I emerge from the Gilded Balloon, ten minutes before the next show, and who is this striding towards the McEwan Hall but the First Minister Alex Salmond? Minders and bodyguards whirl around him like a cloud of midges. “Excuse me, sir?” I call plaintively at their heels, “but can I have an interview please, for the Tychy website?”
At the word “interview” Salmond’s face freezes with determination, but at “Tychy” it relaxes again. “Certainly” he answers, turning around. “This is highly irregular but I always have a few minutes to spare for Edinburgh’s leading literary website. Can we walk and talk?”
So I’m now at his side. “You must be very pleased with how the referendum campaign is going, sir?”
Salmond chuckles, strutting along with his characteristic appearance of gloating effortlessness.
“Yes, the campaign has been far bigger and more exciting than I had ever expected. People have travelled to Edinburgh from all around the world, from probably every country in the world, to take part in the referendum debate. Whether it’s big expensive “stand up” debates in the Pleasance or the Assembly Rooms, or those innovative free street debates which are held on the Royal Mile, or local debates which are conducted in community theatres. Literally hundreds of venues are hosting discussions and analysis about every issue in the debate. And even the British Army has become involved, in hosting a series of military tattoos on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle which commemorate the theme of Scottish independence…”
“But don’t you think, sir, that the campaign is still receiving a coverage in the media which is out of all proportion to people’s actual interest in it?”
Salmond takes this in and then, without so much as blinking, he shrugs it off. “Listen, we’re hardly an event of negligible cultural significance such as, say, the poxy Edinburgh Fringe, which just bores and confuses people. The independence debate is being followed by millions, unlike the Fringe which appeals only to a handful of rather unpleasant people on the internet, the so-called Cyber-Crits…”
At that moment, as so often happens in Edinburgh at this time of year, a sudden shower of cold rain pounces out of the sky. Everybody is running hither and thither, and I am swept in one direction and Salmond in another.
[From the Edinburgh Evening News: “Edinburgh Fringe 2014 hailed as best ever.”]