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What do local working class people in Edinburgh think of the demonstration yesterday?
summit mobilisations |
Wednesday July 06, 2005 00:42 by IMC Éire foreign correspondent
Some pix of Muirhouse, one of Edinburgh's most economically depressed suburbs, and a summary of the brief vox pops given to me outside the shopping centre this afternoon.
After yesterday's messing, some of the talk this morning in the centre and the Forest Cafe (unofficial social hotspot centre for G8 Edinburgh activities) seemed to be hinting towards some sort of mass social revolution on the brink of erupting in working class suburbs of the city. I was knackered and didnt hang around very long, I couldnt face the idea of more time in front of a computer so early so I left and headed back to Muirhouse.
The Geography Department in the University of Edinburgh gives a description of Muirhouse as such... "Lying to the north of Ferry Road in Edinburgh and to the west of Pilton, Muirhouse is a public housing estate begun in 1953. It takes its name from the Tudor-Gothic mansion built on Marine Drive in 1832 for the Davidson family, who were wealthy merchants trading in Rotterdam. The estate was built in mixed housing styles, include regular white boxes, with low-pitched roofs, and large tower blocks, mostly constructed in the 1960s. The area has suffered from significant social problems. From the mid-1980s Muirhouse, together with the neighbouring West Pilton have been undergoing significant renewal, with many of the tired and vandalised council-owned blocks being replaced by private housing. Muirhouse suffers unemployment rates of more than three times the average for Edinburgh, with a larger proportion of long-term unemployment."
I brought out the MD and the camera with me and went down to the local shops to gather some local opinions on yesterday and the G8 in general. I enjoyed cycling around Muirhouse, it reminded me a lot of Ballymun before it turned into a permanent building site. There is a bizarre mix of public housing, from simple two storey gafs (much nicer than standard council housing in Dublin), to four/five storey blocks down near the north end of Pennywell Road, to the imposing fourteen storey towers, including a couple in neighbouring West Pilton, and the centrepiece of it all, the 22-storey redbrick Martello Court, standing above everything else in the area.
What was my general impression about Muirhouse? Hard to say when you dont know much about the area and its history. Cycling through it last Saturday morning, there were groups of 'neds' congregating already near the shops, already letting the fizz out of their cans, while up at the Drylaw Centre, a group of approximately 20 junkies were hovering outside a Pharmacy, animated and socialising, at 8:30 in the morning. I guess some people would instantly dismiss an entire neighbourhood as gone to the dogs upon seeing this. Yet the gardens in Muirhouse are tidy, the streets are clean, there are community and arts centres. It is quiet (very quiet) and there is a distinct lack of graffitti on walls near public spaces. And no horses! There seems to be some sort of civic pride/"tidy towns" ethics in effect. Yet there are many, many boarded up units, especially at the north end of the suburb. Its depressing seeing the steel shutters over here too.
The people I spoke to admittedly were not pleased about yesterday. I only spoke to about six or seven people (mostly elderly) with the MD & mic but all were not happy with the situation. The general consensus was that Saturday was good, Monday was bad. One guy, Andy (there seems to be a lot of people called Andy in Edinburgh) said that there were way too many police in Edinburgh, and that this was only causing more tension among local people. Most did not think that people should come to Edinburgh if they were "jis gonnae cause trouble for the polis". One person who did not wish to be named worked in the local West Pilton Neighbourhood Centre, and said that the area was rife with poverty. He thought that it was good that people were protesting against poverty, but that it should be peaceful. He also said that there had been improvements over time in the area, with money given for community projects, but this was a bit pointless if people could not find work or were being paid crap wages; what was the point of having an arts centre if people couldnt buy decent food.
Against repeated advice, I went to the local pub, the Gunner (I was told "you're gunner home in an Ambulance if you go in there"). I thought the place was quiet every night I passed it, but then I realise everyone is actually inside and not out on the doorstep shivering and sucking on nicotine. When I went in today I ordered a bottle rather than a pint. It was your average dodgy scruffy as shite pub. Not too many punters in at 2pm, but there were a few who were already well on the way...
My accent pricked up a few ears and I started up a couple of conversations with some barstool philosophers. I didnt take out the MD or the camera in here though. The first question I was asked after my nationality was confirmed was "which fitba team do ye support?" Now I dont support any football team, but my heart skipped a beat as I considered my answer. There arent any Union Jacks on this guys arm, are there? I told them I only played poker and chess, not football. They all laughed, not sure why... but the ice was broken anyway and we got talking.
Scottish people definitely have an affinity/warmth towards Irish people. Most locals I talked to will tell you some story of a cousin/brother/sister/parent either living there or from there, dropping the surname as proof. To be honest I think they get slightly jealous that we're independent from Britain and they arent... Anyway the two lads asked me why I was over and I told them. They talked a bit about how the government had been continually fucking people over with the new Parliament Building in Holyrood. It had been projected to cost x million, and had gone repeatedly over cost, and longer and longer to complete. All paid by the tax payer. This was the sort of thing that the politicians felt they could do to people and nobody could do anything about it. We talked for a while, and I think when Scottish people talk to Irish people they're keen to air their anti-English sentiments (as did a taxi driver the other night - surely the only true authentic voice of the working classes!) I stayed for about 20 minutes and finished my beer, and hit the road.
So overall I cant say that I got a very representative sample of the working class population of Edinburgh, but on my brief encounters I could say that people are very conscious of poverty and exploitation. Yet they do not tie it in to things like the Carnival for Full Enjoyment, or link the ideas of activist radicals with their own situation. When they see images in the news of people in black masks, they only associate it with fighting rather than an ideology.
Later on I met some non-political people in town for pints. [Pints, always, ALWAYS a bad idea the night before... Must. Not. Sleep. In.] I would have been quite flippant about yesterdays events, seeing it more as a laugh than anything else. There wasnt much of a riot at all, yet from reading the dailies up here ("G Hate" "Live Hate" "Anarchy on our streets" "The Battle of Princes St" "The nightmare comes true" and so on...) you'd swear the city had been torn apart limb from limb rather than a bit of confrontation (handbag clashes in most cases). Yet the people I talked to today were disgusted by it all, saying that the trouble was all 'pissed up neds'. I had no idea what 'neds' were up until today, apparently they're just like buzzies or chavs, they're a distinct subcultural group up here. I'll leave it to you as homework to find out more, but you can probably guess. It still kicks me now and again when you drop out of the usual spots like the IMC Centre and back into civilian land how much people disagree with what happened, and the planned stuff for tomorrow.
OK its late and time for bed. Getting up early. Not sure whats going to happen tomorrow. Because of the decentralised and closed nature of things, it seems like there is no overall plan for actions... which could get messy. There was a meeting earlier in the IMC Centre to co-ordinate coverage but I am too wrecked now to summarise it. I will try and file another report (my last) tomorrow night if all goes alright.
Newer housing at Pennywell roundabout.
mmm skyscaper i love you...
Boarded up... depressingly familiar to back home.
Nearly all boarded up in some 5-storey blocks.