The Edinburgh Summit: PM's costly gesture

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The Independent Online
IT WAS John Major, the Prime Minister of six months, who decided to bring the European Council summit to the Scottish capital. In May 1991 at the annual conference of the Scottish Conservative Party in Perth, he announced: 'We will bring Europe's leaders here to Scotland.'

When the decision was discussed in Cabinet, there was unease among ministers. However, two things may have persuaded them to back the Prime Minister.

The opinion polls were predicting a disaster for the Tories north of the border at the general election, so a gesture was needed to signal a commitment, post-Thatcher, to the Scots. And Mr Major was anxious to stamp his personality on the party. The gathering in Perth was his first conference speech as leader. He needed to show his views on Europe were different. 'I want Scotland to play a leading role in international affairs,' he said. 'Our place in the world begins in Europe . . . it lies at the heart of Europe. I believe that Scotland's experience is essential to that.'

He was delighted that Glasgow had made an impact as Europe's City of Culture. Now it would be the turn of the east coast. Edinburgh, he said, was a 'historic city'. Now it would become a 'diplomatic centre'.

The Foreign Office budget for converting Holyrood Palace into a summit venue and to set up Meadowbank as a media centre is pounds 6.4m; London would have cost pounds 1.1m. As gestures go, it is expensive.

The Scottish Secretary, Ian Lang, said yesterday that Edinburgh was waiting to welcome the rest of Europe to Scotland and that there was 'a growing excitement in Scotland' over the summit.

But the gesture may have backfired. The Conservatives increased their Scottish vote at the general election, but remain a minority party in Scotland, seen by many as a colonial government. The gathering of European heads of state was meant to show the Prime Minister's concern for the Kingdom's northern land. Instead, it has given every pressure group in Scotland an opportunity to demonstrate what they feel is a lack of democracy in Scotland.

At Scottish Conservative headquarters in Leith the demonstrations are being dismissed as parochial 'side-shows', irrelevant to Edinburgh's elevation to diplomatic circles. But tomorrow, Edinburgh is likely to see one of the biggest street demonstrations in its history. It will not be the 'welcome' Mr Lang wants, but a manifestation of colonial disquiet.

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