Sponsor boycott

Hay Festival ends Baillie Gifford deal over oil and Israel

Protest: the comedian Nish Kumar

An Edinburgh fund manager is facing a growing protest over its sponsorship of the arts as the Hay Festival suspended a long-standing partnership.

The organisers of the literary event were forced to break ties with Baillie Gifford which has been criticised by artists for its investments in fossil fuels and supporting Israel’s war in Gaza.

Suspension of its sponsorship followed “claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw”.

The boycott has been described by one leading figure in the arts as “childish:” and “short-sighted”.

Singer Charlotte Church and the comedian Nish Kumar are among those who withdrew from planned appearances at Hay following similar moves by the Labour politicians Baroness Chakrabarti and Dawn Butler.

Dozens of writers, including the novelist Sally Rooney, journalist George Monbiot and the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, have signed an open letter organised by the activist group Fossil Free Books.

The investment company sponsors ten literary festivals in Britain, including the flagship Edinburgh International Book Festival which was hit by a boycott last year when environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg cancelled an appearance.

Earlier this year the Collective gallery in Edinburgh said its Satellites programme for emerging artists would no longer accept sponsorship from Baillie Gifford because of concerns raised by participants.

Fossil Free Books claimed Baillie Gifford has up to £5 billion of investments in the fossil fuel industry and £10 billion “in companies linked to Israel’s defence, tech and cybersecurity industries.”

Baillie Gifford, which manages the FTSE 100 listed Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, has defended its investments, stating that only 2% of the company’s funds are in the fossil fuel sector compared with 11% for the asset management sector as a whole.

A spokesman for the company said it was “regrettable our sponsorship with the festival cannot continue” adding that the “suggestion that Baillie Gifford is a large investor in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is seriously misleading”.

He said the “activists are painting an inaccurate picture and attempting to mislead the public” adding: “Baillie Gifford is a long-standing supporter of literature and the arts. This support is driven by our contention that we should contribute to the communities in which we operate, in the hope that the organisations we work with gain lasting benefits.”

David Greig, the artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, claimed the latest boycott was a deeply concerning development.

David Greig
David Greig: protests are childish

“To turn down money on pretty spurious grounds, with regard to Baillie Gifford, is irresponsible, entitled and childish,” he said. “I’m worried about it. Audiences and arts organisations do not exist and cannot exist to conform to the given whims of any particular artists or sets of artists at any particular time.”

He added: “Baillie Gifford funds an enormous amount of arts in Scotland and an enormous amount of literature abroad. You are perfectly entitled not to take their money but you are not entitled to demand that the Edinburgh Book Festival does not take their money.

“Book festivals exist for the whole population of Edinburgh and for all people who read books. They don’t exist for one particular side’s political point.”

Mr Greig claimed a boycott was particularly short-sighted at a time when arts organisations are struggling to keep afloat. “The performing arts in Scotland are on their knees,” he said. “It is almost impossible to maintain cultural production at the moment with the funding situations that we have.”

“There is no organisation that I can think of in Scotland who would be clean enough for this open letter and, even if there was, I’m sure within days we could find some sin that has been committed.

“It is a ridiculous way to run a cultural economy.”

Mr Greig believed those focused on Baillie Gifford should examine the evidence. “They are extremely good at being transparent,” he said. “They are extremely good at focusing on green investment and their investment in fossil fuels is nothing like the scale of other equivalent funds.”

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