‘Gardyloo’ should be  Sturgeon’s campaign slogan - Brian Monteith

The Edinburgh International Festival is rightly renowned for spawning many unexpected artistic triumphs. Some have been applauded to the rafters while others famously crossed the line of bad taste and were condemned by Councillor Moira Knox as “sordid” – or worse – simply “rubbish”. Now Edinburgh is gaining a new reputation for taking performance art to the highest level possible by staging its very own Festival of Rubbish.

It’s a truly international festival too; helped as it is by the welcomed masses who spend their treasure to reach the Scottish capital and – when they are not doing a splendid job of supporting our fine dining restaurants or bustling brasseries – devour the latest Indian, Chinese, Turkish, Mexican and of course American street food. Then, like all good bohemians, they place their disposable packaging and leaky containers randomly at different angles and arrangements around the already full-to-bursting refuse bins.

Even philistines not attending the Festival can get in on the act by eating only half of their deep-fried pizza supper and chucking it on the pyramid of oozing food waste. Being right-on and adhering to ECHR, the Equality Act and Twitter sensibilities, anyone – be they omnivores, carnivores, piscators, vegetarians and vegans can mingle and participate as equals. All genders can enter into the joy of trash, while taking the knee to the bins is actively encouraged.

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Of course, in Edinburgh’s dour and sober past tourists and locals alike would, thoughtfully and with great care, use only the receptacles intended for such flotsam and jetsam of the all-day and late-night revelries. But where’s the fun in that? How on earth are Britain’s seagulls, now thought to be in decline – and the local vermin, now likely to be multiplying – meant to eke-out a square meal?

Having become the most photographed event in Edinburgh the show must go on and is now set to run in Glasgow and other cities and towns near you.

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The filth on Edinburgh’s streets is of course utterly disgusting, but, like appreciating art, that is only my subjective opinion. There are many prepared to defend it. I am not one of them, there are many ways to skin a feline – and turning Edinburgh into one great landfill site is not one of them.

How then has it come to this?

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The reason is simple enough – devolution. Yes, the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the manner that it was, without giving any consideration as to the impact upon our local authorities could only mean one thing, creeping centralisation to Edinburgh and the diminution of our councils and councillors. I warned of this in the 1997 referendum but such was Labour’s hubris from Blair’s general election victory and the jingoistic nature of the debate it was an argument that went unherd.

There were some exceptions in Scottish local government circles who could foresee problems for our great cities. If I remember correctly, Councillors Eric Milligan (Edinburgh) and Michael Kelly (Glasgow) were sceptical for that reason. Rather bizarrely, however, CoSLA was one of the loudest cheerleaders for a devolved assembly or parliament, reminding me of the naive pastor in War of the Worlds trying to reason with the invading machines from Mars.

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Without seeking to provide a counterbalance to a Scottish Parliament of strong local councils with respected leaders wielding authority gained through popular mandates it was inevitable that Holyrood would centralise responsibilities and take for itself the lion’s share of taxpayer funding.

Unfortunately that is exactly what has happened. Eight local police forces managed jointly by councillors? Now there’s just one Scottish state police force clearly under the influence of the Justice Secretary. The regional fire and ambulance services have gone the same way. Education? Suffocated by a national curriculum that eschews excellence. And now we are about to have a national care service introduced that will reduce the role of local councils while adding to the already high costs.

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The centralisation has been bad enough – not even delivering better value for money its advocates promised, worse still has been the salami-slicing of local authority budgets so they have little room for independent thought or action.

So while devolution has been the progenitor of local authority demise the policies of the SNP Government has been the midwife. Aided and abetted by a Green Party in search of ministerial conferment, the SNP has repeatedly cut council budgets to the point where services are not just trimmed with shorter opening hours of facilities like the local baths, but are closed altogether. Streets are dirtier, litter is multiplying, weeds grow like Triffids – while bins often remain full even without a strike.

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Auditing the Scottish Government’s spending, the Accounts Commission reported funding between 2013/14 to 2020/21 had fallen 4.2 per cent in real terms (after allowing for inflation and excluding Covid-related funding) while spending restricted to SNP priorities had increased. That time period coincides with the rule of steel over her party and government of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

This then brings us to achieving a settlement of the pay dispute with the council cleansing workers – that requires the agreement of and funding by the Scottish Government. Not Westminster, not Edinburgh City Chambers – but the government of Nicola Sturgeon. But in between five performances at the Festival celebrity Sturgeon has not been hammering out a deal but opening her own show at great expense in a considerably cleaner Copenhagen – christening her very own pretend embassy.

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Creative Scotland has missed a trick. If only it had announced a special award to Edinburgh’s Festival of Rubbish where, to an attendant media circus, Sturgeon could pour a pail of muck out the window of Bute House – shouting “gardyloo” – our attention-seeking First Minister might just be attracted to do her day job?

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and is editor of ThinkScotland.org

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