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Arts still to find a place in indy debate

When the line-up for this year's Edinburgh International Festival is unveiled in just over a month's time, you'd assume that all that nonsense last August about director Jonathan Mills failing to address the independence referendum that will take place the following month will be forgotten.

We already know that the drama programme will include a new trilogy of plays about Scotland's medieval kings - James I, II and III - penned by Rona Munro and directed by Laurie Sansom with an ensemble cast acquiring Sofie Grabol of TV's The Killing (and the Danish National Theatre) to play Queen Margaret of Denmark in the last part of the trilogy.

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You have to hope that such a commitment to Scotland's past will silence calls for another revival of The Thrie Estaites.

And yet, as Alan Riach of Glasgow University wrote in The Herald earlier this week, there is so far no sign that arts and culture is finding its proper place at the heart of the debate leading up to the vote.

Professor Riach's point was clear: such "immaterial" concerns are what distinguishes human beings, but despite the stated enthusiasm for a Yes vote from many in the arts in Scotland, the news agenda has stayed steadfastly on the narrow track of business, economics, tax and the currency in your pocket - more or less the same concerns the have floated to the top in any election campaign for the past 50 years.

Do you have to be absurdly optimistic about human nature to hope that people might approach this ballot with some purer motives than whether or not they will be £500 a year better off as a result?

If the question "Should Scotland be an independent nation?" can only be answered in those terms - as politicians on both sides of the debate seem determined to suggest - is it even worth asking?

Into this vacuum comes the ever-theatrical George Galloway, with his solo "Say Naw" roadshow, which colourfully attracted protests from both sides of the debate outside the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh this week, necessitating a police presence. Now that is more like the thing.

There are plenty reasons, dating back many years, to harbour suspicions about Gorgeous George, but I have no intention of adding to the earnings of the legal profession by mentioning any of them here.

What is absolutely unarguable is that he has an opinion on the issue of Scottish independence, as on most things, and will express it eloquently.

I might have gone to see him at the Howden Park in Livingston, where Scottish Opera commence an Opera Highlights tour later this month, or at Stirling's Macrobert, the nation's great family venue, but both those arts centres have decided not to proceed with the booking he made.

I'm disappointed, and not just because that might have promised a livelier take on the debate than that provided by the grey suits and their endless speculative arithmetic.

It also means that parts of the Scottish cultural sector have turned down an opportunity to engage with the debate. If that is because they are "feart" of the consequences of so doing, then we have a real problem.

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