Yesterday, my university trip continued with the visitation of the University of Edinburgh. I have long considered Edinburgh to be my favourite UK city (alongside Brighton, which gets ‘honourary mention’). I feel instantly at home whenever I step along the cobbles and gaze at the skyline dotted with spires, unlike the sense of foreboding and oppressiveness I feel in most cities. So I dearly hoped the university would thrill me in a similar way.
And, on the most part, it did. It isn’t quite as visually pretty as the other Scottish universities I have visited, like Glasgow, Stirling or Heriot-Watt, though it has its charms. I can imagine George Square becoming a splendour of reds, yellows and oranges in the Autumn, and there’s something lovely about Bristo Square (pictured to the left).
Several particular features of the university excited me. From a literary perspective, there’s such a charged atmosphere: the Literature Society has regular activities, including meetings with a range of figures, from Owen Jones to J. K. Rowling. Edinburgh was UNESCO’s first ‘City of Literature’, and there’s a wide variety of festivals in which to engage in both reading and writing. The city contains the National Library of Scotland, and a pretty hefty lending library. The university library’s pretty nice, too. These activites make Edinburgh seem an especially good destination for someone not at all interested in the drinking scene.
I was also fascinated by a talk for the History degree (I’ve applied for a joint English Literature and History degree at Edinburgh). We were treated to an example lecture on the economic history of the UK, which turned out to be far more fascinating than it sounded. Edinburgh is a city with a rich history, dating its large-scale growth far back before the Industrial Revolution – unlike Glasgow. Along one street you’ll see Gothic style buildings, along another they’re almost Medieval, and then you’ll come across a classical display of pillars and gold.
There is also a lively political atmosphere in Edinburgh, which appeals to me highly. Walk along any street, particularly near the university itself, and you’re likely to see a variety of posters advertising protests: to scrap the Trident nuclear missiles, to oppose the ‘Israeli Apartheid’, to oppose the totalitarian regime of North Korea, etc. We even stumbled upon a petition-signing event protesting against the ‘Bedroom Tax’, organised by the Scottish Socialist Party, though it was wrapping up just as we arrived and so we unfortunately never had chance to put our names down. There’s a variety of fundraising movements we witnessed, ranging from collections for children’s hospitals to firefighters marching for the National Union of Firefighters (or something along those lines). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the the 2011 Occupy Movement in Scotland survived longest in Edinburgh. Having grown up in a small island where the height of political activity is spars over whether or not to build a cinema, bridge, wind turbines, and so on, this was an amazing environment to find myself in.
This brings me on to the more exciting aspect of the trip. I fancied a quick glance at the Scottish Parliament, located in Edinburgh, so we took a walk down the ‘Royal Mile’ and ventured in. After a security check, we took a cautious walk into the public gallery of the debating chamber. To our extreme fortune, it turned out that a session of the First Minister’s Questions were about to start. My geek-credentials were proven with the fact that this excited me more than anything has in a long time. One by one, high-profile figures in Scottish politics began to file in. Johann Lamont (Scottish Labour leader), Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister), Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservative Leader), and, finally, Alex Salmond (First Minister, and the Scottish National Party leader). We watched him spar with figures such as Lamont and Davidson, and also debate with my own MSP, Tavish Scott. I noticed Patrick Harvie, one of the few Scottish Green Party MSPs, in the chamber but unfortunately he never spoke. It was strange, being so close to objects and people of intense interest to me. I suppose, as I never personally interacted with any of it, the experience was not a lot different from watching the proceedings on TV, except the former never leaves me buzzing in excitement for the rest of the day.
Overall, I truly love Edinburgh. I liked Glasgow more than I expected, but it would take a lot for me not to choose here as my place of study for four years. From what I’ve seen of St. Andrews thus far, I don’t think my opinion will be changing.