Gina Davidson: Mandela legacy is beyond bigots

Nelson Mandela. Picture Donald MacLeod
Nelson Mandela. Picture Donald MacLeod
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PERHAPS it was inevitable. Perhaps there are people who really are beyond help, beyond hope. Certainly there’s no getting away from the fact that there are those whose judgement is so clouded by the colour of a person’s skin, that when the greatest politician of his age, Nelson Mandela, died, they surfaced from under their stones, scraped themselves from the bottom of barrels, roused themselves from their stupor of general ignorance to vent their racist bile.

The very idea that Edinburgh might recognise the achievements of Mandela in his death by renaming Festival Square in his honour sent the bigots into such fits of apoplexy they filled this newspaper’s website with their vile comments.

Festival Square could be renamed after Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death last week. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Festival Square could be renamed after Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death last week. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

There is nothing in wrong in disagreeing with the council’s proposal. You may well have a valid reason for believing Festival Square is a more appropriate name for the public space in front of the Sheraton hotel. You may feel there are better, more inspirational places where Mandela’s name could be used.

You may not hold Mandela in high esteem, you may disagree with his socialist leanings, you may well have felt that the coverage of his death was over the top – but to sink to the depths of blatant racist stereotyping negates any argument you may hold.

Beyond the sheer prejudice there were others who questioned his links with Edinburgh, suggesting there were more appropriate people who should have streets in their name. But who could be more appropriate than a man who was given the freedom of this city in 1997 when he visited as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting?

Who could be more appropriate than the figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement, a movement which many, many decent people in the city had campaigned for to ensure that the focus on the horrific, brutal regime of the South African government was never lost?

At an official level the former Lothian Regional Council was affiliated to the anti-apartheid movement and Action for South Africa, while in 1984 the district council named a room in the City Chambers in his honour and in 1986 erected the Woman and Child sculpture in Festival Square as a symbol of Edinburgh’s stance against apartheid. At an unofficial one, individuals did their bit from protests at consulates to boycotts of South African produce – apples in particular.

All of that might seem trivial, but as Napoleon Hill once said “if you cannot do great things do small things in a great way”.

Mandela himself acknowledged the importance of the internationalism of the anti-apartheid movement as helping to enable the changes to happen in South Africa. Why shouldn’t Edinburgh feel proud to have been a small part of that?

Then there were those who said that if the city wanted to celebrate Mandela it should have named a street after him while he was alive. I’m sure there are those who wanted to do so, unfortunately street-naming rules stipulate that you have to be dead.

And of course there was the accusation that Mandela was a criminal and a terrorist and therefore should not be held in any esteem. Yet Mandela was no more a terrorist than the corrupt, racist government which carried out repulsive atrocities on the black people of its country.

I have faith the vast majority of people in Edinburgh did feel sadness at the passing of Mandela and see him as a great figure who promoted equality, peace, tolerance, forgiveness, humanity and dignity.

All qualities which those who felt the need to expose their rotten racism via the Evening News website – or others – obviously have in very short supply.

Walker not out of the woods despite apology

CRAIGMILLAR has long had its fair share of troubles, even when it comes to its elected representatives.

Who could forget former councillor David Brown and his abuse of the council house waiting list on behalf of the mother of his friend Paul Nolan – another former councillor for the area, and a man who allegedly still knows where “all the bodies are buried” when it comes to Edinburgh’s Labour Party.

Now one of Nolan’s long-time compatriots, David Walker, is the area’s current councillor. And Walker has hit the headlines by writing to a high court judge asking that a man found guilty of torture should not be sent to jail.

Walker’s friend of 40 years, John Lindsay, threw Jamie Alexander into a cage with his Rottweiler dogs, kicked and punched him, tied his hands and feet with cables, stubbed out lit cigarettes on his skin and poured boiling water over his groin. All this instead of just calling the police to report that a man had broken into his house. Unsurprisingly judge Lord Turnbull described Lindsay’s actions as “barbaric” and those of Walker in asking that he not be sent to jail as “preposterous”.

Yet Lindsay obviously felt able to ask Walker to write such a letter. Why? Well because of their long-standing friendship and perhaps a misplaced belief that having a councillor vouch for him would sway the judge.

Given their relationship then, it seems odd that Walker now claims, as part of his apology for writing the letter, that he didn’t know the “level of violence” involved.

Even if he didn’t know Lindsay personally he could hardly have failed to have heard about what happened. And if he didn’t know the exact details it would have taken Walker a single phone call to the Procurator Fiscal’s office to find out.

He didn’t do that which seems downright stupid considering the reputational risk he was at by writing to a judge in his official capacity.

Council leader Andrew Burns feels satisfied with Walker’s apology – but I suspect this will not be the last of the matter. The people of Craigmillar need to be reassured about the judgement of their councillor.