Clowning Around at the Edinburgh Festival: Culture and Social Cleansing

Edinburgh is buzzing. It’s week three and the kids shows are packed-out, despite the Scottish schools being back from their summer holidays. Funny that.

The response to the CITIZEN’s film by Bonnie Prince Bob has been a mixture of vitriol and epiphany, hyper-defensiveness and celebration. 45k people have watched it and it’s garnered over 1000 ‘likes’.

The PR response is now in over-drive.

The Times yesterday told us: “The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is worth about £1bn to Scotland — three times greater than had been thought — according to a fresh economic analysis of the world’s biggest arts festival.”

The paper gushes: “Official data shows admissions up by about 45% since 2010, and by nearly a quarter in the last three years alone …More than 59,600 performances of 3,841 shows will be staged across 323 venues this month, suggesting that the Fringe has grown by about 20% in five years.”

One of the central problems is the routinely celebrated growth model. 20% in five years? Will there be another 20% in another five years? Another 20% in another five years? Is anyone thinking that’s maybe NOT a good thing?

[Note to reader: absolutely nobody drinking from the cash cow is thinking that’s a bad thing.]

At what point does somebody say “We need another measurement of success”?

Another paper, the Evening News, paints a different picture. They reveal that:

– There are more than 11,000 active listings (listings with at least one review in the last year) on Airbnb in the Capital.

– More than 7,000 of these are entire properties, with another 4,000 rooms inside houses and flats.

– Only 1,700 properties are listed as short-term self-catering units on the business rates register.

Under current Scottish Government rules, any short-term let which operates for more than 140 days a year does not have to pay council tax and instead becomes liable for business rates.

“With small businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under given total relief from business rates, it means the vast majority of short-term lets in the city which declare themselves as businesses pay no tax to the council whatsoever.”

Nothing. Not a bean.

This means that Air BnB, the Fringe’s official partner since 2015 gives nothing back at all.

Read Connor Matchet’s report here.

As we said previously (‘1:48 is the new 7: 84’): “The annual UK Housing Review, shows that in the City of Edinburgh alone there are over 10,000 Airbnbs. With a population of 485,000, that means there is an Airbnb for every 48 people in the city. That compares to a figure of one Airbnb per 105 people in greater London, meaning Scotland’s capital has more than twice as many per head.”

Not everybody sees this as a problem. Certainly not AirBnB, certainly not the Fringe.

Back in 2015 when their partnership started the Fringe announced:

“Airbnb, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company, today announced its new role as an Official Accommodation Partner of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Edinburgh is one of the top destinations in the UK for home sharing on Airbnb, attracting close to 40,000 guests a year, and can expect to welcome thousands of visitors for the festival this August.

The region has seen impressive growth recently with a 300% increase in guests staying through Airbnb, and 87% more hosts year on year. The annual Fringe brings a huge influx of performers and spectators to the city all needing a place to stay, and home sharing is a great way for locals to reap the benefits.”

87% more hosts year on year. Endless growth. You do the math.

It’s clear that the cultural sector is enthusiastically supporting a partnership with a company that has meant the hollowing-out of residential communities, and effective social cleansing and artwashing of whole areas of the city.

That’s a disgrace.

Peoples Institute for the Arts

Increasingly then the question becomes: what is the festivals long-term legacy?

Increasingly the festivals huge success raises deeper more fundamental questions.

The film-maker Bonnie Prince Bob writes:

When asked to comment on my film, Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey claimed that Edinburgh hosts “the biggest cultural event on the planet”.

“If this gargantuan festival of the arts was a permanent feature in any other major World tourist city, then grand Institutions of the arts would be funded on the basis of the taxes raised from the countless incomers.”

“Despite annually trumpeting the phenomenal scale and huge returns generated, this so-called Scottish City of the Enlightenment has organised no benefits in the arts for its residents, or for that matter the youth of Scotland. Where is our World famous institute of the arts?”

“Where is our Frank Gehry/ Norman Foster designed -overpriced architectural glass and steel marvel (funded through a combination of tourist tax, philanthropy and corporate loot) offering education in all artistic disciplines and providing bursaries and scholarships to the less privileged in our communities? Bilbao is a city two-thirds the size of Edinburgh in one of the most deprived areas of Spain, yet, with progressive thinking, still managed to fund the Guggenheim’s £100 million construction with a £50 million acquisition fund and plus a one-time £20 million fee towards the annual payments.”

