The sun is shining and Edinburgh is awash with tourists. We’re still a month away from the Festival but the city has that festival feeling. The feeling mostly being irritation that it takes over half an hour to get from the east to the west side of the city.
Yesterday, Princes Street was more like a lorry park, with busloads of tourists decanting their suitcases into hotels. It was the first time in a while I had walked the length of Prince Street and was struck by how run down it feels. There are thankfully fewer empty units than I remember, but what fills them isn’t arguably the best image for the city. At least when they turn round they will see the sparkling castle in the skyline.
Closer to Holyrood, the crowds are just as intense and all heading to the gates of the Palace to catch a glimpse of the Queen as she begins her summer residence. She’s here perhaps a little earlier than usual and on her schedule today is an address to mark twenty years of the Scottish Parliament.
Allan Little’s documentary Children of the Devolution on the new BBC Scotland channel is well worth an hour of your time as he explores whether the Parliament really has made a material difference to the lives of the Scottish people. It covers the Parliament’s early days and there is a glimpse of Donald Dewar’s first Scottish Cabinet. Figures like Tom McCabe and Sam Galbraith are sadly no longer with us. Jack McConnell is now of course in the Lords. Susan Deacon serving the country in a number of senior roles, not least the Scottish Police Authority. Some like Iain Gray and Jackie Baillie are still serving in Parliament with others like my good friend Sarah Boyack set to return in the coming weeks.
The big policy changes are well documented. Land reform, the smoking ban, free personal care etc. However, there is perhaps something more fundamental that’s changed in that time. A sense that if you’re looking for the beating heart of politics, it now lies here in Edinburgh, not in Westminster. There’s a feeling that despite the limits of the Parliament’s powers it is where the seat of power is. With that comes a sense of national confidence, which I believe can only be a force for good.
Yet in the midst of the feelgood factor emanating across this city this weekend, there are some new statistics that we just cannot ignore. The homelessness stats for example bore grim reading when they were published on Wednesday.
Rough sleeping is on the increase, more children are in temporary accommodation, more families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time. More children leaving care finding themselves homeless. More women fleeing violent partners finding themselves homeless.
The statistics are so bad, Shelter’s Gordon MacRae took to Twitter to tell us all that this collective failure came at a great human cost and that people were being denied their basic rights to a roof over their heads on an industrial scale.
Those rights incidentally were one of the first acts passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I can’t help but wonder what use they are to anyone when they can’t be exercised.
When I was first elected, I remember distinctly holding a public meeting on housing issues in Augustine’s United Church. A woman that night turned to me as we were sat listening to others present and she said, “Edinburgh’s a great city for hiding its poor.” That has never left me because it’s so true. I’m proud of our Parliament and proud of it’s achievements too. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that it alone is the answer to our countries ills. Politics has a permanent and settled home 20 years in, what a desperate shame on us all that so many of our countries citizens do not.