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Festival and Fringe thrive on local support

Immediately after the very strong opening weekend of this year's Edinburgh International Festival, Harry Reid dusted off a series of old canards about the capital and its annual jamboree that I really should not let pass without comment before the event concludes.

Echoing the start of his own column, I should begin by noting that few people have been kinder to me in my career than Harry Reid, both as deputy editor and editor of The Herald. Indeed, he gave me one piece of advice and encouragement that was undoubtedly the most important I have ever received. Harry began by praising (although he did not name him, it could only be) Allen Wright, the great Scotsman arts editor who is still remembered in the Fringe's annual award to young journalists, and who was also very supportive of me, the rivalry of our publications notwithstanding.

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However the column then went on to suggest that the importance of the arts is often overstated by those who work in the sector, citing Jonathan Mills's introduction to his final festival brochure as an example, and that most of the people of Edinburgh find the Festival and Fringe an irritation rather than something to be celebrated. I can recall much of this being said when I was a small child in Edinburgh and my father sang in the chorus for Festival concerts at the Usher Hall. It did not make much sense then, and even less when I had my own gigs at both Festival and Fringe as a young chorister a few years later.

Not only are the events full of local people participating alongside the international names, but an enormous proportion of the audience across the board comes from the city community, as copious research has proved. Of course it is hugely important that the arts draw a vast number of visitors to the city, and absolutely to be welcomed, as The Herald reported this week, that an increasing number of people are travelling from Glasgow to attend, but the bedrock of support for all of Edinburgh's Festivals is the people of Edinburgh. If you talk to them, you'll find that most are hugely proud of the fact that the city is famous around the world as a place where, each summer, brave new fun can be found. And when that time comes around every summer, they are out there making sure they get their share of it.

And it is more than fun. The work Mills presented this year has had some profound things to say about war and conflict, marking the centenary of the First World War, and Scottish artists on the Fringe have had a great deal to say about the upcoming referendum. We'll soon know the truth of this, but I wonder whether the people of Scotland are really more concerned about the colour of the currency than they are in the opinion of people outside politics who have given the future of the country broader sincere thought and want to share their conclusions. That only one side of the debate has made a platform of the forum afforded by the arts will indeed be an interesting test of the question Harry Reid and I find ourselves on either side of.

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