The power of Scotland

Scotland used to be run from afar by tweedy old men with a whisky in one hand and a fishing-rod in the other. Not any more. As the election campaign launches this week, a younger generation is gathering to form Edinburgh's New Establishment

Some cities just aren't designed to be fashionable. Take Anchorage, for instance, or Spitsbergen. Or Aberdeen, where even the prostitutes wear six layers of sturdy, windproof clothing. And think, for a moment, of the logistics of hipness in Edinburgh. Scotland's capital may be beautiful, but you try wearing a wraparound skirt in the most efficient wind-tunnel on earth. Kitten heels on cobbled streets, slippy dresses in a rainstorm, elaborate curler-work in a force 10 gale - it just doesn't work. No wonder Edinburgh's split personality always used to be characterised as "fur coat and nae knickers".

Scotland's capital has always seemed foreign in its own land. It prides itself on its "cosmopolitan" atmosphere, but - barring the seasonal convulsions of the Festival and Hogmanay - cosmopolitan usually just means anglicised. Despite this, the political, cultural and economic events of the past few years have begun a subtle shift. In less than a year's time, Scotland will have its own parliament based at Holyrood and a set of MSPs who - depending on one's point of view - are either new! fresh! exciting! or alarmingly untried. And with them comes the hint that Edinburgh's weatherbeaten respectability may soon be slipping into something much more revealing.

If nothing else, the promised parliament is already rejuvenating central Edinburgh. Not only does the capital get the pounds 50m parliament building (likened by its architect to a ship, likened by its enemies to a shipwreck), but it gets all the peripheral perks as well. The new National Museum of Scotland has just opened to much admiring fanfare, Sean Connery is currently negotiating with Sony to build a new film studio on the city outskirts and - despite a recent move to Delta House in Glasgow - the Scottish Labour Party "will probably go" to Edinburgh in the near future. The BBC is also debating the site for its new headquarters; rumour is that it will remain in Glasgow, if only because a move eastwards would seem too painfully pointed.

Most lament the "unconstructive" rivalry between Scotland's two main cities; no one pretends it doesn't exist. But if Edinburgh's revival is dependent on the whims of institutions, Glasgow's culture has and will always come up from the street. Edinburgh has finance, Glasgow has commerce, Edinburgh has politics, Glasgow has fashion, Edinburgh has banks, Glasgow has sport, music, art, life. Glasgow has always been cool; the only surprise is that Edinburgh now has pretensions to cool.

Even if one were to take fashion - that old lodestone of economic well- being - something is happening to the city which still regards "sensible" as the greatest sartorial compliment one can pay. For decades, Edinburgh's chief contribution to clothing has been knee-length fawn gabardine; the city gave the impression of considering nice clothes if not quite the work of the devil then somehow morally suspect. If you wanted more than just floodwear and tartan trews, you swallowed hard, bought the train ticket west and went to a place where labels are considered not shameful but gorgeous. It may be some time before Edinburgh becomes the Milan of the North, but it is showing some signs of reconsidering.

The best example is George Street, the sandstone spine of the New Town. Five years ago it was home to a couple of respectable hotels, two bookshops, several banks and one or two clothes shops selling a collection of A-line skirts which looked as if they'd been boil-washed in rainclouds. Now there's a wood-and-aluminium bar every two paces, several of the smarter high street clothes shops have opened branches and the venerable Roxburgh Hotel is being revamped.

Andrew Radford was the first to move into the area, taking a pounds 20,000 loan to start the Atrium six years ago, and in the process began the reinvention of Edinburgh's eating. Previously, the city's food had been as stodgy as its reputation; now the inhabitants can dine in style from one end of the city to the other.

From banks to galleries, asset management to hotels, Robert Smith manages a portfolio of jobs almost as comprehensive as his erstwhile Morgan Grenfell colleague Nicola Horlick. As Chief Executive of Morgan Grenfell Asset Management; Chairman of the Stakis Group and Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland, he spends much of his time airborne, between London and Scotland. Scotland also gets a fresh look at its history. Until 1992, Mark Jones - ex-Eton, Oxford, entirely English - was keeper of coins and medals at the British Museum. Then he was appointed to collect and curate Scotland's history as director of the National Museums of Scotland. In the process, he changed Edinburgh's landscape and gave it back a bit of swagger. Thoughtful, smart and charming, he is modest about his contribution. "The way in which Scottish identity is represented is bound to be controversial, but it doesn't represent my views; you won't see the M Jones version of Scotland in the gallery. I don't think I set the agenda."

James Drummond, a fund manager with an Edinburgh firm, has been watching the changes for some time. "Six years ago, Edinburgh did feel very parochial, very much up its own arse. Now it is genuinely beginning to feel like a capital city. Glasgow had the good years during the Eighties and Edinburgh is having its heyday now. But I think the parliament will be good for everyone, not just Edinburgh; the more decision- making happens in Scotland, the more every- one benefits."

