EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland’s independence vote is too close to call, but the owners of hotels, pubs and restaurants are already jubilant as thousands of journalists and tourists descended on the ancient streets of Edinburgh.
As Scots cast their ballots in Thursday’s vote, which would break apart the United Kingdom if Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has his way, tourists shopped for whisky and tartan in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, while the world’s media filmed reports to beam across the world.
In the hometown of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island”, hotels are full and the inns echo with locals sounding off on politics and tourists toasting with Scotland’s most famous tipple.
“It’s been incredible,” said Andrew Burns, leader of Edinburgh’s city council, adding that he had “never experienced anything like it”.
“Everything is packed, busy and vibrant,” he said.
Set on hills beside the sea, Edinburgh’s elegant Georgian avenues and medieval lanes are used to a burst of tourism during its International and Fringe Festivals in August, but the vote has added a swarm of journalists to the mix, and next week the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, Perthshire, will bring another influx.
Returning to Scotland for the first time since 1973, the golf tournament between teams from Europe and the United States is expected to attract 45,000 spectators a day.
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said the city already had the highest revenue per room in the United Kingdom outside London and the highest occupancy rate.
Donnelly, whose job is to promote the city, said the referendum had bought about 1,200 accredited media to Edinburgh.
That has pitted reporters, tourists and golf fans against each other in a bidding war for rooms.
“We’re staying five miles from the city center,” said Elizabeth Gerson, who wore a kilt as she recorded a segment for Russia’s Ren TV in front of the Scottish Parliament.
“By the time we knew how long we were staying up here, two weeks ago, everywhere in the center was filled up. It was so expensive. But we’re just down the road, and we have a car, so it’s not a problem.”
The City of Edinburgh Council has teamed up with Marketing Edinburgh to set up a media center at the Apex Hotel, where views of the castle make a perfect backdrop for pieces to camera.
The village has registered 240 journalists, from outlets from Taiwan to Turkey, Finland to Japan, Donnelly said.
They are being sustained by Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, a Scottish sweet treat made in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, and slaked with beers labeled Aw Aye (Scottish dialect for Yes) and Ocht Naw (No).
“The point was to see which was drunk most, but being journalists they drank all of them,” Donnelly said.
On Friday, the professional drinkers will be joined by locals looking to celebrate victory or drown their sorrows once the results of the referendum come in.
Edinburgh’s licensing board has granted eight licenses until 3 a.m. local time (11:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday) and two until 5 a.m.
The Kilderkin, a stone’s throw from Scotland’s parliament in the city, will be open until three. Landlord James Nisbit, 44, said he wanted to be part of the momentous occasion.
He said he was thinking of putting on some special pizzas, including one with a “Salmond” topping, to make sure both Yes and No supporters will at least have a crumb of comfort, whichever way the vote goes.
“Democracy will win at the end of the day,” he said. “Obviously not everyone will be getting the result they want, but I’d like to think that they’d be happy that we get what we voted for.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Kate Holton; Writing by Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Angus MacSwan and Will Waterman