I miss Edinburgh. When I lived there I loved it more than life. Apart from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world I loved it for its rich intellectual history. In the 18th century it was the Boston of its day, host to the brightest minds. Men like Hume, Smith and Burns graced the taverns and drawing-rooms there trading thoughts and ideas that over two centuries to follow would form cornerstones of the Western mindset.
Another reason I was so enamoured of Edinburgh was its arts festival. Every August the city is party to the greatest show on earth and gives itself over to a swarm of artists and performers. It’s a fabulous spectacle. There might only be ten people in any Fringe audience but the spirit is keen. Art for art’s sake was never so palpable.
Yet I used to get the feeling that the Edinburgers weren’t quite so fanciful about the thespian invasion. It seemed to many of them an imposition, a thing to be tolerated before cherished. You could almost sense the relief when the party was over as a quiet hush fell upon the leafy, rain-soaked streets once again. The locals could then get back to their dour familiarity.
That indifference to the arts is mirrored by the majority of Scots' indifference to their capital city. Its Anglified sniffy-ness is way too stuck-up for them and smacks of a bad attitude, lofty and superior. I don’t mind that so much. There’s something quaint in its old affectations. And anyway, the Edinburgh character is more withstanding than in other parts of the country. Like the English: softer on the surface, tougher at the core.
David Hume’s philosophy remains at the top-table in the world’s universities and his friend Adam Smith has been hoisted up as the godfather of economics. Most Scots wouldn’t even know their names. For all its glittering heritage I think it’s fair to say that indigenous Edinburgh doesn’t value its glorious contribution to the arts and to the intellect. With similar correspondence indigenous Scotland doesn’t value the jewel in its crown that is its capital. Strange lot the Scots.
Scotland's jewel in the crown
commentary • 18.08.09