He continues:

“When August’s orgy of corporate profit is over in Edinburgh, what is left for the populace? The vast majority of capital leaves the city. It is an indictment and embarrassment that in over 70 years of the Festival and with the increasing solicitation of the City’s public space, Edinburgh Council and successive Scottish governments have failed to adequately tax and reinvest into the artistic enrichment of Edinburgh and Scotland.”

Of course he’s right and the more the leaders of the council and the custodians of cultural capital respond to criticisms with claims of vast income and huge amounts of money swilling about the city, the more the question hangs, so what?

Detractors of the Citizen or Bonnie Prince Bob’s work argue that it’s miserabilist and ‘negative’. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have loads of ideas, as lots of other people will have too.

Why isn’t North Edinburgh Arts Centre funded by the festival? Why isn’t Whale Arts the beneficiaries of a twenty year programme of support for the people of Wester Hailes? Why isn’t the Book Festival re-located to Leith Links? Why aren’t young people in Edinburgh the beneficiaries of an incredible programme of cultural opportunity? Why isn’t there a programme of bursaries to fund places at the Conservatoire in Glasgow? Why isn’t the Kings Theatre refurbishment, or Leith Theatre’s re-development swelling with the generous endowment of the festival?

Why isn’t there a People’s Institute of the Arts as a legacy of the festival after such a long time?

Edinburgh needs to reclaim its festival through degrowth and democracy, so that our cultural asset can thrive and our city can be a capital of culture. In times of binary Brexit division, social inequality and a retreat into racism and parochialism, it’s not hard to see how the festival could reclaim its origin story and re-boot as an event for all the people.



Comments (17)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    Spot on, Mike!

  2. Millsy says:

    ”Show me the money !”

    ”What? Well where did it go ? Who’s got it ? ”

  3. Legerwood says:

    “”Edinburgh is buzzing. It’s week three and the kids shows are packed-out, despite the Scottish schools being back from their summer holidays. Funny that.””

    Schools in the Stirling Council area go back tomorrow. Currently barbers are choc-a-block with wee boys getting shorn.

    Be careful when you generalise.

    1. Yes and Fife schools go back tomorrow. The fact is that the Edinburgh Festival is synched with the English school holidays. The rest of the festival will continue while Scottish schools are back. That’s an absurdity.

  4. Jack collatin says:

    Edinburgh in August is the Arts equivalent of the grouse shootin’ season for which 1/5 th of Scotland that has been cleared so that the Filthy Rich and Blood Lust tourists can shoot animals for fun.
    The visiting hordes leave Edinburgh in bits, without a backward glance.

    Come Independence, Edinburgh will nor replace London as the Black Hole sucking up Scotland’s wealth and talent.
    As for AirB&B, tax the bastards so hard until they squeal ‘enough’, and get out of this crummy wee society destroying scam.

  5. Peter N says:

    For those who, like me, can’t get Bonnie Prince Bob’s video take on the Festival to play on this webpage, instead just getting a “Video unavailable” message, do the following (the instructions are for Firefox but you can just do the same procedures in whatever browser you are using):

    (1) When the play window opens up press the “Play” button.
    (2) You get the error message, fine. Just right-click on the error message text and select “Copy video URL”
    (3) Left click on any other part of the Bella Caledonia webpage – this gets rid of the play window.
    (4) In a new browser tab right-click in the address-box and select “Paste & Go.” You will then go to the Youtube webpage where the video is actually hosted. You can watch the video from there.

    If you can’t be bothered doing the above (though it’s a useful procedure to learn as other videos elsewhere might have the same problem) then just use this link:

  6. Peter says:

    If we all pull together . . . this is something worth fighting for.

    BP Bob has it spot on, as do you Mike.

    I think we know what the Festival’s long term legacy is, and it’s the same siller-based corportae ambitions. We do not know this for example, but were you to go to China, you might see advertising there for Edinburgh as a great venue for Chinese New Year.

