STEPHEN DAISLEY: Why HAVE these noisy zealots been allowed to hijack our culture for their own intolerant ends?

The most powerful person in this country today is not the citizen or the lawmaker, the corporate executive or media tycoon. It is the activist.

By ‘activist’, I don’t mean someone who takes an interest in their community or the wider world and gets involved through campaigning or protesting. 

That is a healthy part of liberal democracy and long may it continue.

By ‘activist’, I mean a certain type. Their politics are invariably Leftist or progressive. They either have sufficient means to subsidise their latest political hobby horse or hold a job where promoting their ideological preferences counts as work. 

Activists are driven by an unholy mix of anti-capitalist ideology and performative purity

Their activism seldom involves making people’s lives freer or more convenient and rarely does it reflect the popular will or the priorities of the masses.

No, the sorts of activists we’re talking about are those whose time is spent trying to impose their will on others. 

Although they prate in Leftish-sounding blather about social justice and ‘the right side of history’, they are inevitably drawn from privileged walks of life and their political objectives reflect that.

The activist is powerful because he cloaks himself in whatever is the most sacrosanct cause of the day, so that to oppose him or his methods is to risk being accused of indifference towards pressing injustices.

Most people in positions of power are weak and cowardly. They want their titles, status and pensions. 

They wish to avoid any controversy that might threaten these things. There is almost nothing they won’t do for an easy life.

The activist preys on this. It is why pernicious gender ideology has insinuated itself into every facet of public life. 

It is why political parties and corporate brands are so easily herded onto the latest bandwagon without stopping to think whether it is in their interests or those of the people they serve.

And it is why the Edinburgh International Book Festival is no longer sponsored by Baillie Gifford. 

The arts organisation and the investment management firm parted ways on Thursday, ending a 20-year relationship that has underwritten Scotland’s leading literary festival.

Why? Because of activists who objected to Baillie Gifford’s supposed ties to fossil fuels and the State of Israel. They mounted a fierce campaign and got what they wanted.

And not for the first time. The investment management firm sponsors literary gatherings across the UK.

In May, the Hay Festival ended its relationship with the company following pressure from activists and some authors billed to appear on the programme.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival says ‘the pressure on our team has simply become intolerable’. Severing ties with Baillie Gifford was, it says, ‘a pragmatic response to that reality’.

Baillie Gifford accuses activists of an ‘anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation’. 

It points out that its connections to Israel amount to investing in global brands such as Amazon and Meta, which have minor commercial dealings with that country, and investing in others such as Airbnb which operate in the West Bank, the subject of a territorial dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.

As for fossil fuels, Baillie Gifford invests just two per cent of its clients’ wealth in companies with any connection to those energy sources.

It’s worth making a few points before we go any further. Investing in fossil fuels is a good thing. 

It supports the energy that heats our homes and fuels our cars. However diligently we work towards Net Zero, we will still need fossil fuels for decades to come. 

Were they to disappear overnight, supermarket shelves would lie empty, ambulances would never leave their depots and our economy would come to a standstill.

Don’t assume activists don’t know this. These people are neither stupid nor misguided. 

Present them with a button that would eliminate all fossil fuels, but explain clearly and carefully the harm that would be wrought, and many would press it anyway.

These characters are driven by an unholy alloy of anti-capitalist ideology, religious self-righteousness and performative purity. 

While we’re at it, doing business with Israel is a good thing. UK trading with the Jewish state is worth £6billion annually.

One in every seven prescriptions issued in the NHS is supplied by an Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva. 

Companies that invest in Israel not only help their own bottom line, they help keep open these important trade links.

Progressive activists have a very keen and specific interest in the tiny, embattled State of Israel, one that is curiously not replicated with other, more powerful countries with grim human rights records and significant investments in UK finance, higher education and other sectors. 

That’s their prerogative but when they accuse Israel of imposing apartheid or conducting a genocide, it’s my prerogative to call them liars.

None of those matters should come into this since, as Baillie Gifford points out, its relationship to both carbon-based energy and Israel is negligible.

But for the ideological purity police, this is not good enough, and so Baillie Gifford is a target for them. 

A Scottish success story that gives children access to books and the chance to meet authors. If that is your idea of a villain, you have an odd definition of virtue.

You might regard Lefty activists attacking a book festival as unconcerning. 

But the arts belong to all of us – and there is every reason to assert our collective ownership of Scotland’s literary and creative traditions.

Driving out philanthropic companies like Baillie Gifford is exactly what you would expect privileged activists to do. 

Their access to literature and that of their children will not be impeded by ruining the Edinburgh Book Festival. 

They have the means and motivation to keep their book shelves well-stocked.

It is those for whom the literary world seems remote and elitist who will suffer.

As Baillie Gifford partner Nick Thomas states: ‘We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country.’

I fear he is correct. After the treatment his firm has been dealt, who would want to fund an arts festival in this country? 

Who would expose their brand to reputational risk from activists hell bent on hijacking their philanthropy for their own ideological ends?

We must stand up to activists and refuse to allow them to place their political fixations at the centre of every aspect of our lives. 

Culture belongs to everyone. Those who seek to monopolise it out of intolerance for neutrality should feel our intolerance in return.