Alex Massie

An Edinburgh August

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Iain McWhirter at The Guardian reminds one why Edinburgh is perhaps the world's best city every August:

Now, here's a cultural success story of truly epic proportions. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe alone has sold 1.7m tickets this year - that's more than twice the number sold by the Manchester Commonwealth Games. It does this every year.

And the official Edinburgh International Festival hasn't even finished yet, so its figures are still to come. The Edinburgh Book Festival has attracted 200,000 to its Charlotte Square tent city, which means that the Edinburgh culture-fest's final score will be well over 2 million...

This is an astonishing achievement and gives the lie to those who claim that people aren't interested in drama, literature, music and physical theatre anymore...

And the point of it is that these "cultural Olympics" as the first minister, Alex Salmond, calls them, happen largely spontaneously and with very little public funding. There is no overall curator of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and its subsidy from Edinburgh council is worth less than the Lord Provost's car. There are large venues, of course, like the Assembly Rooms, Underbelly and Gilded Balloon, but these are under no overall artistic or financial direction.

The Edinburgh festival is demand-led; it is the public themselves who decide what is good and what is bad by voting with their tickets. Milton Friedman would have been proud of them, because on the whole they tend to get it right.

Precisely. McWhirter says it would be good if the BBC and other UK-wide institutions were to pay more attention to the festival. In an effort to annoy me he also seems to think that the festival needs to be "nationalised", though I think that's just an effort to get more people in London to pay attention to Edinburgh rather than take the festivals into public ownership. Still, it makes a change to see an article that remembers that Edinburgh in August is an extraordinary success, not a problematic festival that's getting worse and worse each year. On the contrary, it's getting better. Who cares what people in London think about it?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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