A challenge for
the Scotsman newspaper
on its own doorstep
In a splendid article in the SR anthology for 2012 (first published online in August 2011), Bill Jamieson, executive editor of the Scotsman, offers us the concept of Grand Grossartia, a reference to Sir Angus Grossart, chairman of the National Museums of Scotland and one of the country's leading figures in the world of business and finance.
Mr Jamieson describes Grand Grossartia as 'the largest and most enduring elite in Scottish life. It is interlocked, cross-connected and intensely self-reinforcing. Its power and influence extends over culture, the arts, business, politics and government'.
I would like to suggest that Mr Jamieson takes his analysis further and commissions a series of articles for his newspaper which would delve deeper into the elite networks of Edinburgh society. The series could perhaps be called 'Sociology of a City'. It would require investigative journalism of a kind that has largely disappeared from the mainstream Scottish press but it might help to restore the flagging circulation of the Scotsman. Worthy Edinburgh citizens would purchase the paper to see if they get a mention and, if they are presented in less than flattering terms, whether there might be grounds for litigation. At the very least, the prospect of ruffling some sleek Edinburgh feathers could prove a lot of fun.
A good starting point would be the financial services sector – not just the banks but also insurance companies, investment trusts and legal firms which specialise in corporate law. A mapping exercise looking at overlapping membership of company boards might be very revealing. As well as formal contacts, informal networking through membership of the New Club and the 'prestigious' golf clubs would also be worth investigating. Would it, I wonder, reveal evidence of the sort of 'crony capitalism' which has been so damaging to the reputation of the City of London?
Both the legal and medical professions in Edinburgh are reputed to be dynastic, recruiting many new members from families already prominent in these fields. How easy is it for talented young doctors and lawyers who may not have those family connections to become established and obtain advancement? It would be interesting to compare the relative openness of these professions in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I have heard it alleged that one Edinburgh law firm only recruits trainees who have attended a particular, high-status school. Could that possibly be true in 2012?
Links to government are a vital aspect of achieving and consolidating power and influence. Here the dark arts of lobbying and public relations come into play. Not all MSPs would be regarded as worth cultivating.
Independent schools are an important element in the maintenance of the Edinburgh elite. Nearly 25% of youngsters in the city attend them, a figure that is quite untypical of the rest of Scotland (over the country as a whole, less than 5% of pupils attend independent schools). The academic record of the top Edinburgh schools, as measured by exam success and university entrance, is impressive. But their social cachet is also important to parents. In Glasgow, the question: 'Which school did you attend?', is usually asked to determine religious affiliation. In Edinburgh, it is a means of determining social class. Rugby clubs linked to independent schools provide another opportunity for elite social networking. Long after their playing days are over and muscle has been replaced by fat, former pupils can exchange useful information over a pint or two in club bars.
Links to government are a vital aspect of achieving and consolidating power and influence. Here the dark arts of lobbying and public relations come into play. Not all MSPs would be regarded as worth cultivating. I heard one described recently as being 'two vodkas short of a shell-suit' – not the kind of fashion item that would be welcomed in a smart Edinburgh salon. Cabinet members, top civil servants and ministerial advisers would be the favoured targets. I understand that some lobbyists are themselves former politicians, or have family connections with MSPs, a fact which raises valid questions about the ethics of the process. Would it not be in the public interest to explore the precise nature of these connections?
We must not forget the capital's cultural elite, which includes Creative Scotland, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (both of which have received critical attention in SR), Historic Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Trust and the National Library of Scotland. The luvvies of the Edinburgh International Festival – that annual orgy of cultural self-congratulation, in which serial gushing is an essential style accessory – would merit a special feature.
The financing of this sector now depends to a significant degree on various forms of sponsorship and this establishes a connection with the financial and business worlds, opening up new possibilities of mutually beneficial links. Charitable giving undoubtedly helps to benefit many worthwhile causes but it does no harm to the public profile of donors, whether individual or corporate. The phrase 'tax benefits' is, of course, never uttered in polite company.
So there is a rich vein of overlapping and interlocking connections to be explored. Whose contact book will turn out to be the most extensive? Which 'movers and shakers' have the best lines of communication with government? Whose nod of approval is necessary before admission to membership of the New Club can be guaranteed? I am sure the answer to these questions will be eagerly sought by readers of the Scotsman.
The series of articles could be angled in various ways: as an ironic guide to social ambition, highlighting the people in the capital who are worth cultivating and the organisations which open doors; as an expose of the shadowy world that lies behind the façade of respectable Edinburgh; as a serious challenge to many of the myths of modern Scotland, which continue to promote the illusion that we have a fair and democratic society.
Go on, Bill – take a bold executive decision.
Walter Humes held professorships at the universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde and West of Scotland and is now a visiting professor of education at the University of Stirling