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The Scotsman has launched a subscription initiative linked to the right to publish editorial content.
It is inviting organisations – such as charities, universities, trade associations, professional bodies, societies and interest groups – to become “Friends of The Scotsman”, which would give them the right to contribute to a new editorial section.
If the initiative takes off, the paper’s editor, Ian Stewart, envisages publishing an extra four pages a day in a new section.
To take up the offer, the “friends” will be able to take advantage of a discounted subscription package, costing less than £300 a year.
Individuals, companies and political parties cannot become friends.
“Over a period of years we have seen an ever-narrowing news agenda. As a result, I believe there are innovations, debates, research and informative views across broad spectrums of Scotland and beyond that are not getting the airing they need and deserve because they fall outwith the narrow news agenda of the day.
I want to tackle that and put the debates and issues that face industry, academia, law, charities, the arts, sports, science, medicine – every area of Scotland – in front of the tens of thousands of people who read The Scotsman every day.”
He explains that ‘friends’ can decide the topics and set the agendas, using their own words. Their articles will appear every day “close to our perspective, letters and business sections” with a daily front page signpost.
They will also be published online as part of The Scotsman’s website.
Stewart concludes: “I think this is an exciting innovation for The Scotsman that will open up new channels of information and debate across Scotland and beyond, highlighting work and issues that currently struggle to get heard.”
The Scotsman, owned by Johnston Press, has seen its print sales fall away rapidly over the past 10 years, was selling 32,435 (only 21,806 at full cover price) in January when it was decided to pull it out of the ABC monthly audit. Its sales are to be reported on a six-monthly basis in future.
Source: The Scotsman
Exhibition, called Unfold, aims to merge culture and science to provoke climate debate in China
With its greenhouse gas emissions continuing to soar and environmental concerns a hot topic, China is perhaps the perfect venue for a different way of looking at the issue of climate change – through art.
A climate-themed art exhibition is to open in Beijing today and will look at themes and debates provoked by climate science. The exhibition, called Unfold is being staged by not-for-profit climate change arts organisation Cape Farewell which aims to prompt what it calls a cultural response to climate change. The exhibition has travelled to a number of cities, starting in Vienna, and has also been shown in New York, London and Chicago.
It includes the work of more than 20 artists, all of whom have travelled on and been inspired by expeditions to the Arctic and the Andes. “All of the artists in the show have travelled on one of the three voyages [organised by Cape Farewell]. So they have all had direct experience of the effects of climate change in a part of the world which is probably at the frontier of change. It’s a kind of frontline where you can see quite dramatically the way the glaciers have retreated,” said Chris Wainwright co-curator of the exhibition and pro-vice chancellor of the University of the Arts London (UAL).
“What we do is we embed them [the artists] with a scientist, that’s a very important part of it. The scientist informs the artists and then the artist is being inspired to try and create something,” said David Buckland, Cape Farewell’s founder and director.
The issue of climate change and environmental issues in general are the topic of much debate in China, both among the public and in the media. “It seemed logical that we bring it to China because the issues about climate change are often focused around China,” said Wainwright. On the issue of climate change, Buckland believes China is “very engaged and very aware on a people level”.
China has become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, burning huge amounts of coal and, for this reason, Wainwright believes it is an important venue for the exhibition. “China is seen as one of the countries that has a significant responsibility for addressing climate change, one of the countries that is one of the highest creators of CO2 emissions and it was felt that there was a need to bring the show, not just to China but to parts of the world where these issues could be addressed and discussed,” he said.
They also hope to “empower” artists and people in China to address climate change issues “not necessarily in a confrontational way but in an empowering way so that people can think about how they can positively change their lives and change the way they behave”, said Wainwright.
“It’s an incredibly big ask to try to re-frame our complex societies and I think that is very difficult for anyone to find a way through this. Can we be inspired to think differently and hopefully find solutions to what is a global problem but working locally? That is incredibly important in China,” said Buckland.