Five years ago, it was possible to condense a list of those who actually ran Scotland from a predictable dozen. At the top of that list would be the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, along with his 15,000 staff, commanded his restive nation from a walnut-panelled room somewhere in the Scottish Office. Next would be his shadow, always in power but never in office. For five years George Robertson administered a mutinous crew of Scottish Labour MPs, before going south to become Defence Secretary.

Below them would be the Lord Justice General, and then a more elusive huddle of men (always men): the head of the Crown Estate Commission, the chairman of Scottish Enterprise, the head of the Scottish CBI; and then, when one looked a little deeper, those names which seemed to be stamped on every letterhead of every major company, bank or quango in Scotland; Bruce Pattullo, the governor of the Bank of Scotland, Lord Younger, the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Angus Grossart, the merchant banker. A little further down there were those, such as the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, who were more vocal than powerful, and others - the chairmen of the Old Firm football clubs Rangers and Celtic, religious leaders, landowners - who still held superstitious sway over the hearts and minds of their respective devotees.

Look closely at that well cemented list, and you'd get the impression that the nation was being run by 10 grey men in tweedy breeks sitting round a Perthshire dining table, dispensing favours over smoked salmon and drams.

Even now, many of the big grey men are still in power: Grossart remains, Pattullo and Younger are only just retiring; Andrew Neil has returned to the Scottish media; Tom Farmer, Brian Souter and Sir Alistair Grant still dominate business, while the church, the landowners and football chairmen sail impeturbably on.

Nevertheless, on the night of 1 May 1997 Scotland claimed its own particular Portillo Moment. When the then Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth went, something changed. That election night also banished every Tory MP from the land, while the September referendum showed the electorate's settled will for a separate parliament. The SNP is not just resurgent but now, in a nice twist for a republican party, fulfils the role of Her Majesty's Opposition up north.

Already tipped as a future SNP leader, John Swinney joined the party aged 15, was National Secretary for six years and is now prospective candidate for North Tayside. Though Alex Salmond still loves the limelight, many of his recent victories have been helped by Swinney's backroom strategy. "I hope the parliament will attract a broader range of people than before, not just politoholics like me."

For better or worse, the parliament will complete the transformation of politics. Labour took 56 of the seats at the 1997 election, the Liberals 10 and the SNP six. Despite the protestations of most Labour MPs that they wholeheartedly support devolution and would be proud to stand for a Scottish parliament, there has been a curious coyness about following through. Many MPs are already ministers; many backbenchers are pleading a sudden interest in defence or foreign issues.

Whatever the reason, only a handful of MPs have so far put themselves forward for election as MSPs. To fill the gaps, Labour has had to find 50 spare candidates for the first-round elections alone to run alongside the equally fresh-faced Tory, Lib-Dem and SNP selections.

There are other signs of a thaw in Scotland's habitual wintry discontent. During the Eighties, it seemed like the only woman who mattered in Scotland was Margaret Thatcher. Beyond her, there were a few formidable characters in business and politics; Margaret Ewing, Jean McFadden, Helen Liddell, Ann Gloag, Kirsty Wark. Now, half of Labour's candidates for the Scottish Parliament are women, and the numbers within general public life - formidable and otherwise - are rising all the time.

If anyone typifies the brave new world beyond Westminster, it is Wendy Alexander, prospective Labour candidate for Paisley North, ex-management consultant, selected to reclaim Paisley from the murk of Tommy Graham's tenure.

She cites the numbers of women moving into senior positions - Bridget McConnell, Janice Kirkpatrick, Elspeth King, Elizabeth MacInnes, Rhona Brankin - alongside well established figures; Seona Reid, Joyce Macmillan, Roseanna Cunningham. "There's been a huge, unnoticed sea change, a wholesale shift towards meritocracy," she says. "It's still very solidly middle- class at the top, but it doesn't have the same sense of being one big grouse moor."

James Drummond also believes that those who hold power are beginning to change. "I think those who hold power have become more fragmented. During the Conservative government, you had the situation where the Scottish Office was having to deal with things through influential individuals because the Tories' own network in Scotland was weak and tended to be skewed towards a very narrow group of people. On the other hand, Labour has always had deep roots in Scotland and a much wider, more diverse support base."

Many are worried that the parliament will not exist for long with the powers it currently has. Already, there are flashpoints; the parliament will also have only limited powers to deal with Scotland's most pressing issues - housing, health, poverty, drugs - and no control at all over defence matters despite the fact that the bulk of Britain's nuclear defences will remain in Scotland.

If the parliament doesn't work, then either it would have to be scrapped, or - more probably, given the strength of the SNP - there would be pressure for full independence. And, while business might have reluctantly come to terms with devolution, it seems altogether less keen on full separation from the rest of the UK.

But change, however centralised and however flawed, is still considered by most to be better than the long, stony years of stagnation under the Conservative government. For tartan trews and gabardine, it's the beginning of a long farewell.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee