I say that like we have a proper office up here; as ThreeWeeks is only active in Edinburgh for four weeks of the year, during the Festival, the publication operates from a temporary office which is hosted in a different building each year.
Currently, I’m sat in a cordoned off corner of a hotel bar, which is also being used as a backstage area for the two theatre venues that have sprung up in the north wing of the Carlton Hotel. Like our office, these venues will only be here until the end of this month, then the rooms they are in will go back to being function suites for conferences and weddings as if nothing ever happened.
But right now, it is all happening. Edinburgh is overrun with comedians, actors, musicians, dancers, pretty much every sort of performer you could care to think of. As the city’s traditional venues fill up, shows spill out into any room available. Over 20,000 performers and 2500 shows are filling over 200 venues – makeshift or otherwise. It’s all very uplifting and exciting.
It’s a very different scene to what I left behind in London, where I spent Monday afternoon distracted by images on live TV of looting, cars burning and riot police right outside my flat. It was scary not knowing what I would be going back to in a few hours. Actually, I wasn’t even sure at that stage that I’d be able to go back at all that night.
When I walked home at about 8pm the trouble had moved (slightly) further up the road and had been contained by police. All that was left was an eerie feeling, as I walked through an area usually vibrant and full of life, but instead quiet, with most shops shuttered, windows of others smashed, an abandoned bus I’d earlier watched being attacked (again on live TV), and rubbish bins strewn around the road.
Businesses around me have been destroyed, some permanently, and I wait to see when I return to London what long term effect it will have on local people. Instinctively I think it will return to normal, at least on the surface. But I hope that the issues that brought us to this situation are addressed. Simply writing it off as “pure criminality” is not enough. People don’t just become criminals en masse all of a sudden.
It’s right to be angry at the perpetrators of this. There has been destruction on a massive scale, and the targets have been indiscriminate – from corner shop owners who have lost their livelihoods to over 150 independent record labels who lost their entire stocks of CDs and vinyl when a major distribution centre was burned down.
But whatever you think of the people who have been out on the street destroying and looting since Saturday, this week has certainly been a marker. A turning point, perhaps. Or perhaps not. When David Cameron stands up and says: “Young people smashing windows and carrying away televisions is not about inequality”, it doesn’t fill me with a great deal of hope that he has at any point asked why all this might actually have happened.
People will be prosecuted. People should be prosecuted. But if that’s all that happens and our leaders aren’t asking “Why?”, then there’s every chance this will all happen again. Having a completely unshakable answer to something is rarely a good thing.
Originally published in CMU