Cape Farewell looks to promote a cultural response to climate change, as a way of changing the debate. “The scientists are the messengers but it is really important that all of us take on board that climate change is a very serious event,” said Buckland. “I think the artworks themselves contain stories, narratives and that is a lovely way to talk to the wider public. At the same time it would be good to educate but it is more important for people to be excited about what we are doing and to re-frame the climate debate.”
One of the pieces included in the exhibition is an artificially grown diamond, made from the ash of a polar bear bone by artistic duo Ackroyd and Harvey. The pair found the bone on one of the expeditions organised by Cape Farewell. “We attach huge importance to the value of things like diamonds, they are the symbol of our wealth, the symbol of our status. I think the work asks the question: which is the most valuable, the polar bear or the diamond?” said Wainwright.
Another piece of note in the exhibition is an LED text display by Atonement author Ian McEwan entitled The Hot Breath of our Civilisation which was written after he took part on an exhibition to the Arctic. The expedition also inspired McEwan’s novel Solar.
• The Unfold exhibition takes place at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing from 29 May until 19 June and in AMNUA, Nanjing University, from 28 June until 20 July.
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The owners of video allegedly showing Toronto’s mayor smoking crack go missing in the middle of crowdfunding campaign
The effort by news site Gawker to bust Toronto mayor Rob Ford for allegedly smoking crack is crack journalism work. Toronto is Canada’s biggest city. Canada has a $680bn trade relationship with the United States. We can’t have them high on crack.
The spangers Gawker has deployed outside New York subway stops to raise money to buy a video purportedly showing Ford crack-smoking, however, smell bad and obstruct pedestrian flow. We exaggerate; Gawker has not deployed spangers. But the website is begging for money from the public to supplement its news gathering budget, so it can afford to pay off the drug dealers who own the video.
It’s not a traditional news-gathering technique. It’s the kind of thing that causes ethicists of journalism to stroke their chins at double-speed and could outright kill the more delicate newsroom ombudspeople. Gawker doesn’t care about all that.
What Gawker might care about, however, is its reputation as a street-smart media machine, and the present episode has so far not burnished that.
For starters, the drug dealers appear to have disappeared, taking the video – the big payoff – with them. Gawker editor John Cook on Thursday notified potential contributors to the crowd-funding campaign, called Crackstarter, that Gawker may no longer be able to deliver the goods.
“The last time we established contact with the people who are in possession of the video was this past Sunday, and we have not been able to reach them since,” wrote Cook, who knows the video exists because he enterprisingly traveled to Canada to see it for himself. “… If you are considering contributing, you should be aware that our confidence that we can get a deal done has, on account of the foregoing, diminished since we came up with this idea.”
The faith of thousands of Gawker readers who have collectively contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the effort is on the line. As of midday Friday, the Crackstarter had raised $163,000 toward its goal of $200,000, which is how much the drug dealers want for the video. More than 6,000 individuals had contributed. Gawker says that if it raises the $200,000 by the deadline, 11.59pm Monday, but is unable to obtain the video, “every penny” of the money will be given to “a Canadian non-profit that helps people suffering from addiction”.
Many readers of Gawker may personally be gratified at having contributed to charity. But a lot more would probably rather see mayoral crack-smoking footage.
Next, for a media conglomerate such as Gawker, the money in question would seem to be rather – how to put this – small. If Gawker’s editors deem the story worth $200,000 to break – as they patently must, for the only alternative is they take their readers for fools – couldn’t they find it in their budget? David Karp farts $200,000. Jonah Peretti just pulled $200,000 out from behind this gentleman’s ear. Nick Denton needs to pass the hat?
(Beyond what it says about Gawker, the episode points to the relative innocence of Canadian politics. In its first week, Crackstarter barely cracked $150,000. How fast do you think the internet could come up with $200,000 to buy a video of a mayor of a comparably sized US city – Rahm Emanuel, say – smoking crack cocaine? [Rahm Emanuel has never done that.] Faster than you can say “Sheldon Adelson is urinating on America’s gift to the world its open democracy.”)
