Alexander McCall Smith imagines an Edinburgh where permanent residents have left and the city has been handed over to a never-ending festival
It is not often that one is privileged to be party to a whole new policy before it is rolled out. That expression, rolled out, by the way, is very significant. Many common-or-garden policies – or even initiatives, which are fairly similar to policies, but a bit grander – are simply announced or implemented. But really important plans are rolled out, in much the same way as the diplomats and generals used to roll out maps on their tables, with a flourish. Such policies may, of course, also be rolled up, or, in extreme cases, kicked into the long grass.
Few people know that there is a patch of long grass in the park near Holyrood that is actually rather full of policies. People walking their dogs are often surprised to find their pet bounding out of the long grass with yet another policy in his jaws.
The plan I have been privileged to see before it is rolled out is the top-secret “Edinburgh’s Vision – a Plan for the Future”.
As a preliminary, it reveals that Edinburgh as such will cease to exist. Or at least the name “Edinburgh” will be replaced by the Gaelic equivalent in all references to the city.
The second preliminary point – or reform, as it must be called – is to stop referring to the City of Edinburgh and start referring to the place currently known as the city of Edinburgh as “Edinburgh Festival”.
This is in line with the constructive new policy of having permanent festivals in Edinburgh, 24/7 as they say, and 12/12 too. January has recently become Burns Festival, which begins immediately after the wildly successful Hogmanay Festival (26 December to 4 January, inclusive) and lasts until 1 February, which marks the beginning of the Edinburgh Valentine Festival. March is, of course, the month of the Edinburgh Spring Festival, the Edinburgh Whisky Festival, the Edinburgh Beer Festival, and the Edinburgh Detoxification Festival. And many other festivals follow until, finally we return, exhausted but happy, to the Edinburgh Christmas Festival (1 October to 26 December).
In such circumstances it is surely simpler to talk about Edinburgh Festival as opposed to the City of Edinburgh. There will be savings, too, as the post of Lord Provost will be rolled into the post of director of the Edinburgh Festival(s). They will be one and the same person and therefore only require one office and one salary or set of allowances.
The really radical part of the plan comes next. This is to get rid of the city’s residents. This will free up (as opposed to free) houses and flats for Airbnb use.
Many people will have noticed that this policy has already been extensively rolled out in parts of the city, where local residents have already to a very large extent been replaced by short-term visitors and, in particular, by hen parties.
First-time home purchasers, such as young couples, will under this policy be spared the anxiety of bidding against commercial interests in order to buy a flat, as these will no longer be in their price range. Such persons will not be overlooked, of course, but will be referred to less expensive parts of the country, such as Caithness.
Once the residents have been moved out altogether, car traffic in the city will lighten, as nobody will be driving their children to schools, since there will be no children and therefore not much need for schools. This will constitute a major saving for the council, which has long found it hard to pay for schools and, even more so, for libraries. Libraries will almost certainly become hotels.
This clearance of the local population will, of course, involve some expense, but the joy of Edinburgh’s Vision is that it is self-financing. It is fiscally neutral.
The new tourist tax comes into play here. Under that policy visitors to the city will pay £2 a night for benefit of being in Edinburgh. Edinburgh’s Vision envisages this tax being extended to remaining residents, who will pay the same levy for every night they sleep in the city.
Edinburgh’s Vision is a bold and exciting policy – one for the future. I feel privileged to have seen it and to have rolled it out before you. I am sure you will feel the same.
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