John McLellan: Majority won Porty bid

Linda Clement has racked up more than 200 caps for Scotland and GB. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Linda Clement has racked up more than 200 caps for Scotland and GB. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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School pupils from all over Scotland recently gathered at Our Dynamic Earth for the presentation of the ImPRESS awards for the best school publications.

All the 17 schools represented had done a great job in producing some pretty impressive editions of newsletters, magazines and newspapers and in the teams were undoubtedly some media stars of the future.

Organised by Menzies Distribution, the finalists included Edinburgh schools James Gillespie’s, Mary Erskine and St George’s and as one of the judges I can assure the latter two they were unlucky not to come away with some winner’s prizes.

Not so James Gillespie’s and its magazine The Spark – named in honour of its most famous pupil, Jean Brodie author Muriel Spark – which picked up two accolades.

Following in Jean Brodie’s fictitious footsteps is Fiorenza Kirkwood, named as the most inspirational teacher after receiving a wonderful testimonial from her students for the amount of work she puts in to encourage them.

And one of the youngest entrants in the whole competition, Alex Hamilton, was named as best sports columnist.

Young Alex should get the benefit of learning in a brand new school, given the rate of progress at the Warrender Park Road site which looks well on schedule to meet the target of opening by the summer of 2016. So too should Ms Kirkwood enjoy teaching in the £34m facility.

At the awards day I spoke to the team behind The Spark and all were clearly excited about the prospect of the new school building, and rightly so.

The school building programme in Edinburgh is once again cranking up after a long hiatus, with work on the new Boroughmuir High due to start any time soon and completion also due in the 2016 summer. Sharing that sense of optimism will be the pupils of Portobello High School, at least the younger ones, now that the final legal barrier to building the new school at Portobello Park is about to be removed.

Following last week’s decision by MSPs to allow the school to be built on what is common good land (I’m not sure how a brand new school could ever be described as not being to the common good) the work can start as soon as Royal Assent is granted in a month’s time.

The aim is for the new school to be ready in time for the 2016-17 academic year, so it will just be behind Gillespie’s, quite remarkable when you think the skeleton of the new Marchmont school is already up while not a turf has been cut at Portobello. Let’s hope the timetable isn’t overly optimistic, or that a last-ditch legal spanner is not tossed into the machinery.

A Portobello Park Action Group member has described the decision as “a bleak day for democracy” but I’m wondering what’s bleak for democracy when a clear majority of people in the area supported the plan.

The pre-bill consultation on this proposal received over 10,000 responses, with three-quarters of locals in favour. So which bit of a decision supported by three out of four residents isn’t democratic? Democracy doesn’t mean everyone getting their own way. It should certainly mean that all views are taken into account and ways found to address legitimate concern. But it does not mean kow-towing to a vocal minority to the exclusion of all else.

Unfortunately, across the city we are seeing the rise of an uncompromising brand of protest which sees only total victory for their side as “democratic” when it is anything but. Compromise is the last thing on such people’s minds when it should be the first when it is obvious there is no unanimous view.

Politics is often described as being the art of the possible, yet too often political protest becomes the acts of the impossible.

Fettes astro pitch will give hockey much needed boost

While Portobello pupils and parents celebrate nearing the end of a journey which has lasted well over 2000 days to deliver the facilities they deserve, another Edinburgh school has also been celebrating.

Of course the circumstances at Fettes College are far removed from most schools, even some of the private ones, but a development there should benefit more than just its well-heeled pupils.

This week former Olympic champ Lord Coe unveiled their new water-based astro hockey pitch at their Hogwarts-like surroundings which will also be used by Scottish Hockey and Grange Hockey Club. So both juniors and seniors of both sexes and all backgrounds should be able to take advantage of the Olympic-standard surface for training and games.

Edinburgh has long been short of state-of-the-art hockey pitches despite the number of youngsters playing. My daughter has played hockey for many years now so I pretty much know every pitch there is in central Scotland; and as there aren’t many top grade surfaces, the Fettes development is badly needed.

Scottish Hockey demands that top league games must be played on the most modern surfaces and as the only water-based pitch in Edinburgh until now has been at the University’s Peffermill complex, it has meant long waits and strange start times for important matches.

At about £300,000 for a water-based field and the hoses they need, the cost has meant that many new pitches are the slower, dry variety such as that at Meggetland where CALA Edinburgh HC is based. The same goes for recently-installed pitches at George Watson’s College and Edinburgh Academy.

Although the women’s team was relegated from the top division last season, Grange should now be in pole position to capitalise, especially with Olympic medallist Ali Ramsay still on their books.

And if Scottish Hockey has its act together, there should be a hockey boom after the Commonwealth Games in which the Scottish women, captained by George Watson’s PE teacher Linda Clement, have a great chance of a medal.

While it has not quite sat back, Scottish Hockey has sometimes appeared helpless to keep up with the growth of women’s football in Scotland and the amount of publicity it generates.

Most sports fans have heard of footballer Julie Fleeting (over 100 caps), but few beyond hockey will know much about Linda Clement (over 200 caps for Scotland and GB and four Commonwealth Games appearances) or Ali Ramsay (250 caps for Scotland and GB, and a double Olympian).

Men’s hockey is unlikely to trump football and rugby in the public consciousness any time soon, but not so the women’s game. The Glasgow Games are a huge opportunity for the sport in Scotland but it needs not just the right marketing but the right facilities, especially indoor courts for the winter months, to grow in the longer term.

Music scene needs hands-off approach

I’m looking forward to seeing the city council’s masterplan for transforming Edinburgh’s live music scene. I’m just not sure an exercise run by middle-aged bureaucrats is the way to go about creating something edgy like the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas.

South by Southwest, or SXSW as it is known, developed from an event put together by an alternative magazine, not a civic project.

Things like letting out vacant council property for gigs sounds good, and the council should look at what it can do to make life easier for music- makers. But maybe the best thing it can do then is to stand back and see what happens.

Real music scenes aren’t created round a meeting table by officials with other factors to consider, like health and safety, residential nuisance and all the day-to-day stuff of council administration.

Did Liverpool Council come up with the Cavern Club and Merseybeat, or Manchester economic development officials the Hacienda?

It’s good the council wants to find out from those in the know, just as long as they are prepared for awkward answers.