Invasion of politicians conjures new dimension to Scottish cringe factor around Tartan Week – Brian Ferguson

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The drumbeats of a samba band provided a fitting soundtrack to a perfect sunny lunchtime in Edinburgh city centre on Saturday.

There was undoubtedly a carnival atmosphere in the large crowd gathered opposite the Usher Hall, but there was also anger, frustration and dismay in the air.

Scotland’s first National Protest for the Arts, which occupied Festival Square, was instigated by the grassroots activists involved in a Save the Filmhouse campaign launched in the wake of the closure of the city’s art house cinema in the autumn.

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Ever since then anger has been growing at the sight of the boarded-up Filmhouse cinemas in both Aberdeen and Edinburgh, at the Scottish Government’s stewardship of the wider cultural sector, and at arts funding cuts made by several councils.

Politicians were very much in the firing line during Saturday’s protest – notably Scottish culture secretary Angus Robertson, the constituency MSP for Edinburgh Central, when word spread that he was at New York's annual Tartan Week celebrations.

But he was not alone among Scottish politicians, with Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray and Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone, who represents the Lothian region, also in attendance. SNP MP Pete Wishart and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross were virtually marching arm-in-arm up Sixth Avenue together, while Scotland Minister John Lamont was accompanied by pipers from the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Tartan Week and politics have been inextricably linked since the first events 25 years ago, and not just because of Jack McConnell’s Jacobite shirt or Alex Salmond’s cowboy hat at the “Dressed to Kilt” fashion show. It has regularly provided the backdrop for SNP politicians to make the case for Scottish independence in the United States, and regularly attracted criticism from politicians over the cost to the taxpayer.

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It beggars belief that Tartan Week is seen as a priority for so many Scottish politicians when there are clearly so many serious challenges to get to grips with back home – and not just across the cultural landscape. The obvious environmental impact of the tartan-tinged exodus conjures a whole new dimension to the concept of the traditional Scottish cringe around the event.

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