Kevin Buckle: Edinburgh's tourists are '˜Everybody's Problem'

So let's get one thing clear straight away. The headline is an obscure cultural reference to a current news story.

Saturday, 22nd December 2018, 6:00 am
Gordon Robertsons references to Pulp and Monty Python were missed in the Twitter storm

The news story I refer to is Gordon Robertson’s “Disneyfication” speech which caused controversy this week – but there was certainly more to the headlines than met the eye.

Initially reports of “everybody hates a tourist” failed to even mention it was a reference to the Pulp song Common People and that gave it a completely different context. It also set the stage for Gordon’s assertion that maybe Edinburgh having some of the traits of a Disneyland theme park was not a bad thing.

Even on first reading it was clear this was a speech in which Gordon was trying to be funny rather than controversial and though some of the comments were definitely ill-advised many of the responses were out of all proportion.

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What I found even stranger is that just in case anybody was not getting the comedy vibe Gordon laid it on even thicker with his comment “At the risk of sounding like Monty Python ‘What’s tourism ever done for us’ is a question we all should be able to answer fully.” Obviously I didn’t read every article about the speech but not once did I see “What’s tourism ever done for us” quoted. What did happen was the Heritage People’s Front, the People’s Front for Heritage and the Heritage People’s Popular Front all denounced Gordon and his comments. Again, just to be clear, that is another Monty Python reference in an attempt to be funny – no doubt judged as unsuccessful in some quarters.

What should really come from this is that there needs to be more middle ground and people should stop taking offence quite so easily. Twitter, of course, is the natural home for the outraged and by Twitter storm standards this one lasted longer than normal.

What also needs to be remembered is that most people have more important things in their lives – bringing up kids, getting to work, making ends meet, running a business and a whole host of other stuff – so have little time or inclination to worry or indeed care about many of things that others so passionately campaign about.

That isn’t to say it is wrong to care about these things and indeed some people take their kids to school, work all day and still find the time to get involved in debate and that is to be admired but Edinburgh has a lot of professional lobbyists, some might say complainers, and so whether it is trees or cycling or the scale and mass of a hotel their job is to put forward a very specific view.

Now of course trees are good and cycling is to be encouraged and a hotel that is too big is a very, very bad thing indeed but while these discussions go on in just about every major city from what I can tell Edinburgh is in the premier league. Some might rightfully argue that is because Edinburgh has more to protect than most and that is true but surely as we approach 2019 it is worth all sides considering whether it is time to be a little more conciliatory in their approach and to each other.

And so back to that headline. Yes tourists can be an issue for everybody in Edinburgh but mostly Everybody’s Problem is the title of Pulp’s first single. I did say it was an obscure cultural reference!

A panoramic view of the issues

I came across the Irish artist Robert Barker last week and possibly the answer to Edinburgh’s increasing visitor numbers.

Barker first coined the word panorama to describe his panoramic paintings of Edinburgh. Shown on a cylindrical surface and viewed from the inside, they were exhibited in London in 1792 as The Panorama.

According to the University of Edinburgh Collection, which has a small watercolour version of his first full Panorama dated 1792: “The story goes that he was out walking on Calton Hill with the whole vista of the city of Edinburgh laid out before him, and he seized upon capturing the scene in the round. In 1787 he opened an exhibition in Edinburgh which was to have a major impact on the 19th and 20th century entertainment industries. It featured a panoramic view of the city painted around the inner wall of a rotunda which, when viewed from the centre of the room, gave the spectator the illusion of reality.”

In 1793 Barker moved his panoramas to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, and made a fortune. Maybe this is the answer. Instead of people coming to Edinburgh, Edinburgh could be sent to them!