Sunday, June 12, 2005


I am sick of the sight and sound of Bob Geldof, who has a new book and television series on Africa to promote.

I am even sicker that the powers that be in Edinburgh have not had the guts to tell this scruffy, foul-mouthed, bloody-minded, ageing former rock star to stay out of town – along with the million people he has urged to invade the city and join the Long Walk to Justice on 6 July to put pressure on the G8 meeting at Gleneagles.

Their mealy-mouthed response that Edinburgh welcomes visitors but they are ‘concerned’ about safety is utterly disgraceful. They seem afraid to speak up and tell it like it is and Geldof to keep out.

Instead, intimidated by celebrity, they are now skivvying around setting up a camp site surrounded by mesh wire for 15,000 people on the outskirts of Niddrie, a rundown council estate currently being refurbished on eastern fringe of the city. And while all police leave has been cancelled, the cry gone out for an extra 20,000 pints of blood to cope with accidents and emergencies, with helicopters at RAF Kinless on standby to ferry the injured to hospitals, and office workers are being told to dress casually so they are not mistaken for ‘lackeys of capitalism,’ they are adding to the predictable chaos by grovellingly allowing a pop concert at Murrayfield under the overseeing eye of Geldof’s pal, Midge Ure, on the same day as the Long Walk.

The truth is Edinburgh will be under siege and cannot cope if a million people invade the city en masse on the same day. It has no experience of the kind of policing which will be needed and by 6 July it will already be battered enough by the Make Poverty History and the Stop The War Coalition marches over the previous weekend.

The beautiful open leafy space known as The Meadows, where generations confined to tenement flats have enjoyed fresh air and the Long Walk begins and ends, is simply not big enough to accommodate a million people. Its green acres will be trampled to extinction. If it rains it will be turned into a sea of mud.

In addition to the extremely high risk that people will be killed and seriously injured, there is also a more than likely chance of vandalism and damage to property along historic streets on the route, like George IV Bridge, Princes Street and Lothian Road.

And what about the cost? Who’s going to pay for all the police and extra emergency services which will be needed?

It is a wry reflection of how the old order has been replaced by mob rule by mass media publicity and the bullying culture of celebrity that the Queen, who can have the streets of London blocked off for hours when she opens Parliament, has been forced to change her plans for her annual visit to Edinburgh and postpone the garden party in the grounds of her official Scottish residence, Holyrood House.

Most guests do not meet the Queen and the crush to get a cup of tea or iced coffee and a bun is akin to the rush hour on London Underground. But it means a lot to ordinary decent people who may not get any other kind of recognition for their public service. Most have probably made plans around the day. Why should these be disrupted by a million out of town marchers?

Twenty years ago Geldof and his group, the Boomtown Rats, were past their sell by by date and sliding out of the pop music charts into obscurity when he reinvented himself as the champion of Live Aid.

Though the concerts were a resounding success financially, Africa is worse off today than it was in 1985. Ethiopia, whose starving millions inspired it and whose government has just slaughtered twenty-six of its own people in Addis Abba, is once again on the brink of war.

The fact is that even if a million people pitch into Edinburgh, they are unlikely to make much impact on the world leaders skulking behind huge steel fences in the cosseted luxury of Gleneagles.

The bottom line is that the leaders’ prime concern is staying in power and they will do nothing abroad which might threaten their power or alienate their constituencies. US President George W Bush, who has nearly three hundred million people at home, muscular lobbies representing American big business and a powerful Congress who can block his budgets, is unlikely to be moved by one million foreigners on the hoof miles away from Gleneagles.

A smaller march, sans Geldof’s million, would make the point just as well without the risk to life and limb to those taking part as well as the people of Edinburgh forced to look on helplessly. It would also deny Geldof and his ilk some of the publicity they need to promote their careers and sales and keep themselves famous.

Copyright© Rebecca Hamilton All Rights Reserved