John Swinney accuses climate activists of 'jeopardising' Scotland's festivals as he launches defence of Baillie Gifford

First Minister John Swinney said he was ‘deeply concerned’ by recent events

John Swinney has accused climate activists of jeopardising cultural festivals in Scotland.

The First Minister expressed deep concern over the “targeting” of the investment firm Baillie Gifford, which he said was “misplaced”.

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Three Scottish book festivalsEdinburgh, Wigtown and the Borders – have recently seen their partnership with Baillie Gifford come to an end following pressure from climate activists. The Cheltenham Literary Festival in England also recently cut its ties to the company.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival previously announced the end of its 20-year partnership with main sponsor Baillie GiffordThe Edinburgh International Book Festival previously announced the end of its 20-year partnership with main sponsor Baillie Gifford
The Edinburgh International Book Festival previously announced the end of its 20-year partnership with main sponsor Baillie Gifford

The decision by Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) followed pressure from campaigners critical of the firm’s investment in fossil fuels, with 50 authors also signing an open letter at last year’s festival threatening a boycott in 2024 unless Baillie Gifford divested of billions of investments, or the organisers found a new sponsor.

Last month, another group of writers said the campaign against the EIBF was “deeply retrograde” and signed an open letter saying they are concerned about its future.

Nick Thomas, a partner with Baillie Gifford, said previously: “We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country. Baillie Gifford is a long-term investor with high ethical standards and a complete focus on doing what is right by our clients.”

He added: “Only 2 per cent of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.”

Labour MSP Neil Bibby raised the issue during First Minister’s Question in Holyrood on Thursday. He asked whether Mr Swinney would convene an “urgent meeting with private and philanthropic supporters to ensure there is ongoing sponsorship of the arts and culture sector”.

Mr Swinney said: “I’ve personally been deeply concerned by the events which have taken place, and I’ve personally spoken with the leadership of Baillie Gifford because I’m concerned about the targeting of that organisation, because I welcome the support that they provide in a philanthropic way to many organisations, and I reassured the company of the importance that I attach to their contribution to the economy.

"I think the disinvestment campaigns are misplaced. I don’t think they achieve their objectives. They are now jeopardising really important cultural festivals that I know Mr Bibby and I value equally.”

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The First Minister said he would consider proposals for “further, more formal dialogue”.

Jenny Niven, chief executive of the EIBF, previously said the event’s future was at risk because of the lack of a principal sponsor. She said: “Undermining the long-term future of charitable organisations such as book festivals is not the right way to bring about change.

“It diminishes the voices of those who feel strongly about these complex issues and it will be infinitely harder to build and sustain well-funded cultural institutions in the future than it is to put them out of business today.”

Earlier this month, the Wigtown Book Festival board announced its partnership with Baillie Gifford “is to end”.

It said: “We wish to offer huge thanks for their stalwart support over 14 years, which has allowed us to sustain and grow the festival, and has provided economic, cultural and social benefits across our community.”

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