LIKE a strange new breed of multi-coloured fungi, tents have been popping up all over the grass of St Andrew Square, slowly multiplying in the damp of the night, turning a peaceful oasis in the city centre into a small slice of Glastonbury, minus the music.
During the day the young people who populate the ad hoc waterproof city hand out leaflets, politely cheer and clap when those with loudspeakers pronounce on the evils of global capitalism while those in bright- yellow high-visibility tabards are the “Love Police” making sure everyone is safe on the site. And then they tidy up after themselves before crashing into their sleeping bags for another night.
All in all, it is a very Edinburgh occupation. There’s been nothing unpleasant or untoward unlike the Occupy Glasgow demo. It hasn’t caused any high-profile resignations like its London counterpart. And while there are plans being discussed to evict the protesters from the square, there’s been little actually done.
In fact, if the square isn’t on your usual journey through town – or even if it is – it’s pretty easy to be completely unaware that the protesters are even there. Which surely is a bit of a drawback for a protest.
Being a peaceful protest is worthwhile, but the last thing they can want is to become part of the wallpaper of life, fading into the background rather than making people sit up and take notice.
Personally if I was protesting in St Andrew Square, I wouldn’t be pitching my tent outdoors – I’d be in the middle of Harvey Nichols’ shoe department, clip clopping around in Jimmy Choos and Guccis, and having breakfast in the Forth Floor cafe. But I guess that would defeat the purpose of those who believe their presence is making a political point.
While the whole “Occupy” movement is, to my mind, a just one, the Edinburgh event seems a little lacklustre. It may well be parked outside the historical RBS headquarters, but everyone knows the real movers and shakers of that bank are now out at Gogar. The person who smashed a window of Fred Goodwin’s former home in the Grange at the height of public anger about gambling investment bankers probably had more impact on RBS chiefs than the Occupy Edinburgh demonstration.
And yes, there is Harvey Nichols and other expensive scions of capitalism along Multrees Walk as well as Jenners at the other side of the square. But those inside are not going to be put off buying a new MAC lipstick or pair of designer socks by a banner which reads “The Society Doesn’t Have to be Ruled by the Bankers”, no matter the truth of the statement (in fact when I was in the vicinity on the Saturday the whole protest kicked off Harvey Nicks was doing a roaring trade).
It also doesn’t help that St Andrew Square is now open to the public, although still owned privately. If they’d had to scale the railings which used to keep the plebs out in order to make their protest, then that might have been one in the eye of The Man.
But instead they just had to wander in like most other people, although the 99 per cent of the population they claim to represent normally wander back out again.
Occupy London, pitched outside St Paul’s Cathedral, has chosen its site wisely. Its presence has thrown light on the secretive City of London Corporation, the local authority on to which councillors are voted by banks (the bigger the employer the more votes it casts) and which runs the Square Mile in which the church sits. And it has made the Church of England ask itself the fundamental question about whose side it is on.
Occupy Glasgow has similarly chosen its site to ensure it has an in-your-face approach. George Square is the heart of the city, and its protest cannot fail to be noticed by the thousands getting on and off trains and buses in Queen Street and Buchanan Street.
Occupy Edinburgh, though, while to be applauded for its unbridled idealism – as is the whole movement – is just in the wrong place. Perhaps if its tents occupied some permit-holder-only parking spaces along George Street then people would sit up and take notice (although the cobbles would be rather uncomfortable for a kip).
If it occupied a tram works site then it would probably achieve more public support than it could have imagined. Perhaps if it occupied Charlotte Square then at least it would create more photo ops with Alex Salmond. Or even the City Chambers. Just somewhere, anywhere it might be noticed.
After all, hasn’t that been the problem with us, the 99 per cent? We sit and complain about rich bankers, about politicians, about the cuts to our welfare system but what do we actually do? Nothing. We even continue to vote for the status quo. We’re not a revolutionary country. We’re definitely not a revolutionary city, which is why the Occupy movement, and its philosophy, is almost radical.
But in Edinburgh they’re just being too damned polite about it.