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Scotland's festival fixation shows no signs of ending | Kevin McKenna

Edinburgh charges £12 to watch a few hundred hairy-arsed, helmeted and ponytailed grotesques re-enact a Viking ceremony. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Very soon now it will be announced that, somewhere in Scotland there is to be an annual festival celebrating our national expertise in hosting festivals.

If a trip to Scotland is on this years holiday agenda then clicking on he following link will provide facts and information particularly useful to those interested in ##LINK~##.The organisers must first overcome logistical issues stemming from finding a free stretch in the year in which to hold this gala of galas, this pageant of pageants. Scotland, you see, is fast becoming the jamboree capital of the world and each year, it seems, there is far less scope for fitting a new one into an already crowded calendar.

Given that the nation's annual cultural budget seems to get spent almost entirely on incendiary devices then this is no time for resting on our laurels. We must constantly raise the bar if we are to maintain our position as the best small country in the world at setting off fireworks.

Edinburgh, of course, provides the gold standard in the business of manufacturing a good time. Almost 90,000 people thronged the streets of the capital on Hogmanay, waiting to count in the new year with £1m worth of fireworks and 15 bands on five stages strewn the length of Princes Street. The pop diva Lily Allen was the headline act. Holyrood's recent decision to reduce the drink-driving limit was body-swerved for a couple of days and this was probably a sensible decision. For you can't be having that sort of Presbyterian nonsense when you're trying to persuade everyone to get howling with the bevvy for 24 hours and let go of all their inhibitions.

Other Scottish towns and cities are also hammering their cultural budgets on this new civic hoopla. More than 12,000 people turned out to watch yet more fireworks in Aberdeen last week and get completely blootered to the amplified cadences of 100 huechter-tuechter ensembles.

Only Glasgow, it seems, opts to forgo this national bacchanal. The city's Sanhedrin did try to compete half-heartedly with Edinburgh in the new year festivities for a while, but what was the point? Glasgow has always been good at making its own entertainment and the fabricated hedonism of Edinburgh's new year never really sat comfortably on its shoulders. And when the city council is trying to find the money to fund its living wage policy while tackling inner-city deprivation and reducing our reliance on food banks, spending millions on fireworks and torchlight processions seems slightly inappropriate.

Edinburgh, it seems, now merely exists as a staging post on the international hippy trail for the affluent young seeking truth and chasing spiritual experiences. Perhaps that's why Edinburgh charges them £12 a pop to hold a torch and watch a few hundred hairy-arsed, helmeted and ponytailed grotesques re-enact a Viking ceremony. In a post-Christian world, where any manifestation of the old faith is deemed to be superstitious, we seem to have replaced it with an annual pagan festival designed for the sole purpose of extracting dollar bills from the fists of mendicant and footless naifs.

Later in the year they and their parents may pitch up at the Edinburgh international festival and fringe, encompassing the international book festival and television and cinema festival. In recent years, a politics festival has been tacked on to this sprawling cultural monument to middle-class excess. What is the point of a bloody politics festival? I even found myself participating at an event in this bizarre happening where the panel was bigger than the audience.

To help visitors get from performance to performance, from workshop to workshop, they can hop on the new tram system, perhaps the most pointless and excessive scrap of transport infrastructure anywhere in Europe. It's like a toy railway in an English seaside town. I once worked in Edinburgh and can assure you that a beautiful and historic city exists underneath all this superficial festival malarkey.

In Scotland it seems that if you want public money and civic approval for your cultural happening then best to parcel it up as a festival. Halloween isn't Halloween any more, it's the beginning of a three-month-long winter festival that also encompasses a Robert Burns festival at the end of January and the Festival of Love in February. We have a Wickerman festival based on a cult, grotesquely overplayed Hollywood B movie that is all of 42 years old. There are few towns and villages it seems that don't have either a book or a music festival. The book festivals are dreadful affairs that are less about literature than about grasping authors and agents in straw hats and linen jackets trying desperately to flog you their contribution to the country's endless and bottomless sea of fiction.

Perhaps this culture of festivalism is merely what happens when you do away with organised religion, then find that you still need something to fill the gap. And thus you simply invite a new assortment of charlatans and shamans into your homes. Perhaps, too, there is an element of bread and circuses about it. For if we lay out Scotland's 365 days and cover them all in festival after festival, then not only will we dim the punters' critical faculties but we'll delude them into thinking that everything in the garden is bright and gay.

There is an antidote to this mass detachment from reality and that's something that I would call a Less-tival. Ideally, this would cover only a long weekend and comprise poetry, readings, dramas and workshops on assorted themes designed to snap people out of all that sleep-walking and chasing moonbeams.

There would be no shortage of memes and tropes (because all drama is nothing without a meme and a trope): why it suits banks and governments to maintain poverty levels; the invasion of the Labour party-snatchers; why there are even more thugs in the police force and the great Immigration Lie. Instead of a torchlit procession with Vikings and Picts there would be a silent, candlelit promenade to mark all those whose lives and businesses will be ruined the following year by unfettered capitalism and its black handmaiden: corrupt Westminster politics.

Have a joyful and peaceful new year.


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