In our opinion: Policy pages

There is clearly an appetite for debating Scotland’s future, and the country’s senior business and civic leaders showed a particular enthusiasm to debate Edinburgh’s future by turning out in their droves for a conference hosted earlier today by The Scotsman newspaper.

Not that the paper has been shy of hosting similar events in the past, but ‘Edinburgh – The Next Five Years’ was the first foray for a new division, The Scotsman Conferences.

As managing director, Michael Johnston, wrote, in a welcome letter to delegates: “The Scotsman has been at the heart of intelligent debate in Scotland since 1817 and the establishment of the conference business marks a new phase in the company’s development.”

On Thursday, Scotsman readers will get a flavour of the conference proceedings, courtesy of a supplement.

It should be a given that newspapers do more than merely report news and comment, with a handful of lifestyle features thrown in for balance. But for all that there are pages to be filled, not much of it comprises serious policy debate. Big reads, with big ambitions. In the tradition, perhaps, of the pamphleteers of old.

There seems to be an assumption that policy is too dry and esoteric. Sports policy sits uncomfortably in the sports pages and the property pages are among the last places to find architectural, town planning or social housing debates.

And yet, among the speakers earlier today who sparked most interest was Edinburgh architect, Malcolm Fraser. And it wasn’t just his willingness to be spiky that had the audience entranced. Every day, the urban fabric impinges on us, maybe not with the same intense assault on our sense of well-being as a football match result or the closure of a hospital department, but still in a profound way.

So, when he talks of “sunshine and community”, it is both clever and accessible at one and the same time. There’ was nothing esoteric about his scything demolition of the design rationale (or lack of it) that have condemned large swathes of Edinburgh to being as insipid and ugly as any other city – for all the city’s grand claims to being an architectural jewel.

So, when the chief executive of the organisation behind the £500 million (and counting?) tram system being built currently in the city talks about the sometimes six media stories a day about the project, there was no sense from him that any of them delved beyond the superficial and sensational.

The Scotsman Conferences may be already setting its sights on an entirely different topic, as it prepares for its next gathering. But, as the summing up remarks made at the end of today’s conference made clear, people wanted the debate to continue and for answers to begin to emerge.

And a lot of people in attendance were looking towards The Scotsman to make it happen.