Martin Hannan: Keep your nose out of our issue

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It IS the mark of a great country, city or organisation that it can take criticism which is well meant and perceptive. To read the angry response to the article by Professor Richard Williams in Foreign Policy magazine, in which he dares to suggest that Edinburgh might be less than perfect, you would have to think that this capital city is not very great at all.

Certain people with vested interests in telling you that everything is rosy in Edinburgh’s garden have been queueing up to accuse the good professor of everything short of high treason.

He’s an interesting chap, is Prof Williams. I don’t exactly know what a professor of contemporary visual cultures actually does, but judging by his inaugural lecture at Edinburgh University, which is available on YouTube, he does seem quite fond of Ikea, and that puts him on a par with half of Edinburgh’s population.

I wonder how many of his critics have actually read the full article in Foreign Policy. It is not brilliant journalism, but it is a genuine viewpoint held by an academic working in the city whose expertise is in modern culture. From that point of view, his is a telling analysis and one that we should take cognisance of – come on, folks, we are not doing 21st-
century progress very well, are we? Did I mention the trams?

Having read the article, there is very little in it with which I could disagree. We have serious problems in Edinburgh with the design of modern buildings, with a failure to follow through on major regeneration projects, and with our dreadful transport and roads systems, for which latter failings no official nor councillor has ever been sacked.

This city has made mistakes and not learned from them. That is a mark of complacent indolence, and not greatness.

The professor’s cry from the heart could best be summed up in four words: “Get a grip, Edinburgh.” He is right, and all of civic society in the Capital should direct their attention to making the future a better one.

That process must start in the City Chambers with the elected representatives of the people. Only they have the power to get things moving in the right direction.

But as long as the council continues to obsess about its contracting budget rather than the possibilities of making this a truly wonderful city, then Edinburgh will fail to achieve the 21st-century greatness that would match our greatness of yesteryear.

I ask again: where is the vision, where is the drive, where are the dreams that can make Edinburgh a truly great modern city? Can we not stop contemplating our navels and lift our eyes to a bright new horizon?

If a few people around the city have their consciences pricked by what Prof Williams has written, then he will have done Edinburgh a real service. I doubt it, however, for I am truly cynical about the commitment of our civic leaders to Edinburgh’s future.

What I do find sinister is the interpretation that Foreign Policy put on the professor’s writing with a headline which is absolutely not suggested by any of the content in the article, some of which was “edited”, according to Prof Williams.

‘Scotch This Plan: Scotland’s decaying capital city shows why this country is not ready for independence’ is frankly misleading at best, and downright nasty at worst.

It is only when you realise that the magazine is part of the Washington Post group that true paranoia might kick in. That’s right, the same Washington Post which late last year unleashed a tirade against those of us who would like to see Scotland 
become independent.

I think it is perfectly legitimate to question whether the editorial team at Foreign Policy were just following the lead of the Post, clever little ducklings scared to swim on their own.

If the magazine and the Post actually send some of their correspondents to Scotland to report impartially and accurately on what is happening here as we prepare for the referendum, then I will gladly apologise for what I’m about to write. But until the magazine and newspaper act in accordance with their own great 
traditions – those of Woodward and Bernstein, for a start – I must accuse them of being blinkered Little Americans, concerned only about what harm Scottish independence might do for their own interests.

I love America, and I have never met more generous people than the ordinary citizens of that great nation. My cousins are American citizens born and bred, and served in the US forces. But I would say to them and to all Americans, get your tanks off our heather.

As an SNP member, I would say look at your own history, not least the fact that so many Scots or descendants of Scots were involved in drafting the US Declaration of Independence, which contains the words “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and adds that when “a Form of Government” fails to deliver what the people need, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

It’s our issue, our debate. Suck it up, America.