The Power of Scotland Scotland Used to Be Run from Afar by Tweedy Old Men with a Whisky in on E Hand and a Fishing-Rod in the Other. Not Any More. as the Election Campaign Launches This Week, a Younger Generation Is Gathering to Form Edinburgh's New Establishment

By Bathurst, Bella | The Independent (London, England), April 7, 1999 | Go to article overview
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The Power of Scotland Scotland Used to Be Run from Afar by Tweedy Old Men with a Whisky in on E Hand and a Fishing-Rod in the Other. Not Any More. as the Election Campaign Launches This Week, a Younger Generation Is Gathering to Form Edinburgh's New Establishment


Bathurst, Bella, The Independent (London, England)


Some cities just aren't designed to be fashionable. Take Anchorage, for instance, or Spitsbergen. Or Aberdeen, where even the prostitutes wear six layers of sturdy, windproof clothing. And think, for a moment, of the logistics of hipness in Edinburgh. Scotland's capital may be beautiful, but you try wearing a wraparound skirt in the most efficient wind-tunnel on earth. Kitten heels on cobbled streets, slippy dresses in a rainstorm, elaborate curler- work in a force 10 gale - it just doesn't work. No wonder Edinburgh's split personality always used to be characterised as "fur coat and nae knickers".

Scotland's capital has always seemed foreign in its own land. It prides itself on its "cosmopolitan" atmosphere, but - barring the seasonal convulsions of the Festival and Hogmanay - cosmopolitan usually just means anglicised. Despite this, the political, cultural and economic events of the past few years have begun a subtle shift. In less than a year's time, Scotland will have its own parliament based at Holyrood and a set of MSPs who - depending on one's point of view - are either new! fresh! exciting! or alarmingly untried. And with them comes the hint that Edinburgh's weatherbeaten respectability may soon be slipping into something much more revealing.

If nothing else, the promised parliament is already rejuvenating central Edinburgh. Not only does the capital get the pounds 50m parliament building (likened by its architect to a ship, likened by its enemies to a shipwreck), but it gets all the peripheral perks as well. The new National Museum of Scotland has just opened to much admiring fanfare, Sean Connery is currently negotiating with Sony to build a new film studio on the city outskirts and - despite a recent move to Delta House in Glasgow - the Scottish Labour Party "will probably go" to Edinburgh in the near future. The BBC is also debating the site for its new headquarters; rumour is that it will remain in Glasgow, if only because a move eastwards would seem too painfully pointed. Most lament the "unconstructive" rivalry between Scotland's two main cities; no one pretends it doesn't exist. But if Edinburgh's revival is dependent on the whims of institutions, Glasgow's culture has and will always come up from the street. Edinburgh has finance, Glasgow has commerce, Edinburgh has politics, Glasgow has fashion, Edinburgh has banks, Glasgow has sport, music, art, life. Glasgow has always been cool; the only surprise is that Edinburgh now has pretensions to cool. Even if one were to take fashion - that old lodestone of economic well- being - something is happening to the city which still regards "sensible" as the greatest sartorial compliment one can pay. For decades, Edinburgh's chief contribution to clothing has been knee- length fawn gabardine; the city gave the impression of considering nice clothes if not quite the work of the devil then somehow morally suspect. If you wanted more than just floodwear and tartan trews, you swallowed hard, bought the train ticket west and went to a place where labels are considered not shameful but gorgeous. It may be some time before Edinburgh becomes the Milan of the North, but it is showing some signs of reconsidering. The best example is George Street, the sandstone spine of the New Town. Five years ago it was home to a couple of respectable hotels, two bookshops, several banks and one or two clothes shops selling a collection of A-line skirts which looked as if they'd been boil- washed in rainclouds. Now there's a wood-and-aluminium bar every two paces, several of the smarter high street clothes shops have opened branches and the venerable Roxburgh Hotel is being revamped. Andrew Radford was the first to move into the area, taking a pounds 20,000 loan to start the Atrium six years ago, and in the process began the reinvention of Edinburgh's eating. Previously, the city's food had been as stodgy as its reputation; now the inhabitants can dine in style from one end of the city to the other.

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The Power of Scotland Scotland Used to Be Run from Afar by Tweedy Old Men with a Whisky in on E Hand and a Fishing-Rod in the Other. Not Any More. as the Election Campaign Launches This Week, a Younger Generation Is Gathering to Form Edinburgh's New Establishment
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