The story of disgraced banker Fred “the Shred” Goodwin and the taxpayer bailout of RBS is the latest addition to the Capital’s wealth of guided walking tours.
And Scandalous Edinburgh promises to be altogether scarier than the usual spooky excursions – by revealing the hidden story of UK banks, pension funds and hedge funds which fuel climate change by investing in fossil fuel companies and “dirty” energy projects around the world.
Groups of up to 15 people will be taken to the historic financial district around St Andrew Square before hopping in a taxi and heading for the modern-day Exchange district.
Developed by inequality campaigners The World Development Movement, it will feature a quiz, historical re-enactments and chalk drawings on pavements as part of the two-hour trip.
Participants will hear tales of pensions buried in tar sands and cowboy Arctic drillers, woven with more inspiring tales of hardy activists throughout history, and modern-day banks that are daring to do things differently.
Jane Herbstritt, of the World Development Movement, said: “We want people to make the connection between where the banks are and their involvement with fossil fuel finance.
“There are big dirty energy projects that the banks are involved in and it is affecting people within their own communities, but there are alternatives when it comes to what you do with your money or your pension.
“Edinburgh’s financial sector makes up eight per cent of the Scottish workforce, and manages around £750 billion in assets annually – clearly such a powerful and influential sector could be making a really positive contribution in our transition towards a green global economy, but instead it continues to invest heavily in fossil fuels.”
The World Development Movement, which describes itself as a campaign against the root causes of poverty and inequality, has developed the tours to bring to life its new “Carbon Capital” campaign which exposes the role of the finance sector in bankrolling climate change.
Elspeth Murray, who wrote the script, said: “There are walking tours which explore lots of different subjects but I think this might be the first time there has been one like this.
“Some of the people who take part will have some kind of interest in environmental issues but it’s not so specialist that you have to be super green – it’s a little-known story told in an entertaining way.”
Scandalous Edinburgh, which kicks off on Thursday, will run on five dates this autumn.
Welcoming the tour, Green councillor Chas Booth said: “This sounds like an excellent idea. Raising awareness of the impact of Edinburgh’s financial district – both negative and positive – is essential.”
Excerpts from the script
1: RBS, St Andrew Square
Once upon a time there was a man called Fred Goodwin who ran a big bank. Fred loved banks and bought as many he could. Brave Sir Fred was fearless! Nat West – big yum yum. ABN Amro – expensive yum yum yum. Fred was having the time of his life! Up up went the shares! But then BOOM! Bust! Aaargghh went the bank and Fred felt very sick. Who would bring Fred back from the brink of doom?
2: Cairn Energy, Lothian Road
There were protests here by Greenpeace a couple of years ago with people dressed as polar bears to ask what Cairn would do if they had a huge oil spill. But Cairn reacted promptly by issuing an injunction to stop any photos of polar bear outfits in their offices reaching Twitter or Facebook.
3:HSBC, Hanover Street
HSBC are the UK’s biggest underwriter of fossil fuel stocks & shares. They invest in the Cerrejon mine in Columbia which is enormous – the largest in Latin America. If it was a big circle with us on one side of it, pushing the button to detonate more land on the other edge, the opposite edge would be way over there. Beyond Burntisland and right in the middle of Glenrothes.
4: BlackRock, Exchange Place
We’re here today because we think investing for a new world means creating a sustainable world on this planet. And because we want you to be more aware of the risks of overinvestment in fossil fuels. BlackRock, however, “has no greater responsibility than to our clients”. Not to the climate nor to the long-term survival of its clients’ grandchildren. And if you’re not their client at all. . . good luck.
5: Barclays Bank, St Andrew Square
Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions. The Director of Nasa’s Goddard Space Institute says that ending emissions from coal “is 80 per cent of the solution to the global warming crisis”. And what do Barclays say about climate change? Well, they say that they are managing the climate change risks of our operations and those of our clients”. And what do they do? Invest billions in coal – £8.9bn to be precise.