Kevin Buckle: Edinburgh's chattering classes drown out opposing views

Edinburgh hasn't been short on controversy recently and this week was no exception with the now they're up, now they're down, now they're up sometimes and a bit lower black boards blocking views of Princes Street Gardens and the Castle.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 18th August 2018, 6:00 am
The screens blocking off the view of the Ross Bandstand sparked anger this week. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
The screens blocking off the view of the Ross Bandstand sparked anger this week. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Of course the intention was to stop people watching the world-class artists (not my words) that would be performing in the Gardens who hadn’t paid to do so. This in turn invited comments about the proposals for more events when the Ross Bandstand is restored/developed.

Last week was about closing off large parts of the city centre to traffic and next week you can be sure there will be something else. Next month is the inquiry into the proposed luxury hotel for the Old Royal High, which won’t end well for some and possibly everybody.

King Creosote at the International Festival as part of Light on the Shore at Leith Theatre. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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What is constantly ignored with all these major projects in which the population of Edinburgh deserves a say is how few people actually do have anything to say. As a general rule people make an effort to complain about things and they don’t go to the same effort or indeed any effort at all to support something they agree with or to which they don’t have any objection.

Often 400 people will be treated as a huge number when in fact it is one tenth of one per cent of Edinburgh’s adult population. Four thousand people would be treated like a majority when it is one per cent. On more local issues “residents” will be against something when those voicing disapproval will be less than ten per cent of local residents.

Edinburgh’s chattering classes are a well organised group with no more than a couple of hundred activists but they are all well connected and with the time, ability and money to give their opinions far more credence than they often deserve.

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With regard to concerts in Princes Street Gardens I can see both sides of the argument but when Cliff Hague, Chair of the Cockburn Association gives his personal response to questions raised by The Scotsman on their website it only highlights that most of these organisations are there to put forward the personal views of often no more than a few dozen people.

For the purpose of the statement Cliff has become Professor Cliff Hague, just in case you were unsure whether his view counts for more than yours. If instead of the media reporting that an organisation with a serious sounding name thinks something is wrong they simply said 45 people or 100 people or whatever it wouldn’t sound quite so grand.

I’m not sure Edinburgh will ever get the balance right. Along with the aforementioned there are similar groups of arts activists always on the look-out to “save” things. Many of their causes are good ones and I’ve supported them myself but there are too many.

Developers are an easy and often deserved target but the arts world never looks internally to the many millions of pounds that is wasted on things that the general public just don’t care about and if truth be told often has little artistic merit.

Arts grants these days are very much related to “community” while at the same time not being what the community wants. There is a New Yorker cartoon that sums this up very well, where the caption reads: “We do a lot of amazing work bringing the arts to people who don’t want the arts.”

What all these groups share is a sense of entitlement. In particular those chattering classes want to keep the status quo with their well-funded chamber music and Festival Fireworks while turning a blind eye to the numerous problems the Tattoo causes every year that would never be countenanced if it was a new event.

Meanwhile Edinburgh World Heritage has opened up its visitor centre in the Tron Kirk and what a huge disappointment it is. My sympathies lay with the ousted traders so I was determined to give the new project a chance but it certainly isn’t what visitors will be expecting.

They will be hoping to be entertained, not lectured to, and while Edinburgh’s involvement in the slave trade and the role of women are worthy topics to have them as the main thrust of the centre’s promotion is a mistake. The displays overall are very dry and on each occasion I have passed by and popped in the shop has been far busier than the exhibition.

The irony of the shop taking up all the right hand side of the building and given to one trader will not be lost on all those businesses who had to leave and the mixture of faux antiques and tourist memorabilia doesn’t improve on what was there before. That Edinburgh council accepted from Edinburgh World Heritage a quarter of what was on offer from the market that was already in situ will only rub salt in the wounds.

The saddest thing about all this is that the vast majority of people don’t trust the motives of any of the parties concerned, and with good reason. Middle ground will be even harder to find now over the Gardens and yet again the council haven’t covered themselves in glory.

Edinburgh already has a lot to offer but there is definitely room for improvement, especially when it comes to supporting music and popular culture, which are areas that probably have the most vested interests acting against them. That needs to change.

Leith Theatre takes a bow – now for the next step

Nothing but good things are being said about the rejuvenated Leith Theatre and this year’s Festival shows can only help with raising the finance needed to make the building a year round venue.

There certainly seems to be the will to make that happen and along with a refurbished Queen’s Hall Edinburgh will probably have enough venues of that size – around the thousand mark – to cater for any artists wanting to play here.

Either end of the scale now needs to be looked at as a couple more small venues and a large arena would complete what Edinburgh has to offer.

Old Town BID plans are vital

So many times on social media I see comments about Edinburgh being all about students and tourists and what about the residents – and of course my thought is always what about the businesses?

Edinburgh city centre has more than 2000 businesses many of which are small independents in the Old Town and yet they have little voice which is why I feel some form of Old Town BID (Business Improvement District) is needed. Having said that I also feel there should be little to no expense to these businesses who face high enough overheads already.

The Old Town BID ballot is due in April and really things need to start moving forward as soon as the Festival has finished. I look forward to seeing how the steering group intend to deliver the successful ballot needed.