Shockingly dictatorial conditions imposed on residents of the Hogmanay street party area should be publicly debated, writes John McLellan.
Unlike most in the communications and opinions business, I’m not a great social media broadcaster; it all seems much more trouble than it’s worth for all the abuse that comes back to reach people who already agree with you, but it does have its uses and last week’s Twitter posts by Edinburgh resident Angus Duncan are a fine example.
Until Mr Duncan took to Twitter to post details of arrangements for people living inside the designated events area for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, few beyond the residents themselves knew just how much control the promoters Underbelly had over access to, and use of, their own properties.
In language reminiscent of a police state, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay organisers Underbelly insist that residents of the event area not only apply for passes to access their homes but, according to the Hogmanay website, “All accredited residents and businesses must wear a valid wristband and carry their access pass at all times.” This might be the first time a UK resident has been required to carry a pass on the public highway since the Second World War.
Like the vast platform for Edinburgh’s Christmas Underbelly was able to build without planning permission, it appears that the same registration process was in place last year but didn’t receive any attention. In fact, residential registration has been a fact of life for locals in the event area for several years and it is only because Mr Duncan posted details of the conditions that it has come to light now.
When restrictions were first introduced to access Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party in 1997, the event had become a victim of its own success because of the near disaster the year before when 300,000 party-goers packed Princes Street and a barrier collapsed, with police saying another Hillsborough had only been narrowly averted.
When charges were introduced for the 2004-5 event, as editor of the Edinburgh Evening News I argued it was unacceptable for council-tax payers to pay to walk their own streets but charging has been in place for so long now that no-one bats an eye at the principle. And while residents are still able to access their homes, it’s the extent of the controls imposed upon them by Underbelly which is remarkable.
The language the promoters use is shockingly dictatorial, almost as if they are doing residents a favour by not evicting them during the festivities. It’s all there on the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay website, hectoring rules which turn living in the city centre into a privilege granted by the authorities, not what you’d expect from a jolly events company seeking to bring joy and happiness wherever it goes.
“All details will be verified before access passes are issued. These details will be shared with Scottish Fire and Rescue and Police Scotland for safety and licensing purposes,” it says, sounding vaguely menacing.
“Passes will permit the holder to use the access lanes between the designated gate and their property only. These lanes are for access only and are also used by security and the emergency services during the event. They are not viewing areas and there should be no loitering at any time.” No loitering? Underbelly seems to think it’s the police.
And so it goes on. “The resident will be entitled to receive up to six resident passes for the household… If a private function is planned within a residential property, a number of additional access passes may be issued in consultation with the event organisers in line with the maximum safe capacity of the property.” So no guarantee and Underbelly will decide what is safe?
But, as with the planning permission debacle, all of the above should have been approved by the city council but I am not aware of there ever having been a public debate and I’m pretty certain if such strident demands had been put before councillors there would have been outcry. If city officials have approved these conditions, then we need to know by whom, when and why. If not, then Underbelly has some explaining to do.
There is an argument that just handing out passes to houses would simply be giving free access to tourists taking advantage of the many short-term-lets in the city centre, but that is just one problem with turning an entire, densely populated, urban district into an events zone rather than a non-residential arena which people do not call home.
It is true that Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is a success which brings economic activity to the city and is a global showcase, but it’s not for everybody. I wouldn’t pay £20 to stand on Princes Street in the cold to be jostled by people trying to get a glimpse of 70s pop star Mark Almond, certainly not when that doesn’t even get you into the main event, Mark Ronson’s Hogmanay in the Gardens, which costs at least another £50.
Compared to the times when it amounted to a crowd of inebriated youngsters gathering at the Tron to snog strangers, it’s a vast undertaking, but something of this scale will come at a price and that price and who pays must be something for public discussion.
Most people are used to wearing passes for different reasons; to go to work, to access pubs and clubs, to eat as much as you can at an all-inclusive resort. But not to get past some geezer in a high-viz jacket just to go home or to have friends round for supper.
Fox-slaying QC’s ill-judged boast
At the other end of the social media scale from Mr Duncan is Jo Maugham QC, he of Brexit challenges at the Court of Session fame, who took to Twitter on Boxing Day to boast he’d beaten a fox to death with a baseball bat while wearing his wife’s kimono in the garden of his north London home.
He said the fox was caught in wire trying to get at his chickens and if you’re a bucolic huntin’ and shootin’ type you might think it’s acceptable to dispatch an animal still widely regarded as vermin which has been trying to eat your livestock. But there are plenty of people who don’t, so why on earth brag about it on Twitter at eight in the morning, unless you are so lacking in self-awareness and judgement that you couldn’t see the problem. Just goes to show, if you have been celebrating the night before best put your phone somewhere safe until your mind unfogs. Maybe locked away with your baseball bat.