By David Welch General manager of the George Hotel
As a green oasis in the heart of the Capital, St Andrew Square has provided an escape for city workers and tourists since its regeneration. But the asset which attracts many to the heart of Edinburgh is now under threat, and is threatening to drive away visitors and shoppers.
When the Occupy Edinburgh camp arrived in October, I didn’t understand the concept and even believed they were anarchists.
When I learned the nature of the protest, I didn’t feel quite so animated against it.
I, and no doubt the rest of the country, have a degree of sympathy as to what the protesters are saying.
The presence of the camp added to the atmosphere of the square, giving it a vibrancy, a cosmopolitan feel.
I’ve been a bit blasé and thought perhaps Occupy Edinburgh has a point. We’re very lucky to have the freedom of speech and to be able to protest freely.
I enjoy going down to St Andrew Square and I felt that buzz when the camp was there before Christmas, but the camp has changed and what’s happened is nothing short of disgraceful.
The protest has gone from a colourful and even welcoming addition to the square to a filthy mess.
I have a lot of international customers who spend a great deal of money at the George and in Edinburgh, saying “what on Earth has happened to that lovely square?”.
Before, I was happy to present the views of the protesters, explaining that the movement was one echoed across the globe, but no longer.
Very few of those tents are occupied, there is a great deal of debris blowing around. My guests are frightened to go through the square now because it doesn’t look safe.
I had a customer from Europe who said “what’s going on?”. He was quite impolite in describing the state of the square, with tents blowing in the wind.
Tourism is vital in this city and we have something that is now counter to that. It has moved from a cause which was not unreasonable to something which has lost its way.
The square is still a haven, but now it seems more for the homeless and that’s unacceptable.
Essential Edinburgh has done a great job with keeping the negotiations going and not getting into conflict.
Now it is time for the negotiations to get a bit tougher. You hope it never comes to confrontation, but there has to be some firm negotiations.
The protesters have made their point, they have touched a lot of people, but now it is time to go.
By Pete Nicholson
Member of the Occupy Edinburgh camp
Is it really time for Occupy Edinburgh to go? This seems to be the opinion of Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat, who has said that Occupy Edinburgh has “made their point”.
If this were really the case then we expect Ms Mowat to have already proposed new legislation tackling the blatant corruption and injustice that still permeates the very core of our society.
Will the council of Edinburgh take the lead in ensuring fair tax is paid by all, that the risky derivatives market is regulated, or that re-hypothecation of assets in the billions is stopped?
Will it invest directly in local businesses rather than encourage exploitative lending by the banks, and restore the power to create money to the public and not private institutions?
These are our points and the council has yet to do anything to show it has acknowledged or is dealing with these issues, despite openly declaring support for them.
There are various arguments about whether or not Occupy Edinburgh should remain in the square, from claiming a decrease in business to the fact that the square is, in fact, owned by private companies, and the ridiculous “they’re killing the grass” argument.
First, it is we at Occupy Edinburgh who are protesting the austerity measures, which are leading to reduced business everywhere, not just around the square.
Second, if the square is privately owned then why is it £1.2 million of public money that is spent renovating it and keeping it tidy?
Third, grass grows back, with added crocuses.
We have maintained a good and cooperative relationship with Andy Neal of Essential Edinburgh, rearranging our camp to allow the Christmas festivities to take place in the same manner that they do every year.
We have done our utmost to keep the square tidy and safe despite the hurricanes, cold weather and drunken abuse from those outside of the movement.
The campsite is a microcosm of society at large, with many of its problems.
The difference is that while society at large has been afforded public help, the square has not. The movement in St Andrew Square has done remarkably well at finding productive places in society for some of the hardest hit by the current broken system.
Instead of simply evicting the whole of Occupy Edinburgh in order to disperse a minority with alcohol or drug issues, the council and local organisations should be using this opportunity to reach out and actually help them.