Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we devolve

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The Independent Online
EDINBURGH is going daft. With a week to go before the European summit, the old place has launched into a binge of celebration which rivals an Edinburgh Festival. As a 19th-century Scot wrote, there is 'a very entertaining and ludicrous state of bustle and expectation of the sedate and sober citizens of the Scottish Metropolis'.

A preliminary count reveals six rallies, seven lectures, four concerts, up to a dozen special theatre productions, 11 conferences, about 10 exhibitions, two street fairs, five protest marches (two of them torch-lit), a degree ceremony for Jacques Delors and a 'kirking' service for the heads of state at St Giles. There is poetry and dancing, French and Scandinavian film seasons and a 'Lux Europae' sculpture show of 'light forms' and installations by as many as 25 European artists throughout the town centre.

The Royal Bank has issued a special pounds 1 note bearing the European flag. The Liberal Democrat group on the District Council has pushed through a resolution obliging the Tory group to re-name its committee chamber 'The Jacques Delors Room'. The papers come out daily with Euro-supplements, listings of Euro-performances and plans of all the streets which are to be closed over next weekend, threatening Euro-gridlock. Radio and television debates about Scotland's place in Europe clog the ether.

As early as last week, the police had begun a programme of interrogating all guests in the main hotels about their true identity. 'What colour are your eyes?' I was asked. 'Blueish-grey,' I said. 'Kind of greenish,' said the officer, writing busily.

In comparison, the summit's own programme of diversions is slight. The statesmen get a banquet in the Castle, a gala concert in the Usher Hall and a journey down to Leith to board the royal yacht for dinner with the Queen. Their conference will be in her Scottish palace at Holyrood House, where the agenda - lengthening day by day - may well keep them at work into next Sunday, a day longer than planned. The 2,500 journalists will be corralled into the Meadowbank stadium, half a mile away.

No other European capital would lay on such a wild, disproportionate welcome for a brief meeting of the Community's heads of state. People with anything to say or to display are heading for Edinburgh from all over Scotland. Attendances are already startling: the Lothian Lectures on European themes are crammed with young people, while long queues of late-

comers are turned away. But what is all this excitement about?

Something like this happened once before. The 'state of bustle and expectation' was described in 1822, before the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh. Then, too, there was a crowding of high and low people from all over Scotland to see and be seen. Then, too, there were bonfires and balls, illuminations and theatre galas, processions and 'kirkings', while the royal yacht lay anchored in the Firth of Forth.

It was the first visit of a British monarch since the union. It was Scotland's chance, seized with a vast and childish enthusiasm, to show itself to 'the world' as a modern nation and - wrapped in all the tartanry invented by Sir Walter Scott - to shout: 'We are here]' That is what is really going on this week in Edinburgh.

At 'The King's Jaunt' 170 years ago, the union with England felt fresh and fine to most Scots. 'Britishness' still seemed to enhance Scotland's identity, and the arrival of the King was proclaimed as Scotland's admission ceremony to the world order of noble and ancient nations.

But this time, in 1992, it is 'Europe's Jaunt'. It is the European Community which is coming to the Scottish capital in what feels like a rite of international recognition. The glamour of Britishness faded long ago. For the last 10 years, Scotland's interminable debate about its destiny has revolved around 'Europe' - independent Scotland within Europe, or devolved Scotland with direct links of its own to the Commmunity, or Scotland merely reviving its cultural identity as a small European nation which never shared England's insularity. These are very different visions. But none of them is immune to the compliment, the accolade of recognition, which the summit seems to bring.

In London, all this must seem preposterous. This summit is the climax of the British presidency, and Scotland is most certainly not on its agenda. And there really is something preposterous, even pathetic, about the fact that the Scots and the summit delegates will see almost nothing of each other. Fat old George IV at least showed himself to the cheering crowds. He stood on the battlements in the rain and waved his hat until he was drenched. But the Community leaders, in closed cars speeding through closed streets to a closed conference site, have no plans to meet the people. Few will even get a glimpse of them. The great party which Scotland has laid on for 'Europe' will leave the Scots to celebrate on their own, without their guests.

John Major intended to cheer the Scots up by taking the summit to Edinburgh. His diagnosis of Scottish discontent is touchingly simple: they feel left out. His prescription, equally simple, is that he and other members of the Cabinet should spend more time 'up there'. The summit was to be part of that treatment. Instead, the Scots are using it as pretext for a festival of national self-assertion.

Next Saturday, what promises to be a very large crowd will gather on a hillside overlooking Holyrood and march to demand a Scottish Parliament. Their shouts, which should be audible in the palace below, will be for European standards of democracy. They will demand an end to 13 years of government by a minority party which has been massively rejected by the Scottish electorate at four elections in a row. They will ask Europe to recognise Scotland's right to have a legislature, in line with the decentralised constitutions of other Community states. They will ask the summit to tell Mr Major that, if Scotland became fully independent, it would not be automatically excluded from the Community (one of his least convincing theories).

And all the marchers will beg Britain's partners to explain, loudly and clearly, that 'subsidiarity' begins at home. It is not just about the right of nation states to limit what powers Brussels should take. It is also about the right of regions (or 'national regions' like Scotland or Wales) to limit what powers their central state should take - the right to govern themselves as far as possible.

The misgovernment of Scotland is not just a scandal. It is also a symptom. John Major's Government is too weak, but the centralised British state is too strong. In the European Community, the Government has clung to the status quo, trying to block the development of political union and the transfer of power downwards to the regions.

That, essentially, is why the British presidency has been such a failure. It is why Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand are going to Edinburgh determined not to let British whingeing obstruct serious business: widening the Community with new member states, reforming the European Parliament, finding a home for the European Bank, Bosnia. But it is also why Edinburgh has gone mad over the summit. The room which Scotland lives in has come to feel increasingly dark, cramped and stuffy. Now Europe itself comes to Scotland and flings open the door. A big world is out there waiting.