Carol and I spent a couple of days up at the Edinburgh Festival this week. I guess we have been regulars for twenty something years now. And every year the whole thing grows. More shows. More venues. More everything. This year it seemed the change was even deeper. More profound.
Is there any other city on
earth which could do what Edinburgh does for three weeks every August? Not
many. I am lucky enough to have got around a bit in my time and off
the top of my head, I can only think of two – St Petersberg and
Prague. And all they would manage to do is provide the physical
backdrop. Both would have pretty major problems with the whole
diversity thing. Edinburgh in August is a flamboyant bonanza of every
kind of human being our planet has to offer. Black, white, yellow and
red. Straight, gay and all stations in between. I think St Petersberg
and Prague would have more than a few issues with that kind of thing!
More than ever Edinburgh
feels like a Nordic capital. The Union Flag on the castle seems out
of place, as ugly as graffiti. It is a place comfortable in its own
skin. Happy to be different.
We were having a coffee in a
Brazilian cafe across the road from Bristo Square. The place was
being watched over by a gym fit Slavic guy who ticked the box for
more than a few stereotypes. You know. A tight black T-shirt
stretched over a gym fit body. A crew cut and quietly alarming eyes.
If we had bumped into him in a Lithuanian backstreet I would have
been laying eggs and then some.
His pale eyes latched onto an
approaching figure. Black. Rather scholarly. Very African. And then
the Slavic face suddenly transformed itself into a beaming grin. The
two guys exchanged an elaborate handshake and embraced. Well of
course they did. This was Edinburgh, not Stoke.
This is Scotland, not
A few hundred miles to the
south, Boris Johnson was making his latest pitch for the Tory
leadership by comparing Muslim women in the Hijab to 'letterboxes'.
The pundits seemed to think it was a decent enough ploy. The road to
London power seems to require a healthy dose of racism these days.
The experts in the studios seemed to think Boris had found the right
pitch of dog whistle to satisfy the septuagenarian Daily Mail readers
who choose our leaders. With every passing week, this dreadful
aberration seems to be morphing into England's very own twenty first
century version of Herman Goering.
Let's compare and contrast. They both
busted a gut to cut a glamourous dash as young men as they emerged
from their silver spoon in the mouth upbringings. To be honest,
Goering shone a little brighter. Whilst Boris strutted about as
President of the Oxford Union and threw his guts up at the Bullingdon
Club, Goering cut his teeth as a bona fide war hero in the skies above
the Western Front. Then both men hitched themselves to the racist
bandwagon in the pursuit of power and glory. Once both men were
handed any actual responsibility, both proved themselves to be
completely incompetent. Of course, Goering got himself hanged in the
end. I guess hope springs eternal.
So many coaches. And so many
Chinese. And for the umpteenth time, it hit me just how much 'Brand
Scotland' is continuing to flourish and boom. Once again it hit me
just how much the rest of the world is buying what we have to sell.
And once again I seethed at the reluctance of the ever-cautious
Scottish Government to shout about it from the rooftops.
And I got to thinking. Can
the success of Brand Scotland be measured in more ways than counting
coaches at the Edinburgh Festival?
Maybe. I had a go. Here's
what I came up with. It goes something like this. I took three areas
of Britain whose natural beauty has been deemed to be National Park worthy. The
Scottish Highlands, the English Lake District and Snowdonia in Wales.
Is any of the three a clear
winner in terms of postcard potential? Not really. Everyone will no
doubt have their preferences.
Which is the hardest to get
to? That is easy. The Highlands.
Next, I picked three
'gateway' towns on the edge of these areas of natural beauty.
Inverness, Kendal, and
Next, I summoned up
Booking.com and asked what it would cost me to stay for a night in
these towns next Friday.
And the results were pretty
conclusive. For a relatively bog standard three star hotel, the
average prices for a double room were as follows.
Inverness - £220
Kendal - £90
Bangor - £80.
Would this have been the case
twenty years ago? I very much doubt it. In fact, if my memory serves
me right, I reckon Kendal would have been the dearest place to stay by
some margin back then.
So what has changed? Well, I
reckon it is clear enough. Twenty years ago most of the guests in
these towns would have been British. I guess this is still the case
for Kendal in Bangor. Not so Inverness. All of a sudden visitors from
all over the world are drawn to the Highlands.
This isn't simply down to the
Lochs and the Glens. Instead, it is all about Brand Scotland. Some
put it down to Braveheart and Outlander. I think it is rather more. I
wonder how much is down to the 2014 Referendum. We were given a very
different view of Indyref to the one served up to the rest of the
world. When thousands of flag wearing 'Yes' supporters filled a
street, the BBC would give them a grudging ten seconds before gushing
on about Jim Murphy using a loud hailer to speak to ten party
activists and a couple
of hopeful drunks. The rest of the world saw the carnival of Yes in
full technicolour and it caught the imagination. Scotland might not
have actually signed on the dotted line, but it showed itself to be a
completely different place from its backward looking neighbour. It
became a beacon.
If you are a tourist who happens to be black, brown
or yellow, you have to think carefully about where you choose to take
your holidays. I know, believe me. As a mixed race couple, there are
fewer and fewer European destinations where we don't get hard-eyed
We underestimate just how
much notice the rest of the world has taken of what we have become,
whether it be the Tartan Army or the Edinburgh Festival. Of course,
this is is a bit of a stereotype. But what the hell. If the rest of
the world wants to see us as party people who don't do racism, then I
for one ain't about to complain about it. And there has to be a
reason why we don't have our own Caledonian versions of Boris Johnson or Nigel
Farage or Tommy Robinson. Dog whistle racism gets blown away on the
wind up here. Surely this is the main reason why a bog standard hotel
in Inverness can ask £220 for a double room.
The rest of the world is
sitting up and taking notice of what we have become. Of who we have
become. And the rest of the world clearly likes what it sees. The
rest of the world is beating a path to our door. The rest of the
world wants a piece of our action. Our visitor numbers go up and up
whilst tourism is tanking in Trump's America and more and more shops
on Oxford St fall vacant.
The day we wake up and see
ourselves the way everyone else sees us is the day when the polls
will announce 70% support for Yes.
Surely it can only be a
matter of time.