A shadow over the Edinburgh Festival
PUBLISHED: 00:01 22 February 2018
As tickets for this year’s event go on sale, the dangers posed to it by leaving the EU become ever clearer, says Lib Dem MP CHRISTINE JARDINE
Imagine the FIFA World Cup coming to the UK every summer and you begin to understand the value of, and the impact on, the country’s economy that the Edinburgh Festival has.
In 2016 it was estimated that festival audiences of around 4.5m ticket sales generated more than £300m for the economy. That is not unusual.
Tickets for this year’s events went on sale this month and are, as always, selling fast. But this year there is a dark cloud on the horizon.
With Brexit deadlines fast approaching, the world’s largest and most successful international festival is a startling example of the impact leaving the EU could have on our creative industries.
Edinburgh is, of course, not the only British festival which will have to deal with the altered reality of life outside the European Union.
But it is the biggest, the most high-profile and the most diverse in its scale and scope, with everything from street theatre to major orchestral concerts.
Because of that it offers a unique insight into why those organisations representing our musicians, hotels, venues and performers of all kinds are campaigning hard for protection against the potential damage Brexit may do.
Originally established in 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival is regarded as one of the most important cultural events in the world, with an average of more than 160 performances involving 2,500 artists.
The Festival Fringe is, in its own right, the world’s largest arts event with almost 4,000 live theatre and comedy shows in 300 venues, and ticket sales of almost two million.
Then there are the affiliated film, visual arts, book, science and television festivals.
Together they guarantee that throughout the summer the city is awash with tourists, often visiting the festival as a gateway to the rest of Scotland and the UK. Only the Olympics and the World Cup are bigger attractions.
But, sadly, if our creative industries are not protected, world class events like the Festival, Glastonbury, and many others may find that musicians used to touring Europe freely with no issues over EU crew or equipment licenses could find the whole process becomes slower, more expensive and just downright difficult.
They might opt to take up other opportunities on the continent or elsewhere.
Music development organisations and other cultural groups might also find themselves without the vital funding stream previously provided by the EU.
But that is the immediate effect. There could also be collateral damage for one of our other most important industries if they cease to be the cash cows the tourist industry has come to depend on.
And the scale of visitor numbers attracted by the Edinburgh Festival every year demands a huge hospitality sector in which an estimated 50% of the workforce come from other EU states.
Without freedom of movement many of them may not wish, or be able, to stay.
It is absolutely clear that if we are to protect those areas which are not just central to our economic but also our social and cultural wellbeing, our creative industries need changes now.
Measures like touring passports for musicians, special equipment licences and support for arts development are all ways that can be done.
I’m confident there will always be an Edinburgh Festival.
But I fear the obstacles that Brexit places in the way of its companies, performers and visitors will make every year that bit more difficult for the festival to shine so brightly.
Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Scotland and MP for Edinburgh West