Glasgow ‘a better capital than greedy Edinburgh’

Edinburgh's tartan tat shops came under fire in the article. Picture: Jon Savage
Edinburgh's tartan tat shops came under fire in the article. Picture: Jon Savage
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A SATIRICAL magazine has published a scathing appraisal of Edinburgh as a “money-making machine” and jibed that Glasgow should now become Scotland’s capital.

The Oldie, a monthly digest with 45,000 readers and owned by former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams, launched a jaw-dropping assault in its February issue accusing the city of cashing in on its “romanticised past” and sullying the historic Royal Mile with an endless procession of the shops selling the “tackiest and vilest souvenirs on the planet”.

Writer Toby Sculthorp pulls no punches in a 700-word critique branding Edinburgh “one of the biggest tourist traps in the northern hemisphere” and routinely plagued by bagpipes – “the asthmatic drone of the most horrendous musical instrument ever invented”.

He lays siege to the design of the Scottish Parliament now suffering, he says, from “collapsing beams and a leaky roof” which even fails to command the respect of pigeons who “continue to cast their verdict all over the exterior”, before taking a pot shot at the Capital’s beleaguered tram project.

He claims Edinburgh – the UK’s second-largest financial district – must shoulder much of the blame for the country’s current “financial mess”, alongside London and Wall Street.

But in a final barb, Mr Sculthorp says: “Over on the Clyde there’s a city with a fine tradition of industry, ingenuity and entrepreneurship that helped to build the world’s greatest empire. Make Glasgow the capital. Edinburgh is history.”

Heritage groups have voiced support for the acid-tongued report, agreeing with many of the flaws highlighted by Sculthorp but pouring scorn on an “elementary” error which sees the piece describe Edinburgh’s architecture as “granite” rather than sandstone.

Marion Williams, of the Cockburn Association, said it was hard to argue with much of The Oldie’s assessment. She said: “The only thing I would disagree with is that I haven’t given up so I wouldn’t want to hand the capital city over to Glasgow just yet.

“And obviously we aren’t a granite city. I’m not sure Aberdeen would be happy for us to pinch their name at this point. But I think this guy has been reading my letters to the council and copied them.”

She added: “Bit by bit by bit, this awful Edinburgh administration is ruining what we had.”

Echoing her comments, Bill Cowan, planning adviser for the Old Town Association, said he agreed with about “half” the charges in the piece.

He said: “Every tourist hotspot has the same problem as Edinburgh so it’s unfair to say Glasgow’s better because it doesn’t have even a tiny fraction of the number of tourists we get.

“But the council has been making a much bigger effort in the last few years to bring the city up to scratch but there is a lot of lost ground to make up.

“Effort is being made, and now a lot of these tartan tat shops have upped their game to become cashmere shops, so there is an improvement on the Royal Mile.”

He added: “Of course, it’s a humorous article, and should be taken as such, but there’s a lot of truth in it.”

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie defended the Capital and wished The Oldie “good luck” in its criticism.

He said: “It’s important we don’t take this too seriously. You’ve got to dig deep and have a real imagination to take a swipe at Edinburgh. The Capital is consistently top in opinion polls on the best places to live, work and study, so I won’t be losing any sleep over this.”

The Oldie – which uses writers working under pseudonyms – did not wish to be drawn into the controversy.

‘This article doesn’t seem very well informed’

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said: “Their trick is to make all this grumbling seem such fun.

“So it’s in this context that we should consider their latest article on Edinburgh. ‘World’s Worst Dumps’ is a piece written by Oldie readers for every edition. This month, Edinburgh joins the esteemed company of those many, many others who have been sneered at, including Iceland’s Blue Lagoon (‘industrial wastewater’), Royal Ascot (‘as much atmosphere as a Glasgow railway station on a rainy day’) and even New York (‘over-rated and out there’).

“Placing their ‘humorous’ grumpy old man approach to one side, this article doesn’t seem to be very well informed. Yes, Edinburgh has tourist shops and I agree that we do need to be careful of ‘tat’ levels – but let’s focus on the positive: 3.7 million visitors who spend around £1.16 billion. And they come in their droves because this is one of the most beautiful, most dynamic, most exciting cities in the world.

“What of the amazing, contemporary side to Edinburgh, which – if the writer had bothered to scratch the surface – he would have found in abundance? The Royal Mile, which the author derides, is also home to the Storytelling Centre, Canongate Books, Wedgwood, Monteiths and close to the likes of the Missoni Hotel and the Devil’s Advocate – all of which are conveniently ignored. And that’s before you consider the city’s amazing, innovative food scene, the massive achievements of our creative industries, our independent shopping, our art, our festivals – I could go on and on.

“Furthermore, in a year where Scottish politics is so exciting and important, to include the referendum as a haughty footnote seems a bit of a cheap shot.

“I must admit, though, I did have a chuckle at the last provocative comment. There’s absolutely no need to be competitive with our neighbour in the west – a wonderful, colourful city with lots to its name. But Scotland has a clear capital city. Grand, cultured, diverse, prosperous and utterly original. For those who look properly, this is Edinburgh; a city I know, love and am immensely proud of.”