Alan Cumming: Scots have gone off talking about prospect of Scottish independence

Alan Cumming, the Scottish star of Broadway and Hollywood, has admitted Scots have gone off the independence debate because it has become such a “divisive” issue.

The Perthshire-born performer, one of the country’s most high-profile supporters of independence, suggested the response of many Scots to the mention of the issue was that “immediately sphincters tighten”.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Cumming said he was “really sad” the country had become so “polarised” the very meaning of independence had been forgotten about.

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Alan Cumming is portraying Scotland's most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, in a new dance-theatre show, Burn, which is touring Scotland after premiering at the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Cumming is touring Scotland at the moment with Burn, a dance-theatre show inspired by the life of Robert Burns, based on archives of his letters, which he says explore the poet’s own thoughts on “the idea of independence”.

Cumming was asked whether he felt the new stage about Burns would help encourage Scots to have “difficult discussions” about the country’s future.

He said: “As an artist, I think you should provoke people. I feel like I am a provocateur, as well as an actor and a writer. I feel like I want to make people think and reassess.

"The whole thing with Burn was that I really wanted people to look again at something we all thought we understood and maybe didn’t understand the full picture.

“I am a big proponent of Scottish independence. I understand that as soon as you say that immediately sphincters tighten, because not everyone is.

“I feel that, in a funny way, it has been so much in our culture, and it has been so divisive, that I think we’ve stopped wanting to talk about it. It’s a bit like ‘I don’t do politics’. I think we need to talk about it a bit more.

“We’re so polarised in this country about Scottish referendums that we’ve stopped being able to actually understand what independence means. I find that really sad. I just wish we should stop thinking it’s one of these subjects we can’t talk about.

“Burns talks so much about the idea of independence, the importance of independence of the mind, of being independent in the world and as an individual, and of not being led or reliant on people you don’t necessarily respect or who don’t respect you.

“If Burn has done anything to open up that dialogue again, I would be very, very happy. There are elements in it that are completely about the way how he, as a Scottish man, was not able to be the person he wanted to be because of the fact that he did not have independence himself. That is definitely part of the story."

Cumming, who was being interviewed by National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Jackie Wylie, urged Scots to talk, argue and “listen to each other” more on whether or not Scotland should be independent.

He said: “We should also make sure we have the facts because the last time we did not. We were all misled.

“It didn’t go the way I would liked. But look at what happened after that – Brexit and we all voted a certain way because we thought we were going to stay in Europe. And guess what? We’re not.

“So I feel like we need to talk about it more – don’t be quiet and don’t tighten your sphincter.”

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