Happy Edinburgh Hogmanay one and all. To all residents of the Capital, best wishes for the big night and the year ahead. To everyone who has come to Scotland to be at the best new year celebrations in the world, you are very welcome. Hopefully Edinburgh has fulfilled your expectations.
The majesty of Edinburgh Castle and the centre of the city lends itself to the fireworks and revelry seen around the world. When the clocks turn midnight Edinburgh joins Sydney Harbour Bridge and New York’s Times Square as one of the world’s most iconic celebrations. What a change from past decades, when thousands pressed into the Royal Mile to take in the bells at the Tron Kirk.
This year there has been growing controversy about the Edinburgh celebrations, how they are organised and for whose benefit. Negative media coverage has reported on restrictions to city centre residents, who need to apply for wristbands to access their own homes during the Hogmanay celebrations. Then there has been the crassly insensitive removal of the nativity scene and Norwegian Christmas tree from The Mound. Additionally the Christmas market has come under fire, built in the heart of what is a World Heritage Site without planning consent, a building warrant or public entertainment licence. For two years in a row.
The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations, the Christmas Market and a number of venues during the international festival are run by Underbelly, a London-based events company that also manage Christmas in Leicester Square, and West End Live in Trafalgar Square on behalf of Westminster City Council and the Society of London Theatre.
While the attendance at last year’s Hogmanay celebrations was an impressive 183,857 people across the full event programme, the key performance indicators for the audience were underwhelming to say the least when it comes to local participation.
Last year the attendance target from Edinburgh residents was 25 per cent, which came in short at 19.5 per cent, while the 30 per cent target from the rest of Scotland was missed too, with only 13.5 per cent. So the gross Scottish target of 55 per cent delivered only 33 per cent, at Scotland’s premier Hogmanay event.
This feeds into the narrative of Edinburgh becoming over-touristed and over-commercialised, largely for the benefit of people from elsewhere. Combined with concerns about the Edinburgh housing market and short-term lets, which again predominantly benefit visitors and squeeze out locals, there is a growing sense that things are getting out of kilter.
This is not a uniquely Edinburgh or Scottish phenomenon if you look at other European capitals which run major New Year and Christmas celebrations. At the home of the Christmas markets, in Vienna, there has been controversy about who manages the events and how local traders get fair access.
In Edinburgh, we do need to ask ourselves whether we want Hogmanay celebrations to continue as they do now. Is there a better way that involves local people more? Hopefully we can agree that Edinburgh Hogmanay should remain one of the great international celebrations and that we want revellers to attend from near and far, but these are not the only considerations. There are bigger questions about what kind of city we want Edinburgh to become in the decades ahead.
With Edinburgh Council launching a review, there will be a lively debate over the next year and beyond. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a fantastic 2020.