Is This The End?

Credit: Jonny Mowat

Rhiannon J Davies
Writer
Why have Scottish festivals such as T in the Park and The Wicker Man been forced to cancel?

Music festivals may bring to mind hazy days spent sitting on grass letting summer tunes wash over you; or hanging onto your mates as you squelch through thick mud to reach the safety of the nearest big top tent. Whatever your festival experience, it’s hard to deny that they have become a firm staple of our cultural calendar, with 3.7 million people from around the UK attending one last year. There are popular festivals like T in the Park, which remains Scotland’s most commercially known. There are also a number of boutique smaller festivals across Scotland such as Doune the Rabbit Hole, Loopallu, Kelburn Garden Party, and Knockengorroch which often attract a more family friendly, discerning crowd, enticed by a laid back atmosphere and selective bookings.

Eden is another such festival. It is a not-profit event that is run by volunteers and gives back to the local community by supporting the local arts scene. It involves the local young people and attracts many visitors to the area. It consistently gets nominated for the ‘best family festival’ category in the UK Festival Awards. Yet, despite these relaxed credentials – which are a long way from the sort of problems that come with hosting a huge event such as T in the Park – the police have tripled their fees, putting the future of this small festival in jeopardy. The presence of Police is a necessity at festivals, meeting licensing obligations and providing an additional security presence. There must be a way of policing a festival with minimal intrusion; in a way that does not impinge on the atmosphere of the event. Further reliance can also be placed on private security firms and trained stewards for a fraction of the price.

A campaign has been launched on Change.org, gathering signatures to hold the police responsible. I spoke to the director of Eden festival, Meredith Langley-Vine, about the issue. She told me, ‘the police used to give us a 50% reduction on charges due to the fact we are a not for profit community organisation. However, this year Police Scotland told us we would no longer get a discount, and wouldn’t justify this change. They have an internal charging ‘matrix’ which they are supposed to apply to different events in order to establish if they should get a rebate, but they won’t publicly publish the scoring and refused to even score Eden on it this year. We have since found out that other festivals with the exact same company status as Eden did receive a rebate this year, so basically Police Scotland are entirely inconsistent.’

Both Wickerman Festival and T in the Park have recently announced that they won’t be running next year, and it seems likely that more people will turn to smaller festivals such as Eden to replace their first choice. I asked Langley-Vine what impact she thought these fees might have on the future of festivals in Scotland: “If this new style of policing that Dumfries and Galloway have adopted is rolled out into the rest of Scotland, then I think it is unlikely that we will have music festivals anymore – especially community, non-commercial, independent events such as Eden, as we can’t rely on sponsorship deals. We don’t charge commercial rates on our bars or food traders, we choose local suppliers and charge minimal fees. At the moment it would be way cheaper and easier to move the event to Cumbria or other parts of Scotland where the police fees are less, but we are a community event so leaving Dumfries and Galloway to go to another region totally defeats the point of the festival.”