LAST week afforded me a rare opportunity to set foot on Shetland. I had never been there before and my only hazy view of it was through the clouds in 2013, returning on a boozy charter flight carrying St Johnstone fans home from a historic night in Trondheim where we defied expectation to beat Rosenborg of Norway. The throaty voices rang out over Aberdeenshire, reaching a crescendo as we flew down over Dundee on the way to Edinburgh Airport.

Local rivalry is a rich part of Scottish life and localness is something we should not only value but proudly protect in this demanding global economy.

Screenplay, the Shetland Film Festival, is the ultimate triumph of localness, curated by an enthusiastic team of film aficionados with an international take on creativity. I had the privilege to attend this year’s festival to promote Cassius X, the book that has been turned into a feature documentary film directed by the Yonkers-based African American director Muta’Ali Muhammad. The film has already aired on the Smithsonian channel in the USA and is scheduled for festival screenings across the UK, in the latter part of the year.

For this gem of a festival local does not mean parochial. On the contrary, Screenplay thinks broadly. Curated by cultural activist Kathy Hubbard and film critic Mark Kermode, Screenplay is packed with surprises.

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This year it has showcased a film from Bhutan, Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom, shot on location at the world’s most remote school; a comedy drama called Winners directed by the Scottish-based Iranian Hassan Nazer, and Oink, a witty Dutch movie in the tradition of Babe. School kids queued up by the busload.

I was particularly taken by the Scandi influence and the neighbourly presence of Norway. The festival featured Godland, a mythical epic directed by Hlynur Pálmason and Sick Of Myself an outrageous satire on social media.

My favourite part of going to festivals is meeting the volunteers, the army of local supporters whose labour and knowledge make festivals affordable and relevant, they often bring insights into a community that might bypass outsiders. I was met at Sumburgh Airport by my guide Logan, a local film graduate currently working as a binman to pay the rent. His day job is emptying the rubbish and recycled materials of the Shetland Isles, but he takes holidays from the bins to welcome visitors to the festival, and by night he appears in Shetland’s kazoo orchestra.

Logan gave me a fascinating insight into people and places. Sensing that I was more interested in youth subculture than road safety, he showed me the most fascinating Tescos in Scotland. It is positioned near his old high school, and where luxury cruise liners disgorge their well-heeled tourists to visit ancient standing stones and Viking encampments. The queue for lunch-time hot dogs from a nearby burger van was a tense scrum of unrestrained Scottish teenagers and weighty American visitors.

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Scotland is rich in festivals – food, books, film, theatre and comedy. Edinburgh Festival Fringe remains king, this year it reported the fifth-highest attendance figures in the event’s 76-year history, but scale is not the only measure of success. It is the small more finely honed local festivals that can leave the greatest impression.

The Scottish Government delivered on a bold ambition to host a festival every day of the year, and although cultural behemoths like the Edinburgh International Festivals attract the greatest attention, they are not necessarily the most memorable.

Covid was an unforeseen problem and recent reports suggest that one in six festivals bit the dust during the pandemic with music festivals among the worst hit. Significantly the survivors were often festivals embedded in communities where the profit motive was less important.

I am a one-man promotional agency for the Pittenweem Arts Festival. I suspect I am not the only Scot who has dreamt of living in a converted fisherman’s cottage in the East Neuk, a small-town location I have relished since childhood day trips when St Monans, Elie and Anstruther felt like a hidden haven, miles from the ordinariness of home.

Each August, since it began in 1982, Pittenweem has been a magnet for dreamers and day-trippers. The local arts festival has grown to encompass 100 or so artists from all over Britain, who exhibit in houses, studios, galleries and public spaces throughout the village.

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There is something uniquely quaint and nosey about chapping on a villager’s door to enjoy original landscape art hanging on the walls, UNLIKE the major city festivals which battle for the reputation and resources to attract headline attractions, local festivals are more likely to have to draw on hardy ingenuity to pull in favours from creatives in search of an audience.

One festival with a near-perfect harmony of local ingenuity and creative ambition is Mendelssohn on Mull, a Scottish chamber music festival with workshops and free public concerts in venues on Mull and Iona. Typical venues are the tiny Creich Church near Fionnphort, Duart Castle near Craignure and Iona Abbey. It is a brilliantly conceived idea for a festival celebrating Mendelssohn’s Die Hebriden, the myths and musical legacy of Fingal’s Cave during his famous visit to Mull, Iona and Staffa in 1829.

I cannot think of a small festival with such a resounding self-confidence. Musical aficionados can listen to some of the best young chamber talent reworking Mendelssohn and then stroll to the Tobermory Chip Van, holders of the prestigious Les Routiers Award for great simple food.

You can listen to wandering strings to eat fish and scallops by the steps by the Clock Tower or rest on the lobster creels by the pier. The most terrifying challenge is not the ferry timetable but the rampant seagulls on the Tobermory waterfront.

Local festivals often have a major trump card in their hand, the magnetic power of authors and artists who have grown up in the community or live nearby. The Tidelines Book Festival in Irvine, Ayrshire has hit a seam of gold by recently featuring two of the leading exponents of Scotland’s burgeoning success in modern memoirs.

Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies, the story of a teenage friendship formed in the 1980s in post-punk Ayrshire, featured in 2022 and last week, the irrepressible John Niven born and raised locally returned to Irvine on a home leg of his UK tour promoting his much-praised memoir O Brother.

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Niven’s baby brother Gary was “fearless, popular, stubborn, handsome, hilarious and often terrifying”. In 2010, after years of chaotic struggle against the world, he took his own life at the age of 42. Niven navigates the story with compassion and chaotic humour, reasserting Scotland’s unbridled ability to produce books that dig deep into maleness, social places and personal memory.

There is much yet to be written and said about Scotland’s recent crop of working-class memoirs, many of them by men reflecting on the toxicity or buried tenderness of their upbringings. One of the obvious leaders of the genre is Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning Shuggie Bain, the story of a boy’s upbringing in the care of a feckless and alcoholic mother in Glasgow. Another is Graeme Armstrong’s The Young Team, set among the feuding youth of North Lanarkshire.

Many of these books owe some debt of gratitude to the legacy of James Kelman, the towering importance of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and a renewed passion for the Scots language. But for all that, the success and visibility of these books is in no small part due to the network of local festivals that bring authors to audiences hungry for Scottish culture.

Shetland renewed my faith in local Scottish culture and the power of the periphery.