Finally, the Crackstarter campaign looks hypocritical, because, as the site’s own commenters have pointed out, Gawker has given the full Gawker treatment to well-heeled Kickstarter users. (Crackstarter uses Indiegogo.) In a post last month tagged “crowdfarcing”, Sam Biddle of the Gawker subblog Valleywag made fun of actor Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign to run his new movie.
“Kickstarter has the potential to make some very neat stuff happen for people of modest means who need a little boost for a good idea,” Biddle wrote. “But for every lazy, exploitative, Give-This-Successful-Person-Cash-Just-Cause campaign, the startup loses credibility and gains a legion of rolled eyes.”
Here’s hoping the drug dealers start returning Cook’s middleman’s calls, and we get to see the evidence and judge for ourselves whether Toronto mayor Rob Ford smokes crack, an allegation he has called “ridiculous”.
Or one big lucky day may be coming up for an unnamed Canadian charity.
Despite the IMF’s criticism, the chancellor is confident the UK economy will improve by 2015, but is he being too optimistic?
In the middle of a week the government will want to forget, George Osborne was in upbeat mood when the International Monetary Fund delivered its verdict on the UK economy.
The message from the IMF was simple. Britain had overcooked the austerity and it was time to turn down the heat. But the chancellor knew the criticism was coming, was grateful that it was couched in polite language and took the view that it could have been worse.
Osborne takes much the same view of the state of the economy: things could be worse and may be about to get better. The dreaded triple dip has been averted and there is reasonable hope that revisions to past economic data by the Office for National Statistics will expunge the double-dip downturn of 2011-12 from the record books. Inflation is coming down, new car sales are strong and, with a bit of help from the Bank of England, activity is starting to return to the housing market.
Osborne is not getting carried away by any of this. When he arrived at the Treasury in May 2010, he thought the economy would be humming by now and it clearly isn’t. Even so, he thinks there is time between now and the next election for the government to win the economic argument, not least because after two years in which output has barely grown at all, the Conservatives still score higher than Labour in opinion polls for economic competence.
The chancellor’s approach to winning the 2015 election was summed up in three brief sentences in the speech he made welcoming the IMF team to the Treasury on Wednesday. “There are no easy answers to problems built up in the UK over many years.” (Loose translation: Labour left the country in a right state so it’s not our fault life is so tough.) “It’s a hard road to recovery.” (Loose translation: the upturn due to arrive three years ago has been delayed due to problems in the eurozone; we apologise for any inconvenience caused.) “But we’re making progress.” (Loose translation: things are starting to get better, so think twice about handing power back to the people who screwed things up in the first place.)
Expect to hear more of these arguments over the next couple of years, particularly if the modest 0.3% expansion in the economy in the first three months of 2013 proves to be the harbinger of better times ahead.
The improvement has been a long time in coming. Britain’s national output remains more than 2% below where it was at its peak in early 2008: by this stage after previous recessions – even the Great Depression of the 1930s – all the lost ground had been recouped.
Osborne and Sir Mervyn King, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, believe the economy’s weakness in 2012 was exacerbated by problems in two specific sectors – construction and North Sea production. With both looking healthier in 2013, the expectation is that growth will accelerate, not spectacularly but by enough to support the chancellor’s narrative that better times are coming.
Osborne’s other reason for optimism is that Mark Carney’s arrival at Threadneedle Street from the Bank of Canada on 1 July is expected to lead to further stimulus measures, offsetting the drag on growth caused by deficit reduction. The chancellor fought hard to persuade Carney to take the job; he has high hopes that an overseas Bank governor can do for the economy what overseas managers never achieved for the England football team.
There are those who think Carney has been overhyped and that like Sven-Göran Eriksson and Fabio Capello his plans will run up against deep-seated structural problems. These include the economy’s over-reliance on the City and the housing market; the concentration of prosperity in London and the south-east; the UK’s inability to pay its way in the world; decades of underinvestment in productive capacity; and the low level of skills. Osborne is nowhere near cracking any of them, and plans to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing and exports have been abandoned for now in favour of attempts to kickstart the housing market. Any growth will do at this stage of the electoral cycle.
