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Scottish Independence Debate / Pro-indy arts tour Yestival rolls into town

Bruce Eunson giving a reading at Yestival. Photo: Ria Moncrieff

SUPORTERS of Scottish independence in Shetland enjoyed a morale-boosting evening on Wednesday as Yestival – a nationwide tour of music and arts – rolled into Lerwick.

The event, which featured both local and mainland acts, took place in Mareel only hours after Prime Minister David Cameron left the isles following a surprise visit to promote British unity.

His trip north added extra spice to the National Collective-backed gig, which was open to those both decided and undecided about how they will vote in the independence referendum on 18 September.

Despite politics underpinning the free event, there was little debate or bluster on offer as Scottish creative arts instead got a chance to shine. Any campaigning was instead largely restrained and thoughtful, with a short National Collective film opening the night in an attempt to disprove the notion that Scotland is a small fish in a big pond.

Passionate Glaswegian singer Declan Welsh delivered one of the night's more overtly political performances. Photo: ShetnewsShetland singer-songwriter Chloe Robertson was the first performer of the evening – which was jointly organised by local ‘yes’ campaigner Louise Thomason – as she ran through tracks like the lilting original ‘Fish Out of Water’ to an audience of well over 100.

The throaty musician was followed by storyteller Erin Farley, who regaled the crowd with a trow-themed tale to exemplify Scotland’s links with Scandinavia.

Local folk-pop collective Nightingale & Rose proved to be one of the night’s highlights – Claire Laurenson leading with assured, saccharine vocals – whilst Bongshang provided a stirring video of Shetland’s landscapes.

Poets Jen Hadfield and Bruce Eunson meanwhile represented the literature scene, with the former reading the likes of Edwin Morgan and the latter channeling local writer J. J. Haldane Burgess.

Many of the acts conceded that their content wasn’t overly political considering the occasion, but Yestival’s two touring acts – troubadours Jamie Marshall and Declan Welsh – injected a bit of spike.

It was up to Welsh to wrap up the night, with the young Glaswegian spitting out wordplay-doused ditties with Arctic Monkeys-esque vocal gusto. He was the most outspoken performer there, calling for Scotland to untangle itself from Westminster rule, and an acerbic motor-mouth spoken-word piece deriding the aforementioned Prime Minster drew perhaps the most raucous applause of the evening.

Poet Jen Hadfield drew on the late Edwin Morgan's work for her reading. Photo: Shetnews

All of the night’s performers were stood in front of a slogan which read ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Vote yes!‘ and attendees were invited to add their hopes for an independent Scotland to Yestival’s ‘wish tree’.

It was difficult to gauge how many pro-Union voters were in the Mareel auditorium, but it was clear to see that the Yes campaign has a solid presence in the isles. The strong level of creative talent that pervaded the room, however, meant that politics sometimes took a back seat on a night that was both lightsome in nature and positive in direction.

Chris Cope

General Election - 12 December 2019