened to the Wings over Scotland independence blogger Stuart Campbell, whose extensive use of BBC footage resulted in his Youtube channel being temporarily suspended after intervention from Auntie’s legal heavies.

Campbell has a loyal following of what can safely be described as the more committed independence supporters so, given the BBC’s difficulties with elements of the movement, it was not the smartest move to turn him into a social media martyr.

The row culminated in ex-rugby international John Beattie grilling BBC Scotland’s public affairs director Ian Small about the whole business on his Radio Scotland show and in the process they fingered Edinburgh Labour councillor Scott Arthur as the original complainant after he too had been contacted about BBC material on his social media channels. Arthur then took to social media to deny being the clype. What a stramash.

I doubt Arthur will sue for this outrageous slur, but ironically Campbell has not been slow to use the law to protect his reputation. Such a stout defender of free speech is Campbell that he is suing former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale for defamation after she used her Daily Record column to accuse him of homophobia for a particularly vile comment about Scotland secretary David Mundell and his MSP son Oliver.

Wanderers still searching

After last week’s look at the plight of Murrayfield Wanderers, the scale of the rugby club’s problem was illustrated by a letter from Pete Grigson, chair of the Friends of Roseburn Park, who made his group’s opposition to a new clubhouse plain.

Grigson wants the SRU to either let Wanderers stay at Murrayfield or pay them compensation to find a home elsewhere, neither of which the Union will do, so Wanderers must find partnerships somewhere.

I understand the FoRP are exploring some sort of Fields in Trust protection which will require the co-operation of the land-owner – the council – as will Wanderers’ plan for sharing a new balconied clubhouse and café with the Edinburgh DAFS cricketers. A way to satisfy all involved must surely be possible if the will is there.