Yet, Osborne has a battle on his hands to generate a feelgood factor by 2015. One of the strongest correlations in British politics is between electoral support and real incomes: when wages and salaries are rising faster than prices incumbent governments do well; when inflation is higher than earnings growth, they are shown the door.
The government has presided over a squeeze on real incomes unprecedented in recent times and needs to end falling living standards if it is to have a chance of being re-elected. Osborne’s problem is that with earnings rising at 0.4% a year and prices at 2.4% a year the squeeze is still going on and shows no sign of ending any time soon.
A veteran of London’s bike-share scheme debunks the myths surrounding Citi Bikes as New Yorkers gear up for launch
They have arrived! Glowing in Citbank blue, hundreds of Bloomberg Bikes emerged from nowhere onto the streets of New York in the early hours of Friday, greeted with a combination of curiosity, puzzlement, and not a little suspicion.
Which is hardly surprising, as it’s not been plain cycling so far. Residents of the West Village think the docking stations will destroy the area’s historic character. In Brooklyn, treasured parking spots have been usurped. Tabloid columnists fear the city’s streets will be littered with the bodies of mown-down cyclists. And the whole scheme was delayed for months because of various technical problems.
As a veteran of the London scheme, I’ve heard it all. The three-year build-up ran to much the same script. Conventional wisdom before the launch in July 2010 had one overarching theme: it’ll never work. But it did.
So, New York, with the benefit of experience, let me guide you through the myths.
This is a disaster! All these inexperienced cyclists wobbling around on the streets of the city that never sleeps!
London’s Cassandras had to wait a whole five days until one of our hire bikes ended up being squashed against some railings by a truck (the rider survived ). But the accident statistics show that those on the hire bikes are no more likely than any other cyclists to be hurt. In the first 11 weeks of our scheme, Transport for London (TfL) received reports of ten cyclists being injured – not bad given that 1.6m journeys had been made on the bikes in that period. Initially, the kind of folks you’ll get using the bikes at the start are confident sorts who are more than capable of executing an arm signal without losing control and are probably just fed up of their own wheels getting stolen all the time. But in time more newbies will start to saddle up. According to TfL, nearly 8 in 10 members either started to cycle (49%) or cycle more often (28%) as a result of the scheme. With any luck, the Citi Bikes will have a civilising effect on New York streets. There is lots of evidence which shows that cycling gets safer the more people do it.
Actually, New York’s scheme is a bit of a rip-off, at least for casual users. $9.95 plus tax for 24-hour access does seem a little steep. Until London’s bike-mad mayor put the prices up in 2013, it used to cost Londoners just £1 (about $1.60) for 24 hours of unlimited journeys of 30 minutes or less. Now we pay £2 ($3). Still cheaper than a single journey on the tube. But I’ve seen Wall Street – you guys are loaded! People often misunderstand the pricing structure by complaining about the high cost of holding onto a bike for more than an hour – if you’re on the day rate you’ll get whacked with a $9 charge for every 60-90 minutes you keep a bike over your “free” first 30 minutes, and it’s a whopping $12 for every additional 30 minutes after that. But the point of a public bike hire scheme is to share bicycles, not hog them. They’re not for pootling around Manhattan all day as you flit from deli to cafe to office to bar. They’re a substitute for one subway ride, an alternative way of getting from A to B with no stopping in between.
But there is no lock! How dumb!
Again, the bikes are for simple journeys. The Citi Bike folks don’t want you chaining up their hardware outside the bakery while you pop in for a bagel. They know how many bikes are stolen in New York each year. No locks means you can only leave a bike in one of the secure docking stations across the city. You have a very good incentive to keep your hire bike at close quarters: the $1,000 fee if you don’t return it within 24 hours.
All the bikes will get stolen!
