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Jerry Dammers writing Free Nelson Mandela


Before we get into the meat and drink of this article, I have to confess that I know absolutely nothing about investing in stocks and shares. This lack of experience is due to the fact that I have always found the practice slightly queasy. And if you’re reading this while sitting on the moral high ground, budge up a bit, I’m about to take up quite a fair share (pun intended) of it.

My particular standpoint is that if you have a large amount of disposable income to hand, and you are living comfortably, it would be far better to donate regularly to a charity of your choice rather than take a punt on a few companies doing well and adding even more money to your own bank balance.

But then again, I have to acknowledge that it is a simple fact of life that there are loads of greedy bastards out there who would scoff at my erstwhile philanthropy while stuffing wads of cash into their own pockets.

Also, some people may invest as a way of making sure they have enough money in old age, so who am I to deny pensioners the means to adequate heating, three meals a day, and tons of Werther’s Originals as they navigate their way towards the big sleep?

The whole practice isn’t entirely a black and white issue, and recently, it has also become something of a political and cultural football, which is timely as we hurtle towards Edinburgh’s festival season.

Baillie Gifford is an independent investment manager based in Edinburgh and has been around for almost 120 years. The firm’s website states that at the end of 2023, it had over £225 billion worth of assets under its management. It has also been one of the major sponsors of cultural events both in Scotland and elsewhere for years.

But recently, that sponsorship has either been turned down, withdrawn, or suspended by a number of festivals due to what critics of the company consider to be unethical investments. In short, the company has been accused of investing heavily in companies with ties to fossil fuel extraction and expansion, and of also investing in companies with ties to Israel.

The main protagonists in this issue are an organisation called Fossil Free Books who claim to be “organising as workers for a books industry free from fossil fuels and fossil fuel finance.”

At the time of writing, festivals which have already announced a break in their relationships with Baillie Gifford include the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the Borders, Wigtown and Cheltenham Literature Festivals. The company has also decided not to renew its sponsorship of the Stratford Literary Festival. Baillie Gifford has sponsored the Edinburgh Book Festival for the past 20 years.

Baillie Gifford has stated that in comparison with other major investment managers, its total investment in companies with links to fossil fuel industries accounts for 2% of its clients’ money. Estimates suggest that this would equate to between £2 billion and £5 billion.

It has also refuted assertions made by Fossil Free Books that it has a significant amount of money invested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, stating that such assertion is “offensively misleading.”

The issue has resulted in a major split between artists who support the Fossil Free Books stance, and those who are opposed to it. In May, Charlotte Church and the comedian Nish Kumar pulled out of the Hay Book Festival over Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship. While dozens of Scotland’s top writers, including Val McDermid and Andrew O’Hagan have signed an open letter criticising the “perverse” and “retrograde” impact of protests over the sponsorship.

I’ve thought long and hard about this. I can see merit in both stances, but I’ve never sat on a fence and won’t start now.

While I don’t know which companies Baillie Gifford invests in, the planet is being destroyed by fossil fuel extraction, and weapons and military hardware manufacturers provide the means by which despotic individuals and institutions wreak havoc on innocent men, women and children across the globe.

In short, if you have the money, you can invest in carnage if you want to. I’m all for festivals and the arts thriving, but if our commitment to these and other cultural capital is dependent on money being invested in that carnage, then I want none of it.

The argument against this is that investments will still be made in these areas despite the protests. So what are we supposed to do? Shrug our shoulders and just say “well, that’s the way it is?”

No, you have to start somewhere and while you may think that small, nascent political protests such as this are naive, and will have no impact, think back to Jerry Dammers writing Free Nelson Mandela.

A pop song that opened the world’s eyes and snowballed into a struggle against injustice, and a deeply embedded, ignorant, racist system of segregation.

And won. ■

Illustration: Grace Abe

I’ve thought long and hard about this, I see merit in both stances, but I’ve never sat on a fence…



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