By Lynn Malone
The row over Edinburgh International Festival's decision to exclude the referendum and ban independence themed productions at next year's festival has intensified today with a former MEP accusing its director of creating a "hornet's nest".

Campaigners are calling for the decision by director, Sir Jonathan Mills, to be revisited at the next board meeting with several members indicating they will raise the issue.

Mills' announcement has led to a petition, started yesterday, attracting more than 450 signatures as the story has gained momentum in the mainstream press and today a motion was lodged in the Scottish Parliament describing the decision as "an act of censorship".

The petition, started by Chris Law from Dundee and entitled, Sir Jonathan Mills, Director of Edinburgh Festival: Lift the BAN on any Scots Independence themed shows in next year's Festival, has become a major issue on Facebook and Twitter.

The shock announcement from Mills was made this weekend and led to articles appearing in the Times, Guardian, Scotsman, Herald, Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.  

Speaking at the weekend, Mills revealed that next year's festival will not commission any performances about the 2014 referendum debate.  Instead the central themes will include the First World War commemorations which begin one week before the festival itself starts and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games which will have just ended.

Online publication Bella Caledonia suggest the decision could be connected to money, saying:

"In fact one might categorise Mills predilection for being what he calls 'politically neutral' and avoiding the biggest decision affecting Scotland for 400 years as actually being a commercial decision."  They imply the decision is to attract public funding to commemorate the war and avoid upsetting corporate sponsors.

Meanwhile Scotland's leading playwright David Greig spoke to the Guardian, saying: "I am confused and worried that he appears to be withdrawing his festival from the debate and instead commemorating the first world war which seems to have come largely from the Conservatives"

Alan Taylor, writing in today's Herald said it made his blood boil: "This (Mills') statement makes one's blood boil.  It is typical of the modern arts administrator, whose raison d'etre is to ensure that no-one is upset or exercised at any performance," he said. 

While Mike Small in the Guardian said that Mills attempt to keep politics out is farcical and the first world war with 37 million dead is hardly non political.

Former MEP Hugh Kerr, who was in charge of cultural policy for the European Parliament from 1994 until 1999, said Mr Mills has created a "hornets' nest". 

Mr Kerr, who has been going to the Edinburgh Festival for 45 years said: "Sir Jonathan Mills may be already realising that he has created a hornets' nest by choosing to ignore the independence referendum while commemorating the first world war at next year's festival.  It is not too late for him to reconsider and if he doesn't I call on Edinburgh Festival board members to consider the issue at its next meeting on October 23.

"It surely cannot be right that one Australian director, even if recently knighted, can decide to ignore the biggest decision in Scottish history for 300 years.  Why not include the National Theatre of Scotland's productions on the debate in the festival?  Why not have a festival of ideas with a range of different cultural contributions on the debate."

Mr Kerr says he would like to remind Mr Mills that part of the Festival's mission statement is " showcase the best of Scottish culture to the world."

"Why not commission some original Scottish work in music, dance and theatre on the theme - something that Mr Mills has consistently failed to do in his tenure to date."

The decision has resulted in widespread anger and a motion has been lodged at the Scottish Parliament condemning the move as "an act of censorship".

Commenting on her website, independent MSP Jean Urquhart says: "I lodged the following motion in Parliament today expressing my regret at the decision taken by the EIF to not commission any productions examining the independence referendum next year.

"It seems such a shame that the opportunity is being passed up by the EIF to use the event to show the role that the arts can play in the big decisions of our time, regardless of their angle or viewpoint."

"That the Parliament notes with regret the reported decision taken by the director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Jonathan Mills, to exclude any independence-themed productions from the 2014 event; believes that, regardless of voting intentions, the cultural sector has a massive role to play in the referendum; considers that political neutrality can be better obtained through an open, fair, and balanced programme that includes the views of all sides rather than through what it sees as enforced silence in what is universally recognised as one of the most important debates in Scotland’s history; believes this to be an act of censorship that will inadvertently politicise the festival and a wasted opportunity for Scotland’s arts community, and, in order to promote an open, healthy and vigorous debate, encourages the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival to reconsider the decision."


# alanski 2013-08-14 17:08
SIR Jonathan Mills... says it all really.
# Arthur G 2013-08-14 18:49
Says all you need to know about the EIF and what it has become...
# macduff 2013-08-14 17:24
1. Edinburgh Festival board members should immediately overturn this decision.
2. Edinburgh Festival board members should sack Sir Jonathan Mills immediately.

Scotland neither needs nor wants such blatant censorship imposed on the most important debate to take place in its history. How dare he and his establishment cronies tell us that our Festival can only cover the subjects that pleases their own agenda. Fair makes my blood boil

# clootie 2013-08-14 17:46
It was a political move motivated by someone acting for the union.

If the fringe is about anything it is about being current and thought provoking.

He should resign for such an insult to the principles of open artistic values. It is a historic period/event regardless of your view on independence.
# call me dave 2013-08-14 17:56
Here's a gong .. Now go and do your duty!

Enough said!

