Scottish musicians, poets, writers and actors are too afraid to declare that they are voting ‘no’ in the forthcoming independence referendum due to the amount of abuse they face from fanatical nationalists.
Composer James MacMillan made the claim on Twitter last week when he told his followers: “Major Scottish artist to me this morning: ‘I am afraid to speak. I don’t want to get my head kicked in’.” MacMillan declined to name any names, but did say that the artist was “one of many who’ve said more or less the same thing”.
The composer, who until recently was conductor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, told the Times that artists who voice opposition to Scottish independence could see their whole careers transformed.
“If you are seen as a controversial figure it could have an impact on who decides to follow you, come to a concert, see your work, buy your music, and so on,” he said.
He also said that it was much easier to for artists to declare themselves in favour of independence than against: “The fact is, on one side, there is an ease about speaking out. On the other, people choose to keep quiet. That might be cowardice on their part, but one wonders why the fear is there. When I am out of Scotland I can speak more openly about these things because there is not the same toxicity.”
When an online magazine surveyed 40 Scottish rock musicians about their views on independence, half responded “don’t know” with just seven saying “no”. The violinist Nicola Benedetti earlier this week also declined to say how she would vote, saying she was “terrified either way”.
Tom Morton, a presenter on BBC Radio Scotland, was subjected to relentless online abuse after writing a newspaper article in favour of the Union. He told the Times: “There seems to me a knee-jerk, politically naive response from strident voices within the arts community but a number of people on that scene have told me they fear going public on their ‘no’ stance because of the potential repercussions.
“A number of the Nationalist campaigners have sworn never to listen to the Morton Through Midnight Show again, which is a shame. The show contains absolutely no political comment from me and is one of the few national outlets for Scottish artists, old and new, politically aligned or not.”
In another example of nationalist intimidation, writer Gavin Bowd last year published a book called Fascist Scotland, criticising famous Scottish nationalists including poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who favoured a Nazi victory in the Second World War.
When an extract of the book appeared in a Sunday newspaper, nationalist campaigners daubed the paper’s headquarters with graffiti and a petition calling for a boycott reached 4,000 signatures. Bowd was also forced to seek police protection after he received a barrage of abuse and threats over the internet.
James MacMillan it not without criticism himself, however. Last year he generated controversy by comparing Scottish nationalists to “Mussolini’s cheerleaders”. Pro-independence playwright David Grieg said: “There are reasonable analogies to be made about the history of nationalism, and the history of artists’ involvement in politics, but name-calling like that and then complaining about the toxicity of debate is a teensy bit fey.”