Democracy a ‘sham’ if busking concerns not addressed: Spalding

Julian Spalding pictured in his rooftop garden in 1998 has threatened to leave his Grassmarket home if buskers aren't brought under control. Picture: Neil Hanna

Julian Spalding pictured in his rooftop garden in 1998 has threatened to leave his Grassmarket home if buskers aren't brought under control. Picture: Neil Hanna

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A PROMINENT critic and former museum boss has warned democracy in Edinburgh risks becoming a “sham” if councillors don’t listen to complaints around nuisance buskers.

Julian Spalding, ex-director of Glasgow Museums, is due to meet with the city’s licensing leader next week to discuss his proposals to crack down on street musicians.

And in a blog written for the website ScotBuzz, he warned the city’s failure to act risked proving a Stasi officer he met more than 40 years ago correct in his assumption that free speech doesn’t matter in the UK – because those in authority don’t listen.

Mr Spalding, who set up the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, previously insisted he will move away from his Grassmarket home if restrictions on street acts are not put in place.

He has submitted proposals to the council arguing for buskers to be licensed and suggesting some street musicians could even be auditioned if they want to play at a handful of “designated sites” – as currently happens in London’s Tube system and the Paris Metro.

The art critic will meet with Councillor Gavin Barrie, the city’s licensing convener, to discuss the issue.

In his blog post, Mr Spalding wrote: “I met a Stasi officer over 40 years ago, long before the Berlin Wall came down, and during an amicable conversation he remarked ‘Of course there’s free speech in your country; no one cares what you say’.”

He added: “Has the council not been listening to the complaints of their community? Or have they, as the Stasi officer more ominously implied, simply decided not to hear? Councillor Barrie has agreed to see me about this issue, but warned me that he will be guided by his officers.

“Guided, rightly, but not, I hope, led. If he is then the Stasi officer was right. No-one in authority cares what you say, and democracy in Edinburgh is a sham.”

Mr Spalding’s comments come after the Grassmarket Residents’ Association threw their weight behind his proposals earlier this week.

Long-standing member Elspeth Wills argued the council needed to strike a balance between “keeping the tourists entertained and respecting the basic human rights of individuals living in the area”.

A council spokeswoman confirmed Cllr Barrie will meet with Mr Spalding next week.

The licensing convener previously told the News the council had “no provision” to license buskers – or force them to audition.

Instead, he said enforcement officers would be sent to problem areas at times when offending buskers were known to play, in order to remind them of their duties under the city’s code of conduct.

Currently, street musicians are expected to keep noise to a reasonable level, avoid performing after 9pm and move from their pitch after an hour.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com