He's standing down next year so two fingers to the Scots.
Sir Jonathan Mills, who is standing down from the post next year, said there was nothing wrong about enjoying “high opera and stand-up comedy”.

Sign the petition at.
# gopher3 2013-08-14 18:22
He'll be standing down next year, could that be to take his seat in the Lords for doing a great job.???
# Breeks 2013-08-14 18:42
So an international festival of arts and culture should turn its back on the democratic re-awakening of its own Nation?
Time for some fast talking Mr Mills. Your decision reeks of collusion with the Unionist agenda to bury the independence debate beneath a tidal wave of British imperialist camaraderie and faux nostalgia.
# pomatiaH1 2013-08-14 18:43
Festival mission statement, "Offering an international showcase for Scottish culture".
From an article on National Collective, "article was written in the Huffington Post calling for Scottish culture to be kept out of the independence debate entirely. It was praised and promoted by leaders of the No campaign, including director Blair McDougall and Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Jim Murphy."
# call me dave 2013-08-14 19:09

What a scrambles! Labour's relaunch descends into chaos as leader is pelted with EGGS during market walkabout.
# theycantbeserious 2013-08-14 19:27
Is this why key positions in Scotland are filled by those with no vested interest in the Country, it's people and it's future. Vote Yes in 2014 and end this outside control.
# ScotFree1320 2013-08-14 19:48
If art is not about freedom of expression and freedom of speech, what is it for, exactly?

Sir Mills should resign forthwith.
# Soloman 2013-08-14 20:59
Signed the petition.

Slightly off topic

Another Great British win at the football tonight.........
# christiedrc 2013-08-14 21:22
I agree absolutely that the Festival should deal with the referendum.

But if it doesn't all is not lost. I'm sure that the Fringe and the "Festival of Politics" at the Scottish Parliament will deal with it. But it may not get the same publicity.

Vote YES in 2014

I must post more!
# bringiton 2013-08-14 22:26
The shortbread tin Edinburgh international festival.
Might as well be on Mars as far as it's relevance to Scotland is concerned.
When you get involved with the corporate world,whether it be in the field of work,sport or arts,you are supping from the devil's spoon and betterr hope it is a long one.
# Kinghob 2013-08-14 22:38
As Newsnet is saying and others are saying, art should be left to the artists involved and submissions to the Edinburgh Festival should be 'neutral' i.e judged on their merits not the subject matter or it is obviously censorship.

Maybe even political censorship.

From the Newsnet article:

"Alan Taylor, writing in today's Herald said it made his blood boil: "This (Mills') statement makes one's blood boil. It is typical of the modern arts administrator, whose raison d'etre is to ensure that no-one is upset or exercised at any performance," he said."

You may as well miss out the first reference to 'blood boil' if it is mentioned in the subsequent quote which quotes "makes one's blood boil"........

"He (insert person) said it made his blood boil".

Or summit like that.
# david1966 2013-08-15 00:48
what has the arts got to do with politics or are the snp running scared scared again i do wish this snp front would publish the truth
# Al Ghaf 2013-08-15 04:22
Who died and made Sir Johnathan the Gauleiter of Scotland?

Apologies in advance for any faux outrage caused.
# Andyzx9 2013-08-15 09:15
I sent this topic to a Tory friend of mine who works in the oil industry and he is enraged.he is now unsure how he will vote due to the behaviour of the No campaign and the antics of Whitehall.
He tells me he has written evidence to prove the British government gave away over 4 billion pounds worth of contracts from Aberdeen to Maersk a Danish company" purely because of the independance threat ".
# gus1940 2013-08-15 14:22
Re last para if that is the case let's get the full facts and shout it from the rooftops then see if our pals at The BBC and MSM cover it.
# Muz 2013-08-15 10:23
I signed the petition in the hope that common sense will prevail.

In the meantime how about a narrative on two young first leftenants' experiences in WW1. One young lad from Eton born into privilege and the other working his way up from his roots in Linlithgow. WW1 after all did speed up the collapse of the "ruling elite" and made ordinary folks question their divine right to rule and have all the answers. There is a story there.
# hetty 2013-08-15 11:29
I attended a talk he gave recently on the festival. He is leaving and writing his memoirs as a stage act, opera? His comments weren't all negative or indeed pro the 'no' campaign far as I could see, in fact some in the audience were none too pleased when the subject of funding for the arts came up. Perhaps it's a ploy, who knows and I am not defending him, but tell artists what they can't do and what do they do? Good to see it being brought to the fore perhaps not in the best fashion though!
# ButeHouse 2013-08-15 13:10
What I like about this story is the speed in which artists and others have reacted.

It's very much to do with the internet of course but equally it shows the level of interest in the country, not to mention the level of support for YES.

This coming on top of the major Tory donor announcing his support for YES just prior to his meeting with PM Cameron.

Do you detect a degree of momentum going our way? I do.

# weegie38 2013-08-16 10:55
If ever an arts administrator proved Alasdair Gray's point about 'settlers' and 'colonists', it's Mills. Clearly one of the latter.

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