MITCH BENN: Why Scotland is not a fringe issue

PUBLISHED: 16:00 09 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:25 10 August 2019

Festival-goers line the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Ken Jack/Getty Images

Festival-goers line the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Ken Jack/Getty Images

2019 Ken Jack

Even the legendary patience of the Scots is being exhausted as the country is dragged out of the EU against its will, says Mitch Benn.

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I've returned to my adopted hometown of Edinburgh to partake in the annual month-long ritual of comedy industry chiselling which is the Festival Fringe (my show is called Ten Songs To Save The World, and it's on at the Underbelly Bristo Square at 3.45pm each day, like I wasn't going to mention that).

Once I'm up here I tend to find the festival itself quite a relaxing experience, oddly enough; the preparations are mind-bendingly intense but once it starts there's not much left to do except turn up and do the show as well as possible each day, unless of course you throw yourself into to the schmoozing, partying and networking end of things, which I don't.

It's not so much about abstemiousness and clean-living so much as it is a recognition of my own woeful shortcomings as a networker and schmoozer. If I go hang out in the VIP and 'industry' bars which pop up for the duration of the Fringe I'm far more likely to damage my career prospects with some clanging faux pas than enhance them, so it's usually Netflix and an early night for me these days (apart from anything else, it's quite nice to be performing in the same city every day rather than face a two- or three-hour drive home after each show, such as is my lot for the other 11 months of the year).

Besides, I am, to sanitise a phrase, getting too old for this... stuff. To call me a 'Fringe veteran' hugely understates the matter. Not only does 2019 mark 25 years since the first time I did stand-up comedy at the Fringe, it's 30 years since the first time I performed at the Fringe in any capacity (I was in a student theatre production in 1989... feels like about 18 months ago).

One of the 'highlights' of my show this year (going by the audience response) is a song called Moving To Scotland, in which I not-entirely-satirically muse on the possibility of relocating north of the border in the hope that an imminently independent Scotland will serve as a refuge from the Brexit-fuelled madness engulfing England.

As I bewail in the show, I lack that crucial "one Irish grandma" which everyone I know who has such a grandparent is currently using as a basis to apply for an Irish passport. I had but one Irish great grandma, which is not enough. As it stands, Scotland is my only potential escape route.

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I would not have thought, incidentally, that an "imminently independent Scotland" were such a radical idea, given the current circumstances, but apparently I'm wrong, given that a recent headline on PoliticsHome tells of a "shock poll" in which a majority of Scots express support for independence from the UK.

I would suggest that if such a statistic genuinely comes as a "shock" to English readers then that right there should tell you why a majority of Scots now favour independence.

This is a difficult topic for me as I consider myself literally half-and-half Scottish/English and my emotional attachment to the idea, if not the reality, of the Union is strong. Seeing Scotland break away would be like watching my parents split up. But consider this, Englanders: it's been hard enough watching our political establishment lose its collective marbles and plunge the country into unnecessary chaos; imagine how much more anguish and injustice you'd feel if our country had been plunged into unnecessary chaos because the French political establishment had lost its collective marbles and we'd had no say in the matter. That's what it is to be Scottish right now.

Scotland isn't a region, as Darth Raab called it a couple of weeks ago. It's a country, and moreover a country in which the Conservative party hasn't won a majority of votes once since 1955, or 1959, if you count the Conservative/Unionist/National Liberal coalition. This hasn't been a Tory country for at least 60 years, but for 36 of those years it's been at least partly governed by Conservative administrations.

The Scots have gotten used to being governed by parties they don't support, but when a government they didn't vote for is in the process of dragging Scotland, against its clearly expressed wishes, out of the European Union (having just two years previously cited the prospect of an independent Scotland losing its EU membership as a reason to vote against independence) even the legendary patience of the Scots is exhausted.

Indeed, the fact that the 2016 referendum happened at all nullifies the narrow 'No' victory in the 2014 indepence referendum.

You can't persuade a country - just - to remain in a Union and then blithely propose fundamentally altering the nature of that Union just a few months later. But that's the kind of high-handedness that drives the Scots crazy; it's not being 'oppressed' that enrages Scotland so much as being taken for granted and forgotten about.

I know this is a painful topic for English Remainers; the threat to the Union is one of the most pressing reasons to avert Brexit, after all.

But face it, folks; if you don't believe an electorate has the right to take back and revise the result of a referendum when it becomes apparent that circumstances have fundamentally changed since the vote was taken, you're reading the wrong newspaper.

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