Edinburgh: BBC presenter under fire over ‘cheap and nasty’ remarks

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   By a Newsnet reporter 

Broadcaster James Naughtie, who is set to present the BBC’s coverage of Scotland’s independence referendum, has attracted criticism after describing shops on the Scottish capital’s main thoroughfare as “cheap and mostly nasty”.

Suggesting Edinburgh “didn’t deserve” its festival, the presenter also had strong criticism for the city’s Waverley Station which is currently undergoing refurbishment.

After arguing that the city deserved a “civilised” central railway station, he added:

“Just enough of the long-overdue refurbishment has been completed to allow a glimpse of how it might be and [visitors] will be directed through a building site to the street.  The only consolation is that last year’s festival gave them practice for the obstacle course that is still in place.”

However the harshest words were reserved for Princes Street, which Mr Naughtie dismissed as a “jumble” of shopfronts:

“Historically-minded visitors will gaze along Princes Street trying to remember when it had some style and a little grace. That was long ago, before its façade was ripped apart and reassembled in a jumble of cheap and mostly nasty shopfronts unworthy of their place at the heart of one of Europe’s great cities.”

The overdue, over-budget Edinburgh tram system – imposed on the city by an alliance of Unionist parties at Holyrood – came in for heavy criticism, being described as “Europe’s most embarrassing public transport project”.

Mr Naughtie, described by the Guardian newspaper as a “freethinking Scots intellectual” who “prefers the muddle of the union to the clinical solitude of independence”, made the remarks in an article in the BBC listings publication, Radio Times.

The BBC presenter had praise for what the Festival has done for the city, but wondered whether the city deserved it.

“Down the years [the festival] has graced the city, refreshed its cultural bloodstream, and brought the world to Edinburgh. Sometime, it would be nice to think, the city might repay the compliment in style.”

Edinburgh Council and Network Rail, responsible for Waverly Station, were surprised and angered by Mr Naughtie’s opinions of the city. 

A spokesperson for Network Rail explained that the refurbishment to Waverley Station was taking a long time since they had to be carried out without closing down or disrupting train services at one of the busiest stations in the country.

The spokesperson said:

“Naughtie might not be aware that the Waverley refurbishment is being completed for £140 million, but has been carried out without closing a station that handles 25 million passengers a year. That’s why it takes so long.”

City leader Andrew Burns said: “Visitor numbers look set to outstrip previous years, which I think tells its own story.”