I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


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 England.

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 Bangor. 

Next, I summoned up 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 stares. 

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.

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