No they won’t. Sure, thousands of bicyclettes disappeared when Paris launched its Velib scheme years ago. But that’s because the Frenchies trusted their users with in-built locks, les cretins. In London, where bikes do not have wheel locks, only 24 have disappeared since the scheme began in July 2010, and that’s over 21 million journeys. “We are confident that the number of stolen bikes will remain low through effective policing,” said a spokeswoman for TfL. The majority of bikes that are reported stolen are later recovered, she added.
The commercial sponsor is antithetical to the free-wheeling spirit of cycling!
Get over it. Barclays bank sponsors London’s scheme and from day one literally no one other than the bank’s PR woman has ever has referred to the bikes as Barclays bikes. They are Boris Bikes, named after our flaxen haired mayor, Boris Johnson, who arrives to all meetings helmet in hand, his suit -a-crumple. He really can’t claim credit for the initiative. It was the brain child of his predecessor, Ken Livingstone: Boris just pedalled into City Hall a few months before launch and stole the glory. If you don’t like the sponsor, get creative with some stickers, like this.
Google’s Eric Schmidt has suggested they will be used for surveillance, but those who make them insist they have benefits
“It was always a dream to build one, after having built helicopters in my bedroom for a while. I mostly like flying for fun, seeing whether I can get the device to auto-stabilise. As opposed to a plane or helicopter, you don’t need a lot of knowledge to control them. They fly themselves. Something like this – you can put in a backpack and carry it with you.” Electronic circuit designer Matt Lloyd is talking about building his first quadcopter, a type of drone popular with the growing number of DIY drone makers in the UK.
He’s not alone. Hobbyists with backgrounds in electronics and robotics are kitting out home-built drones with expensive cameras for activities as diverse as extreme sports, aerial photography, guerilla film-making – and making videos of cats.
Amateur drones rarely resemble the sleek silver drones used by the US military. One of the first videos of a home-made drone to circulate widely online featured a taxidermied cat named Orville strapped to a quadcopter, flown by Dutch artist Bert Jansen last year.
It didn’t spark off an aeriLOL cats meme, but home drone building has continued to rise in the UK, supported by lively online forums and the emergence of companies selling hardware components to individuals. The capability to fly a pre-programmed flight path is what distinguishes a drone from other “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) such as model planes. The software which enables this is freely available online. Arduino, known as “electronics prototyping software”, has been used to develop the platform ArduCopter, widely adopted by most amateur drone makers to power their vehicles.
Off-the-shelf drones such as the Parrot AR have been around for a couple of years, and cost on average £200 – about the same price as building a fully customisable, upgradeable version at home. A Gizmodo reviewer said flying the Parrot “makes you feel like a robotic peeping Tom crossed with a cybernetic monk with a splash of soon-to-be-killed Call of Duty side-story operative”.
But amateur drone makers are less open about any illicit thrills had when flying home-made devices, though they’re keen to point out the limitations of the models available in shops. The basic camera, the limited Wi-Fi range and small sizes make shop-bought drones less exciting, especially when it comes to using them outside. Home-made versions can be programmed for extended flights, and to take professional-quality footage. Drones are also being built on a smaller scale to be used around the home, whether it’s for gaming or for “tracking children and pets”, according to London drone builder Anish Mohammed.
In the UK, drone makers have affiliated themselves with the much bigger “maker” movement, which includes sewing, baking and amateur robotics. This is the idea that’s been championed by former Wired chief and robotics evangelist Chris Anderson, who has called the US hobbyists the “homebrew drone class” – and it’s catching on over here.
For the first time in its three years, the Maker Faire held last month (27-28 April) at Newcastle’s Life Centre featured a live flying demonstration field for makers of unmanned aerial vehicles alongside workshops for bunting, knitting and bookbinding. Event organiser Marisa Buckingham says: “We’ve seen an increase in popularity for UAVs since we started the Faire.” Exhibitor Universal Air, of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, which showed off its first mass-market quadcopter drone at the show, wants to get one of its devices into “every household” in the country, according to its website.
“I started flying model aircraft when I was about 16, maybe 14,” says Universal Air co-founder Henry Fletcher, 23. “I went on to study engineering at university and to specialise in aerodynamics. After I got into autonomous flight, I was keen to make the field of study into my work. I met my business partner Yuan and we started building these drones – or whatever you’d prefer to call them – from scratch. The be-all-and-end-all of this is that people do love creating things themselves, but it’s quite a formidable challenge to get something to fly.”
