Graffiti: Edinburgh urgently needs a plan to tackle this huge stain on our Capital – Donald Anderson

I must confess I’ve always hated graffiti. Growing up in the Inch in South Edinburgh it was a common feature, with the name of a local gang – YIC – dotted all over the place.

By Donald Anderson
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 4:55 am
Graffiti in Milne’s Court off Edinburgh's Royal Mile (Picture: Donald Anderson)
Graffiti in Milne’s Court off Edinburgh's Royal Mile (Picture: Donald Anderson)

Long ago in my early days as Edinburgh council leader, I was determined to tackle what was at the time an epidemic of graffiti.

I distinctly remember we were contacted by a company that had what was described as a “revolutionary” removal system to clear all the city’s graffiti in weeks. It was basically a power washer with sand.

We hastily arranged a demonstration in Hunter’s Square. The then director of environmental services, Mike Drewry, and I turned up for the demo and we spent the first ten minutes listening to the guy complaining about Historic Scotland, where he’d previously given a similar demonstration.

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Historic Scotland had given him an elaborately carved piece of stone that was covered layers deep in paint. This, he complained, was unfair because it was uncleanable and that graffiti was “almost always” on flat surfaces.

He went on to ‘clean up’ the brass plaque on one of the granite benches. The director and I were mortified afterwards to see that the granite was scratched – granite being the hardest stone that would be cleaned by such a system.

The grumbling salesman was despatched never to be heard from again and the council sat down with Historic Scotland to roll out graffiti removal in a way that didn’t damage stone or buildings.

I was thinking of that recently when I was horrified at the sight of graffiti in Milne’s Court in the heart of the High Street and Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. The pictures I took were used to run a story in this very paper. Even more recently graffiti has now been seen on the National Monument on Calton Hill, which is just heartbreaking.

Graffiti can be removed (Picture: Donald Anderson)

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The problem isn’t on the scale encountered in the 1990s and 2000s, when anti-social behaviour was rife, and I do think that Edinburgh fares better than some of the sights I’ve seen in cities like Paris and Rome but it is still a huge problem.

The Milne’s Court buildings are owned by Edinburgh University and thankfully were speedily restored to their former beauty, but that example does highlight problems increasingly common across the city.

Fellow News columnist Kevin Buckle has rightly highlighted the problems with graffiti on boarded up shops in Princes Street, and he has some great ideas for posters and bespoke artwork that would undoubtedly help deal with those issues.

He’s been working with the fantastic Essential Edinburgh (which is a private sector-funded organisation that has helped transform and improve our city centre), to get agreement with shop owners to roll out a programme of work. Here’s hoping that happens.

These examples highlight both the complexity and scale of the problem to be tackled. I can’t help but think that some hefty fines would also help concentrate the minds of that small band of ‘tag’ warriors who cause most of the problems.

It’s caused by a small number of people, but it’s a huge problem. Graffiti is a stain on the city. Somebody somewhere needs to come up with a plan, and quickly.