Edinburgh's Christmas market: People of the city, not politicians and promoters, should decide what happens next year – Stephen Jardine

And the winner of the Scottish Book of the Year is… well no one actually.
Edinburgh's Christmas market proved to be a controversial event last year (Picture: Ian Georgeson)Edinburgh's Christmas market proved to be a controversial event last year (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Edinburgh's Christmas market proved to be a controversial event last year (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

Despite Scots author Douglas Stuart scooping the Booker Prize this year, Scotland’s top literary prize has not been awarded because the organisers, the Saltire Society, have run out of funding for the Scottish National Book Awards.

It is disappointing but most organisations are living through tough times when it comes to winning financial support. Most but not all. This week it was revealed that the organisers of Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations have secured £250,000 from the Scottish government to help them cope with the impact of the pandemic on their business.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Underbelly received the maximum possible grant from the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund and £100,000 more than was awarded to the Fringe Society, a charity which exists to help anyone access the world’s biggest arts festival.

Read More
Edinburgh's Hogmanay organisers Underbelly get £250,000 Scottish Government life...

Handily, Underbelly’s head office is in Hatton Garden in London so there will be no shortage of safe deposit boxes to keep the cash secure. That is unless it is needed immediately to keep the company afloat but that seems unlikely since they still have a fat contract with Edinburgh City Council to deliver a scaled-down Hogmanay this year. Quite how scaled-down we are still to be told and the event is less than a month away.

Underbelly’s arrangements with the council have been the subject of much criticism in recent years. Attempts to delve into the finances using Freedom of Information requests have been blocked on the basis that details could “cause substantial harm to the commercial interests of the event providers”.

Last month the company finally lifted the lid on last year’s Winter Festivals revealing £9 million in turnover but Underbelly insist they don’t make a profit once the cash generated by Christmas is used to subsidise Hogmanay. And that is as much as we know. In exchange for the contract to run the Winter Festivals, Edinburgh City Council says it receives an annual sum back from Underbelly each year but they won’t make this figure public.

Last year the relationship between Underbelly and the council reached breaking point over a bungled planning process for the Christmas market and safety concerns over how it was staged. Emails made public earlier this year showed Underbelly threatened to cancel the Christmas and New Year celebrations on three separate occasions.

That tension then spilled over into the public space when clumsy Hogmanay arrangements which appeared to restrict access to residents led to a packed meeting organised by the Cockburn Association to look at how Edinburgh’s public spaces are being commercialised.

The demands for change at that meeting have been answered but not in the way expected by the 800 people who attended. Princes Street Gardens won’t be left a quagmire this year, not by better planning and implementation, but because the Christmas Market isn’t taking place. A pandemic has seen to that. It’s provided the hard reset of the commercialisation of Christmas that many people wanted.

This year will be low key for very good reasons. Next year is a chance to start again and with public money now being used to prop up Underbelly, it should be the people of Edinburgh, not politicians or promoters, who get to decide what happens in the city this time next year.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.