    That is what it has come to. As the infrastructure is now in place for New Year and for the August festivals, Edinburgh’s corporate managers are now filling in the rest of the year . . . Edinburgh’s Halloween, Edinburgh for Easter, and as I say . . . there really is a advertising campaign in China promoting the city as a great option for their New Year visits. The first thing that goes in place is the flight routes into Edinburgh airport, and as new overseas locations are introduced, so follow the overseas campaigns.

  7. Alan says:

    I am looking forward to the local school youth telling Edinburgh council to stick their fucking climate protests ban up where the sun doesn’t shine.

  8. Kevin Williamson says:

    Edinburgh has been shafted by the people running our city and most Edinburgh punters will agree with this. The response to entertaining polemics plus the legitimate rage recognise this. At local government level party politics have become virtually redundant. SNP, Labour, & Liberals are virtually indistinguishable. Nowhere more so than in Edinburgh where there’s been a political pick & mix approach to running the city for years. Currently an SNP/Labour administration, which says it all.

    When it comes to AirBnBs, hotel developments, student flat scams, gentrification, and the general run down of social housing, the main political parties are all supping at the same moneyed table. It will never change until an alliance or network of unaligned locals, pissed off citizens, community stalwarts & activist, or just ordinary punters, stand in every seat the next round of local election swith the aim of driving the political parties out of office to take back control of our city in the name of its citizens.

    Be interested to see who will be game next time around. Anything else is just a load of hot air and the property buck – via SNP and Labour – will continue to grind Edinburgh into the dust.

    Kevin Williamson

    1. Wul says:

      That’s a very interesting idea Kevin.

      An “Edinburgh for Us” party. Standing on a ticket of affordable social housing, high tax for buy-to-letters & Air B&B-ers, extracting a social gain from the Festivals, accessible & meaningful arts opportunities for locals, re-claiming the Common Good fund. That could work.

      Might even attract visitors, keen to see what a city run for & by the people who actually live there looks like.

    2. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on Kevin. Edinburgh’s SNP, Labour and Liberal councillors have no commitment to civic values whatsoever.

    3. Fearghas Beag says:

      A great idea Kevin. The Highlands generally – and the Isle of Skye in particular – suffering from the same financial and cultural shafting. Huge AirbnB presence, no affordable land or housing, and a continuation of centuries-long emigration to the cities. The recent report of the area returning to 1850s (high) level of population is mostly the gentrification of the area from Inverness outwards. Last time I was in Skye I saw far more camper-vans than cows, and more Sasannaich than sheep, which is saying something. Speed bonny van like a house on large wheels , over the bridge to Skye.

  9. McDuff says:

    the festival has nothing to do with Edinburgh or Scotland, as with everything else it is controlled from outside.

    1. Jack collatin says:

      And the ‘Military’ Tattoo is a yearly reminder, McDuff.
      Lots of Butchers’ Aprons rounded of with a song about quelling the rebellious Scots.
      We are a militarily occupied colony of England, of that there is no doubt.
      How else can English politicians and their Fifth Column Up Here declare with such authority that they will ‘forbid’ the Scots to do what they choose?

  10. Michael says:

    I wonder about the AirBnB figures… most AirBnBs are in the city centre and the population of the city centre must be pretty small – 100-200k people. In which case the density of AirBnB to permanent residents is actually much higher than often stated. And over tourism is impacting on certain areas of the city much more intensely than you figures suggest. And providing little “benefit” to much of the rest of the city.

    Likewise, my research suggests that, the student population of Edinburgh is around 80k. And again, highly concentrated into the city centre, Marchmount/ Meadows/South Side areas. 80k students living in a population of, say, 200k, is mucy more impactful than looking and it as a greater Edinburgh issue.

    My point is that the city centre has an incredibly high ration of transient residents vs permanent residents, and this has a huge impact. Making it very difficult to create stable supportive community life in central Edinburgh.

  11. Liam says:

    “Bilbao is a city two-thirds the size of Edinburgh in one of the most deprived areas of Spain”

    Nope – the Basque country has the second highest GDP per capita of Spain’s regions, after Madrid.

    An adult entry ticket to the Guggenheim in Bilbao costs 17 euros, in stark contrast to Edinburgh’s free museums and galleries. So it’s not particularly accessible to locals and the city paid an absolute fortune to build it, a municipal vanity project by the centre right nationalists, the PNV, if ever there was one.

    So just an odd comparison!

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