Royal Highland Show, Pride March and Edinburgh Festival have got me singing 'Here Comes the Sun' – Christine Jardine MP

Walking towards the entrance to the Royal Highland show, I found the words to George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun running through my head with refreshed meaning.

And it was not the weather which prompted thoughts of smiles returning to faces.

Instead, the expected return of this old and valued friend seemed this year to confirm that we are beginning to emerge from the darkness that curtailed our city’s traditional summer landmarks.

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The Royal Highland Show, the Pride March and the full Edinburgh International Festival and Fringes will this year be returned to their full glory after the long cold winter of Covid restrictions.

I appreciate there are those for whom the series of summer events are never entirely welcome.

Every year the show traffic at Ingliston creates a headache for many of us, particularly in the surrounding villages or for those heading to the airport for holiday flights.

And recently there has been concern about the long-term implications of the tourist influx created by the festivals.

But during the bleakest of our Covid times many of us came to realise not just the economic value of our year’s cultural highlights but their emotional importance as well.

Joyous events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can help us through the darkest of times (Picture: Scott Campbell/Getty Images)Joyous events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can help us through the darkest of times (Picture: Scott Campbell/Getty Images)
Joyous events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can help us through the darkest of times (Picture: Scott Campbell/Getty Images)

For me this is particularly the case with the RHS as it was the first official event that I attended as the local MP in 2017.

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I had always appreciated the scale of the show and its significance for the agricultural sector, but as the MP I became acutely aware of its economic contribution both to my constituency and to Scotland.

It attracts more than 200,000 visitors over the four-day period each year and in 2019, the last year completely untouched by coronavirus, it delivered an estimated £65 million boost to Scotland’s economy.

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Its complete cancellation would cost the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society almost £5 million.

And this year, on its 200th anniversary, it will be interesting to see what impact the additional attraction of live streaming to enable it to reach a global audience will have on both its reputation and income.

So too with the International Festival and its now 12 associated festivals and fringes.

The number of tourists each year and the increasing impatience that their presence has created amongst some of the city’s residents may seem to the outside world to have undermined its status and attraction somehow.

But as August approaches it will be interesting to see how our hotels, restaurants and pubs react to the potential recovery offered by our Festival city back in its full pomp.

The largest arts festival in the world was attracting an audience of almost half a million people – ironically the majority of them from Edinburgh – before the pandemic.

It was worth an estimated £350 million to the Scottish economy, with many visitors branching further afield or buying products made elsewhere, while around two thirds of the economic benefits were retained in the city.

But there can surely be no price put on the enjoyment it creates or the appreciation, indeed love, for our city and the reputation that it creates.

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I remember as a schoolchild experiencing the Festival for the first time and being privileged to enjoy Derek Jacobi’s performance of Hamlet, viewed by many as the definitive version of the Danish prince of his generation.

That awakened my enduring love of theatre, while it was a combination of the comedy and book festivals which cemented my loyalty to the Fringe in recent years.

Just two weeks ago, I enjoyed the return of the Borders Book Festival. The sheer joy of being out in the open air talking with friends about books brightened my mood for days afterwards.

It renewed my determination to get out and enjoy the cultural smorgasbord laid before us in Edinburgh each year and do what I can to support and protect it.

How many other young people have been drawn to the theatre, music, comedy or literature and discovered a career or lifelong interest at one of our performances? Surely now, more than ever, we need the sheer joy that it can bring?

Saturday was also the first Pride since lockdown and again our streets were filled with vibrant colour and noise that this celebration of human diversity brings to our community.

For years, we have measured the value of these events purely in those numbers I mentioned. Impressive though they are, they do not, and perhaps cannot tell the whole story of what our summer of celebrations bring to our well-being.

When the fireworks bring the curtain down on it all at the end of August each year, I am repeatedly surprised at the immediate sense of loss that I feel.

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I have felt it consistently over the past three years as we coped without some or all of our summer.

The arts, as we know, so often don't get enough credit, or actual investment. Yet they sustain us. We turn to familiar prose or music or movies when we need to feel better.

Escapism, comfort or a dose of sentimentality help us make sense of the darkest of times and steer us to the light. A friend who understands when we are unable to speak. The festivals, these celebrations, these gatherings within our city offer us the chance to learn and to grow after years of just trying to survive.

This year I intend to wring the maximum enjoyment out of these and other events in an event to fill a gap I am sure that I am not alone in having noticed.

The economic situation may mean corners will have to be cut, but I don’t mind. We shall have our Edinburgh summer returned to its full and unmatchable best.

Let's make sure we treasure the positives that it brings.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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