Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ediburgh Welcomes the World

You’ll of had yir march. Edinburgh is embracing Saint Bob’s mission to save the starving of Africa with all the warmth and hospitality for which the city is renowned. Morningside and the New Town have been echoing to the sound of slamming doors ever since Geldof suggested that the good folk of Edinburgh would allow Live 8 pilgrims to doss in spare rooms and garages.
The very idea! Edinburgh folk don’t even let their own relatives sleep in their spare rooms. Their garages are full of four by fours. In Edinburgh, eradicating poverty means clearing beggars off the streets.
Okay, that’s unfair and I know it. But the city of Edinburgh is in danger of confirming its reputation for indifferent hospitality by its relentlessly negative response to Live 8. It is also missing an opportunity to put itself on the map - as a moral destination as well as a geographical one.
Do you think if Barcelona, Amsterdam or Manchester had been given his opportunity they would have complained about toilet seats? Of course not. They would have exploited it to the full, realising how much good it could do for their image as world cities. Privately, they would have perhaps have planned for the worst, but they would never have allowed the image to be spread abroad that they cared more about crowd control than world poverty.
Edinburgh doesn’t seem to bother so much about public order when it invites the world to come and get rat-arsed at Hogmanay. There is no whinging about who pays for crash barriers at the New Year party or the Edinburgh Festival. People will conclude that Edinburgh only wants visitors when it can get its hands on their money.
Edinburgh should be about more than just milking tourists. It should be telling the world that it is open for anyone who wants to come here to make a stand against injustice. That it supports the cause and wants to do everything possible to make this a great world event. Just imagine if this Gordon Brown's plans were adopted and this G8 really did bring a change in the fortunes of Africa. Edinburgh would be forever associated with it.
Instead, the city has lapsed into parochialism, narrow-mindedness and even bigotry. The organs of Edinburgh opinion, the Evening News and the Scotsman have been doing their bit by interviewing every crabbit kirk elder they can find to say there is no way they are letting demonstrators doss in their pews.
The Scotsman ran a warm-hearted article advising visitors to stay away and send to Africa the money saved on their fares. Edinburgh didn’t want “a horde of bleeding-heart eco hippies” setting up tent cities in public parks.
Anyway, said the paper, it’s the Africans’ own fault they are poor. “The cause of poverty in Africa is bad government”. Well, we should know, since we created most of them, after we gave up colonising the continent for a couple of centuries.
The city fathers have been similarly unenthusiastic about the prospect of Edinburgh becoming a world city of compassion. The depute provost, Steve Cardownie, railed against Bob Geldof for having the temerity to call on every tom dick or crustie to come to Edinburgh. They should only come here if they can pay. Margo MacDonald, the Independent MSP, has called Geldof’s invitation to Edinburgh “irresponsible” and demanded, on BBC TV, to know where the toilets are going to come from to service an extra million bums.
Now, I know there are technical problems associated with Saint Bob’s latest stunt, and public health is an important issue. An outbreak of dysentery isn’t going to help anyone and nor are people being trampled to death in Princes St. But let’s get this in perspective.
The million march was - is - in many ways a silly idea, and as this paper disclosed last week, the organisers of Live 8 realise that perfectly well. As the level-headed Lothian and Borders police chief, Ian Dickinson, himself said, Bob Geldof got carried away in the heat of the moment last Tuesday when he made his appeal to the world to come to Edinburgh in July.
I mean, how could they get here? Getting in and out of the city on the primitive road system is difficult at the best of times. Has anyone tried driving up the A1 or the A702 recently? The handful of trains and planes who make it to Edinburgh in any given day couldn’t deliver ten thousand let alone a million visitors. Unless they come by parachute, it isn’t going to happen. The lack of infrastructure is Edinburgh’s guarantee against invasion.
By getting hot and bothered about disruption Edinburgh is anyway missing the point quite spectacularly. It is not only in danger of giving itself an international reputation for hardhearted insularity, it is missing a branding opportunity that any normal city would kill for. To be the centre of this world media event could deliver huge benefits to a faded, cold and peripheral city like Edinburgh.
This is the break that Edinburgh, Scotland has been looking for. The negativity which has emanated from the city in the last week is in danger of undoing all the good work that has been put in by many organisations trying to make the July Make Poverty History campaign a reality. Donald Anderson the council leader, has done excellent work to promote the city and to provide resources for the anti-poverty campaigners. Many private organisations have donated time and resources.
Sadly, a lapse into man-minded pettiness is liable to undo all their good work. Let’s make Edinburgh history.

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