The company’s Kickstarter-funded quadcopter is the most basic self-assembly model out there. It can be assembled with just an Allen key and controlled with an XBox. While the GPS technology and free software used to develop the drone is relatively new, the quadcopter design is as old as the aviation industry itself.
It was one of the earliest helicopter models, originally built in 1920, but repeatedly failed to live up to its promise as a commercial flying vehicle. The quadcopter’s appeal for drone makers lies in its scalability – it can be designed to fit into a palm, or large enough to mount expensive cameras and other gadgets.
However, Fletcher admits most people imagine sinister aircraft “swinging over battlefields in Afghanistan” when they think of drones, rather than something they can fly for fun in their spare time. He and 24-year-old co-founder Yuan Gao believe that the only way to diffuse the connotations of the term is to replace it with a brand name that becomes synonymous with the device itself, such as Google for internet search or Hoover for vacuum cleaner.
To that end, Universal Air named its first mass-market UAV “Pam” – which stands for Personal Air Machine. According to Gao, the feminine name “really brings out the character, the kind of thing we’re trying to portray, that it is a device that assists you”.
But the word “drone” is less likely to offend Mohammed, a self-confessed “UAV addict”, former moderator of DIY Drones, and organiser of the London-based meet-up group Drone Zone. Mohammed started making his own aircraft after finding model planes too difficult to remotely control. His main interest is in building the craft but he has seen them used for “tracking children, and pet dogs and cats” around the home.
While the average household is still some way off from being able to build their own UAV, people are starting to accept that they are here to stay – and they might actually be a force for good in the right hands. Everyone I spoke to was dismissive of the idea that private “surveillance drones”, as Google chief Eric Schmidt has described them, threaten privacy any more than do smartphones, Facebook or Google, which we happily use every day.
Mohammed also believes that Schmidt might be better off looking closer to home. Drones pose “much less of a threat than Google or Facebook – if some action needs to be taken, it should be aimed at them first”, he says.
Fletcher says: “One of the critical reasons for trying to drive a change in the way [drones are] viewed – even a change in what they’re called – is to make people understand these things aren’t roaming around trying to spy on their personal privacy. The amusing thing is that the state and the police department have every recipe in the book for getting information about people right now. Something like this may well reduce the amount of prying and intervening they do because they can just spot-check rather than following people around.”
According to Mohammed, the media’s view of drones as spybots – or worse, as targeted killing machines – has made it harder for the public to understand their social benefits. In particular, he points to the work of the startup Matternet which delivered chocolate via a fleet of drones to children in Haiti last year.
He says: “The association of drones with military use is a bit of a disservice, in my view. Given I’m Muslim, I’m not going to be in favour of drones being used to kill people in the Middle East. Drones could provide eyes and ears for all situations where it’s risky for humans – which could be anything from delivering food to medicine or providing the internet.”
However, the biggest debates on personal drones have centred around immediate threats to personal safety and the misuse of video footage. A recent neighbourhood blog report in the US of a drone pilot operating his device outside of people’s windows sparked a huge online discussion of the potentially criminal uses of drones. The Digital Journal listed each of blackmail, murder, kidnapping, coercion, rape and paedophilia as a possible “nasty side of drones” in its op-ed calling for legislation.
The arrival of self-assembly drones on the mass market will make it harder to tell which drones are licensed for commercial purposes and which are being operated by civilians.
The UK’s long tradition of model flying – that most innocuous and British of hobbies – means that there are very strict rules governing where UAVs can be flown. Martin Toovey, who sells hardware for building personal drones at the UK company Build Your Own Drone, says: “I think the UK is the one of the best in the world at keeping up and not being restrictive with rules, good and bad.”
