Edinburgh’s tourism woes wouldn’t be as bad if SNP eased austerity – Ian Murray

It should be possible to value and encourage visitors with wonderful festivals and celebrations whilst respecting the needs of local people, writes Ian Murray

Thursday, 26th December 2019, 6:00 am
The Ceilidh under the Castle was packed last year. Picture: PA
The Ceilidh under the Castle was packed last year. Picture: PA

As many of us enjoy a festive break with friends, family and loved ones we should remember that there are many people who get up to go to work throughout the festive period. Thank you to the nurses, doctors, taxi drivers, firefighters, hospitality workers and many others who forego quality time with their families to keep us safe, heathy and well fed over Christmas.

Shop workers in particular are exposed to increasing risks over the Christmas period. Many will have worked late into the evening on Christmas Eve and be back in for the rush of sales that start on Boxing Day. The USDAW trade union has been running a “Keep Cool at Christmas” campaign to highlight the physical and verbal abuse retail workers get at this time of year. My colleague Daniel Johnson MSP has lodged a Protection of Workers Bill in the Scottish Parliament which would protect shop workers. Abuse and threatening behaviour should not be part of any job, and with festive emotions running high, it is now more important than ever that this is recognised and shop workers are protected.

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Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Edinburgh is a fantastic place to be over Christmas and our Hogmanay celebrations are renowned across the globe. The castle glistens with fireworks and takes its place alongside the famous attractions of New York, Sydney, London and Paris when bringing in the New Year. Visitors come from far and wide, boosting our local economy and really adding to the special festive atmosphere we all enjoy. Last Hogmanay I went to the Ceilidh under the Castle. It was packed with tourists standing on each other’s feet whilst they were partaking in our national dancing hoolie.

Fragile balance between festivals and residents

However, we must be aware that sometimes the balance between the rights of residents and visitors is not quite right. I have to say I enjoy the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens but there has been upset that it has commandeered a huge swathe of public land.

Furthermore, rumours that the Hogmanay celebrations are vetting residents who live within the designated “street party area” and will decide whether they can access their homes and if they can have friends and family round on New Year’s Eve doesn’t help. Whether these stories are true or not does nothing to help the already fragile balance between residents and the festivals. Perhaps that balance would appear fairer if more communications were put in place between the council and residents.

It should be possible to value and encourage visitors with wonderful festivals and celebrations whilst respecting the needs of local people and our city’s status as a world heritage site.

City struggling to invest

We all love our city for what it provides but there is a danger that these issues are becoming increasingly prevalent and that may, in turn, damage our year-round festival city.

Part of the solution is about harnessing the great economic benefit tourism brings to the city and reinvesting in local government services which have borne the brunt of austerity over recent years.

As I have argued before one of the policy levers is a Tourist Tax or Transient Visitor Levy which after much kicking and screaming the Scottish Government seems to be finally moving towards. This would allow a very small charge of £2 per night to be levied on hotel rooms and Airbnbs to fund local the local services that both residents and visitors use.

Local government financing has been decimated by the Scottish Government in recent years and that has led to a significant pressure on our schools, social care, local services, and city infrastructure.

Those pressures mean the city struggles to invest in the things we all value. If the purse strings to local government were relaxed a little and the city could raise a bit more from the burgeoning tourist trade then many of the negative issues currently debated about the festive and other festival activities in Edinburgh would diminish. I hope those with the budgets in the Scottish Government tak heid before it’s too late.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas Day.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South