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Issue 33 - Changes

Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007

 

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Changes

Change is part of life, and this year a lot of change is taking place in Scotland. Following the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, we have a new First Minister in the person of the enigmatic Alex Salmond; a new Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson, Conservative MSP for Galloway and Nithsdale, and a new Scottish National Party-led Scottish Executive (Scottish government). Whether or not this will radically affect Scotland’s future or mean more of the same, remains to be seen.

One thing that will definitely not happen in the immediate future though is a referendum on Scottish independence. Opinion polls show little appetite for separation, although we Scots do see ourselves as different from our neighbours which, of course, is the happy consequence of our history. In essence, of course, nobody can deny that Scotland has done rather well out of the union with England and Wales.

What might possibly confuse our overseas compatriots, however, is that Tony Blair, our Edinburgh-born United Kingdom Prime Minister, has now stood down at Westminster to make way for his colleague, the Kirkcaldy-born Gordon Brown. Funny how the Scots keep bubbling up to the surface in England. Even David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative opposition party, and Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party, have Scottish credentials.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” wrote the French critic and novelist Alphonse Karr in 1849. And although I have no idea what the outcome of the recent French presidential election will mean for that country, or indeed Europe or the world, I am still inclined to believe that gradual change, in a positive sense, as opposed to change through force, can be both welcome and beneficial.

On the arts front here in Scotland, we have a lively new Edinburgh International Festival director in the person of Jonathan Mills, previously of the Melbourne Festival; Major General Euan Loudon has taken over from Brigadier Melville Jameson as producer and chief executive of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo; newcomer Hannah McGill is running the Edinburgh Film Festival, and Jon Morgan is now in charge of the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. With all four organisations having launched their 2007 programmes, a lively season lies ahead of us.

Asymptom, perhaps, of my having attained a certain age is that I can now look back on having interviewed two of our former Prime Ministers, Lord Home and Baroness Thatcher, five of our Secretaries of State for Scotland, from Willie Ross to Malcolm Rifkind, and two of our First Ministers, Donald Dewar and Jack McConnell. This might sound boastful, but I have also worked with six of our Edinburgh Festival directors, from Lord Harwood to Frank Dunlop; five Fringe directors, from Alistair Moffat to Paul Gudgin, and five Edinburgh Tattoo producers, from Brigadier Alistair Maclean to Brigadier Melville Jameson.

If anything, this realisation makes me feel positively prehistoric, but journalists, especially magazine writers, if they know their stuff, have a way of establishing informal relationships with their subjects, and I count myself as privileged to have been an onlooker during some of their greatest triumphs.

For example, I was in the McEwan Hall for the controversial International Writers’ and Drama conferences of the 1960s. I was given the opportunity to meet Marlene Dietrich, Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Nureyev, Princess Grace of Monaco, and a host of international stars. I heard Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman and Placido Domingo sing. On one occasion I dined with Sean Connery and Cate Blanchet after a film premier. I was in Princes Street Gardens for the first large scale festival firework concert, and at the Edinburgh Tattoo when the first projections appeared on the castle battlements.

Equally inspiring is the street atmosphere generated by the Edinburgh International Festival and its spin-off festivals over the months of July and August running into September. That is what makes it the largest arts festival in the world and brings literally millions of visitors to Scotland to share in the experience. For the past five years I have had the honour of being a judge at the opening Fringe Parade which this year takes place on Princes Street on 5 August. There is nothing like a blend of military band and people of all ages and cultures indulging in exotic theatre to make the heart soar.

However, whereas artistic triumphs can be uplifting and inspirational, and genuinely do influence the bigger picture, political triumphs so often have a tendency in the long run to be rather more destructive than uniformly beneficial.

Let me just close by suggesting that a few more joyful artistic triumphs are what we so desperately need in this uncertain world, which makes me all the more enthusiastic about what Jonathan, the Major General, Hannah and Jon have lined up for us this summer in Edinburgh. If First Minister Alex Salmond and his team can match their creativity, then we will all really have something to be proud of.