AS the Second World War drew to a close, a group of musicians, theatre directors, arts administrators and – yes, they were among that number – politicians developed a noble vision.

They wanted to find a place and a platform “for the flowering of the human spirit” as they put it and by so doing re-invigorate European cultural life which had been devastated by conflict.

Using, bizarrely, money won by Lord Rosebery with his famous racehorse Ocean Swell and some additional support from the Arts Council, they were able to fund a festival which took place in the summer of 1947 in Edinburgh, a city chosen because it had a distinctive and attractive centre like Salzburg (where the opera director Rudolf Bing had worked before the war), was capable of accommodating a large number of people, had not been badly bomb damaged and had a civic leadership which was persuaded of the importance of the arts.

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The event, under Bing’s directorship, was a massive success and the Festival has taken place every year since, with the exception of 2020 when the pandemic intervened.

From the outset, there were fringe events and a performance on the castle esplanade which grew into the Tattoo. In time, all of these things and many more came together to make Edinburgh in August the largest and most vibrant cultural venue in the world.

Of course, the Festivals have on occasion also attracted controversy

There is usually a row about something that has offended the lieges, be it a naked woman wheeching across the gallery of the McEwan Hall in 1963 (a moment that the journalist Bernard Levin claimed had marked the start of the permissive society) or Jerry Sadowitz exposing himself last year, and probably this year too.

The council has also not always been as generously supportive as it was at the outset, nor has the city or country regularly been as tolerant as they are now. But over time this huge showcase has attracted massive audiences, legions of performers and lots of supporters.

Not all, however, have had the staying power of the remarkable Ricky Demarco who has been to every single annual Festival and enriched most of them.

The challenging work of the great Joseph Beuys, for example, would not have been seen in Edinburgh had it not been for Ricky.

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My own minuscule creative contribution has been a mere half share in a photographic and poetry exhibition in the 1970s (the better work was the photography of Robin Gillanders) and, in 2018, being lucky enough to have a play running for two weeks based on my only novel (to date, anyway).

However, one of the best jobs you can have as a Scottish Government minister is the culture brief, and to hold it during a Festival is a particular pleasure.

I only had one such August but I still remember many of the things I experienced, ranging from a massive Mahler concert in the Usher Hall to a fringe performance of Chekhov’s Three Sisters on a moving canal boat witnessed by an audience of five.

The National: Dancers at the FringeDancers at the Fringe (Image: -)

All this puts into some perspective this week’s depressing media coverage of the dropping by – keen to make a hit while doing the Festival – pronouncements of various politicians which are in this context as ephemeral as the sodden fliers being trampled underfoot on the Royal Mile.

Penny Mordaunt’s self-chosen USP is a virulent and vocal hatred of the SNP, no doubt to flatter the salon bar prejudices of Tory supporters in the Home Counties, so there was nothing new in her over-the-top Fringe Festival denunciation of the positive and forward-looking Scottish national movement as one fuelled only by ”bile and hatred”.

In reality, all the repetitive bile and hatred now seems to be coming from her, and it isn’t out of character – Penny was an enthusiastic Brexiteer, indeed so much so that on live television during the referendum, she alleged that the UK would be overrun with Turkish job-seekers if the UK stayed in the EU.

This was a bare-faced lie which she refused to rescind even when confronted with the truth.

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In recent months, she has also enthusiastically backed the odious immigration policies fronted by Suella Braverman and Priti Patel.

No amount of ceremonial coronation sword-carrying can wash away those stains but perhaps a moment of self-examination in the enervating surroundings of the world’s premier festival city might lead to a discovery of something within her that would, in keeping with where she found herself, “platform the flowering of the human spirit”.

A better study than such politicians parading prejudices would, however, be the virtually forgotten figure of Henry Harvey Wood who, behind the scenes, put together the initial agreement that allowed that first festival to take place.

During the Second World War he ran the British Council in Scotland, organising in 1941 an exhibition in the National Galleries of Scotland entitled The Art of our Allies.

The Scotsman called it “one of the most interesting ever held in Scotland” and he followed it up with specific events focused on Polish, Czech, French, Chinese, Greek, Dutch, and Norwegian art.

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Wood, an expert in early Scottish literature, went on to work in France and Italy and was the living exponent of an internationalism which saw culture in all its richness as being a force for peace and progress.

The Festivals which people like Wood got under way are more than ever a wonderful advantage to our country.

The influence they have on us as an inclusive, creative and outward-looking nation is greater even than the positive way in which they showcase our capital city to the world.

They can survive the crassness of any number of here-today and gone-tomorrow Penny Mordaunts. But she could learn a lot from them and their achievements if only she would raise her eyes from the gutter where Tory leadership wannabes guddle for votes, and instead cast a glance at the stars.