Campaigning and comedy collide for Scottish Independence


POLITICAL APATHY CAN be attributed to many things. A lack of trust in politicians; a disillusioned, disenfranchised electorate; a breakdown between government and citizen.

That, and politics can be really fucking boring.

Regardless of the side you’re on, you have to hand it to the impending independence referendum in Scotland: the subject does spice up a normally bland dish of abstract policy, nonsensical political jargon and stressed, peaky looking politicians who (particularly in Scotland) are about as well known and relevant to the general public as the minor members of Blazin’ Squad.

That said, even the most patriotic or politicized  within the debate can’t help but stifle a wee yawn when it comes to the inane semantics of the subject at hand. As massive a decision as this is, those taking it most seriously can admit (even just to themselves) that they don’t exactly relish the thought of flicking through a 670 page ‘mission statement’ that still only covers half of the debate. They’ll do it, of course, but lets not pretend to enjoy it.

(“Oh yeah, the Referendum White Paper? I’d love to read it. Just send it to my fax” But you don’t have a fax machine Rachel, it’s 2014. “…Send it to my fax.”)

It is with this in mind that the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) organized some light comedic relief for its canvassers, for Yes voters and for those still undecided, in the fundraiser with The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh: “Stand Up for Independence”.

Attending the show last night, the question for me was: can comedy and campaigning go well together? If so, is it actually funny?


Chatting before the show begins, event organizer Stuart Rodger is more focused on the well being of the canvassers than the quality of the acts, or even the funds raised. He described how he hoped the show will be a bit of a ‘morale boost’ for RIC campaigners this far along on the road to September 18th. Working fiercely in spreading the message of the group through the wider population can be exhausting and often a little disheartening, and so the show was organized predominantly as a way to blow off some steam and laugh “at both sides of the debate”. Whatever the motive, he’s clearly succeeded in attracting a crowd: the room is packed out, with many squashed together at the back – standing for the night.

The lights dim and the show begins. All the acts, I’ve been informed, are pro-independence and are doing the gig for free in support of RIC. Jay Lafferty warms the already slightly rowdy audience up with light banter in preparation for the first act, Andrew Learmonth. His act doesn’t focus too heavily on the topic of independence, bar some choice gags thrown in to the delight of the very clearly politicized crowd. Eleanor Morton follows with some musical comedy, but again seems to get louder laughs when she makes political points. A pattern begins to emerge. By the time Vladimir McTavish & Keir McAllister begin their double act, which really has a primary focus on the independence referendum, and headliner  David Kay takes the stage, the theory’s cemented. The atmosphere is good, the room is responsive, but the crowd of RIC campaigners don’t take much of a night off from politics. The most political (and, lets be honest, pro-independence, naturally) gags get the loudest laughs. The evening seems to be half stand up performance, half rally.

And that’s exactly the intention of pairing comedy and campaigning, I’m told. RIC – this internationalist, left wing  team of volunteers – aims to utilise independence not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to a more progressive end. At the heart of their campaign lay ideas of equality and social justice and this is what makes comedy such an important vehicle for discussion. Central to their campaign lies the belief that existing power structures need to be challenged. That, Rodger passionately claims, is what’s so brilliant about comedy as a medium: it’s subversive. It has the ability to undermine uneven political power; something which is at the heart of what RIC aims to challenge.

More than that, comedy and creativity are something which lie at the heart of Scottish culture in a more general sense. Exploring politics this way, Rodger explains, helps engage huge segments of society (young people in particular) in a way which traditional methods of campaigning cannot. This is something that can be seen not only in the acts featured that night, but in their work as artists and activists outwith the confines of the comedy club (see the video, below): mirroring other similar movements in Scotland today, such as creative campaigners “National Collective”.

Comedy and RIC political campaigning are part and parcel of the same thing: influencing and engaging an increasingly apathetic electorate. Last night may have been about lightening the mood, but at the heart of all of this is something all involved take extremely seriously: the future of their country.

Written by Rachel Barr

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