THE continual bemoaning of “tartan tat” on the Royal Mile completely misses the point about modern Edinburgh and our place in the world.
The tartan and shortbread image that irritate so many of us Scots is still a crucial part of what brings millions of tourists flocking to the Mile every year. It is a mainstay of the Capital’s £1.6 billion a year tourism industry. And visitors want fun souvenirs to take home – just like all those Scots with Eiffel Tower magnets on their fridges.
But when they are here they want – and expect – something more. They want to explore our grand history, marvel at the nation’s natural beauty and enjoy the work of our artisan food producers and craftspeople. It is all part of the rich experience of visiting the Capital.
It is all about striking the right balance. Right now on the Royal Mile, we don’t do that terribly well. It is a little too dominated by the so-called tartan tat shops. Some of their garish displays spill out on to the street so far that it makes it difficult to squeeze past them on the narrow pavements. What impression does it leave on tourists who perhaps don’t venture much further through the city?
The proposed bylaw to curb the excessive shopfront displays is a step in the right direction. But as owner of around a third of the shops on the Mile the council has it in its powers to do something far more radical. How about cheap rents or discounted rates for craft shops?
The walls of Edinburgh’s City Chambers are lined with marble busts and grandiose oil paintings of former Lord Provosts.
Taken for granted in Victorian times, they now seem hugely self-aggrandising. The latest portrait of former Provost Lesley Hinds – with its celebration of the city’s beautiful skyline and its nod towards efforts to tackle poverty – is far more in keeping with the times.
We like it. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air – in more ways than one.