Opinion: Scotland's theatre-makers are predominantly pro-Independence - so what happens if we vote No?
‘If theatre is serious about dialogue, it has to remember to listen’
As the Edinburgh Fringe has made clear through the offerings of Alan Bissett, David Greig and the National Collective, the majority of theatre-makers have come down in public favour of the Yes vote in the upcoming referendum. Apart from causing a nightmare for critics, who have had to be extra careful not to allow their reviews to become commentary on the politics of the pieces, this majority suggests a consensus amongst the performance community that Scottish independence is the way forward.
Whether the lack of ‘No’ plays is the result of a lack of No voters or an unwillingness for artists to make a public statement is moot. The dominance of pro-independence theatre might be the result of the community looking inwards and, far from reflecting a public mood, it could be, as novelist Ewan Morrison has pointed out, a self-sustaining bubble, which filters out rival opinions and creates the appearance of solidarity without engaging anyone beyond the bubble.
Although this won't be resolved until after the results are in, there’s the obvious possibility that the artistic communities are out of step with public opinion. While artists can, and must, follow their own truth, theatre's engagement with wider issues depends on its connection to the lives and experiences of potential audiences. If it is only discussing matters of importance to itself, it rapidly becomes a tedious repetition of unchallenged ideas, with no audience except other artists.
In the event of a triumphant No result, the artists involved in National Collective and Yestival may be forced to re-evaluate both their strategies as activists and their arts' relationship to broader communities. That the same can't be said of No artists in the event of a triumphant Yes is the result of their absence in the debate, unless the tartan and scottie dog jamboree at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony was an overly subtle attempt at Unionist propaganda, as some have suggested.
But whatever the result, the more intriguing aspect of the Yes artists' campaign has been the diversity of voices. Kieran Hurley, author of Rantin and Grit, has a long record of supporting anti-capitalist opinions. David Hayman in The Pitiless Storm hints at a conversion from Labour to Scottish nationalism. Tam Dean Burn, one of the guests at National Collective's run at the Storytelling Centre during this year’s Fringe, has made work challenging racism. While the referendum has given them a shared platform, it is far from an isolated outbreak of political fervour. These artists recognise theatre as a vital presence in political debate.
At the risk of sounding passive, the crucial issue is that it has taken the referendum campaign to bring these artists together, and has allowed performance to be part of a major public discussion. None of these artists ought to give up their political work, whatever the result of the vote. However, if theatre is serious about dialogue, it has to remember to listen. If the public declare that they don't agree with the Yes artists, it is vital that the artists consider how they conduct their debates.
Gareth K Vile is The List’s theatre editor and a freelance critic and performer.