FTSE 100 down 40 points after Japanese market suffers turbulent sessionJosephine MouldsNick Fletcher
Scotland’s transport policy has done agonisingly little to encourage cycling, so hopefully our pedal protest will be heard
Just over a year ago I was sitting in a remote corner of Scotland watching with a mixture of admiration and envy as cyclists in London took to the streets in a series of flash rides over cycle safety, culminating in the “Big Ride” on parliament just before the mayoral election. It seemed as if cycle campaigning was finally taking off south of the border and cyclists’ voices were being heard, while here in Scotland the cycling and walking budget was actually declining despite the government’s target of 10% of journeys being undertaken on a bike by 2020.
So when David Brennan, a helmet-camera cyclist in Glasgow better known as Magnatom, tweeted that we should hold a Scottish Big Ride of our own, I jumped at the chance, along with a handful of others, and Pedal on Parliament was born.
None of us had ever organised a demonstration of this scale in our lives, half of us had never even met each other until the day before the first demo, and we were astounded when somehow – through a mixture of determination, tweeting, mass flyering, blogging and countless emails – we managed to assemble 3,000 cyclists on the Meadows in Edinburgh to lobby Scotland’s politicians for more investment and better conditions for cyclists of all kinds.
We were delighted to be joined not only by the “lycra brigade” but by hundreds of families, with several kids even completing the ride on balance bikes. The day was both moving and joyful, a carnival of cycling and a serious attempt to show the politicians that investing in cycling wasn’t just something for existing cyclists, but for everyone.
Fast forward a few months, and essentially nothing had changed – for all the warm words from our politicians about how we were “pushing on an open door”. While the walking and cycling budget had at least stopped declining, it was nowhere near the level that was needed to see real growth in cycling across Scotland.
We were invited to meet the minister for transport, Keith Brown, but although he listened, it didn’t translate into any real action. He recently told the BBC that modernising Scotland’s transport meant building more motorways, and they’ve managed to find the money for a programme of road building while cycling has to wait to see if it gets a few crumbs out of “Barnett consequentials” (windfall money from the Westminster budget).
While Westminster’s all party cycling group’s recent Get Britain Cycling report laid out a realistic roadmap of how mass cycling could be achieved, Scotland is stuck with the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, a document that is neither a plan nor provides much in the way of any action. Though Scotland’s health, pollution and carbon emission reduction policies rely on achieving a growth in bike use, it doesn’t seem to have any real idea of how to achieve it, other than yet another campaign urging road users to be nice to each other. Once again, Scotland was getting left behind.
With no leadership coming from the top, we knew we were going to have to supply the political will ourselves. Following the lead of the Dutch and the Danish who took to the streets repeatedly in the 1970s to get their cycle paths, we started planning the next mass demonstration. This time our message was explicit: “we are everyone”.
Fuelled by anger over the recent Gary McCourt case (where a motorist was given a community sentence for causing McCourt’s death), and buoyed by a promise of attendance from Graeme Obree and support from Sir Chris Hoy, suddenly we had real momentum behind us. Despite monsoon downpours the day before, and the haar (fog) descending on Edinburgh on the morning of the ride, an estimated 4,000 cyclists joined us in the Meadows last Sunday.
Once more the mood was a mixture of sombre – a 21-year-old man was killed on his bike near Inverness just a few days earlier – and joyful. Once more there was a real cross section of people there from roadies in their club kit to those who looked as if they’d only recently disinterred their bike from the shed. For me, though, it was the children who really made the protest powerful. They were everywhere: wobbling along on the cobbles of the Royal Mile on tiny bikes, in child seats, on tagalongs and in trailers, their faces painted, or dressed up, their bikes decorated with balloons and homemade signs.
What will change now? Once more we have a meeting scheduled with Brown, who will be going on a fact-finding mission to the Netherlands. We hope that as a result we’ll see the sort of Damascene conversion that has transformed cycling policy in London, although we’re not holding our breath.
But what has already changed is the will among cycle campaigners and ordinary cyclists to start asking for real change. We’re already getting offers coming in to help with the organising of Pedal on Parliament 3. We will need it. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that we’re in this for the long haul.
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