EDINBURGH is a city of divisions and a city which divides opinion.
Its Jekyll and Hyde personality disorder is well documented, its social and wealth divisions between New Town and out-of-town housing estates all too obvious. It boasts some of the best state schools in Scotland and yet 25 per cent of its pupils go to expensive private schools. It attracts thousands of tourists for its festivals, yet many who live here feel excluded from the same.
Yet it comes out top or near top in every UK-wide quality of life survey. Its people – you, me – are said to be among the happiest in the country. The most recent poll of this kind even showed that Edinburgh was the second most generous city in Britain – 78 per cent of people carry out an act of generosity at least once a week.
It’s these opinion polls which prove divisive – especially to those who live elsewhere in Scotland and look upon Edinburgh as self-regarding, smug, conservative, complacent and middle-class. Not the sort of place where generosity and happiness would be overflowing.
Without doubt, it’s a city which has yet to get to grips with how to include all its citizens in its economic and political successes. But generous? I’d say so – which, in turn, must impact on people’s happiness and their quality of life.
Our column inches are filled with stories of people from every walk of life in this city raising money for charity – people shaving off their hair to help fund a vital piece of equipment a friend needs; wheelchair-bound pensioners who spend their time shaking cans in Princes Street because they want to give something back to an organisation which has helped them.
Take Ebola, which has parts of west Africa in its horrific grip. People in Edinburgh have donated around £400,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal – a third of the total raised in Scotland. The money raised here alone could pay for 16,000 hygiene kits and save many lives.
Scotland’s DEC chairman David Miller said he was “astounded” by the amount raised in Edinburgh but that it “shows a tremendous generosity of spirit”.
From that to small charity It’s Good to Give and its founder Lynne McNicoll, who was named Edinburgh’s citizen of the year this month. In four years, it has raised £750,000 towards a £1m total so it can build a respite house for young people with cancer and their families.
Look at the number of people who take part in running events, who climb Munros, who bungee jump off the Forth Road Bridge for good causes. Look at the response our Shockingly Easy campaign has had to provide defibrillators at sports venues – indeed any campaign we run receives wonderful supports.
But also look at how people react to the idea that beggars should be banned from the city centre – it’s a policy which has never got off the ground because people’s basic fundamental decency won’t allow it.
Look at the way supporters of Hearts signed up to pay into a fans’ takeover fund when their club was in dire straits – and how that is inspiring those who go to see their football at Easter Road to try the same thing.
Look at how communities help each other – be it to deal with lawless youths or to find a missing child.
Smaller things such as helping someone pay their bus fare if they’ve not enough change, which I’ve seen happen countless times, are little acts of generosity.
Of course, Edinburgh is not different or special in these things. Most places and people are generous and want to give what they can to the society they live in.
Those who are scornful that Edinburgh does the same don’t understand this great city. We’re not gallus, we don’t wear our heart on our sleeve, we are definitely not “showy”.
We move in more mysterious ways and don’t always feel the need to tell the whole world about it.
Edinburgh has its faults, its divisions, its lack of social inclusiveness. But it is overflowing with generosity.
Join the debate on budget cuts
FOUR years ago, I wrote about how hard it was going to get for our city council to balance its books given the combination of the recession and the concordant signed with the Scottish Government which froze the council tax and therefore restricted the authority’s ability to raise money.
And here we are. Right now the council is asking the public what it thinks it should spend its budget on – a budget cut by £27 million.
What should be more important, helping kids with special needs or helping the disabled in their own homes? Fixing the potholes in the roads or picking up the bins more frequently? Repairing ancient and tourist-friendly monuments such as the Ross Fountain or propping up the summer arts festivals?
None of it is easy. You might say it’s a cop out that councillors are having a public consultation – after all we vote them in to decide these things.
But when they’re faced with dwindling resource and have specific statutory duties to meet, it makes sense that the public are asked if they think sports centres and theatres should be funded or if library opening hours are more vital.
So get involved. You have until December 19 to make your views known. You have until the Holyrood elections in 2016 to decide if you still think the council tax freeze is a good thing.
Time for tribute to Dr Elsie Inglis
AS much as I love the tale of Wotjek, pictured, the gun-toting mascot of the Polish Army in the Second World War, who ended his days at Edinburgh Zoo, and as much as I’m sure a monument to him is deserved – in this week of remembrance, I have to ask again: where is the statue to the remarkable women of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis?
Surely anyone familiar with her story – and that of the female doctors and nurses who saved lives in Serbia and France – must wonder why in her home city there is no marker to her extraordinary feats. Let’s get this wrong righted.
NICE SURPRISE FOR TOP COACH
ON the subject of generosity, how fitting that Edinburgh Athletic Club’s long-standing coach Bill Walker has had his efforts recognised by TV show Surprise, Surprise. He trained Olympic gold medal sprinter Allan Wells, but he says for him the most pleasure comes from helping children find something they’re good at, and watching them blossom.