A privileged "charmed circle" of well-connected people in Edinburgh continues to "hang on" even as the capital itself has become much more open, the International Book Festival heard yesterday.

The idea of a "charmed circle" of like-minded people who went to the same schools and are members of the same clubs was raised by Professor David McCrone in his most recent book, Who Runs Edinburgh?

At the book festival event, Herald editor Catherine Salmond, its chair, asked Prof McCrone: "Is it a stereotype of Edinburgh that there's this 'like yourself' type of group that asks, 'What school did you go to? Where do you live?' They go to the same golf clubs, they're in the same private clubs, they went to the same university.

"These rules and routines that you allude to in the book - are they followed in Edinburgh now? Or is this a myth? Does that charmed circle still exist?"

Prof McCrone recalled that when he first arrived in the city as a student from Aberdeen, he was often asked what school he had attended. People's eyes would "glaze over" when he told them he had attended school in the northern city and not in Edinburgh.

He continued: "It's not the same question as in the West of Scotland, it's not a question about your religion - 'what foot do you kick with?', which by and large in the west is the nature of the question.

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"In Edinburgh, it's about tribes. It's about, are you a Herioter? Are you a Watsonian? Are you an Academical? And so there was a kind of hangover, and a kind of connection, networks of people.

"In the Fifties and Sixties one gets a very strong sense of the charmed circle, at a time when far fewer people went to university, for example".

Incomers to Edinburgh "almost had to learn rules, and they would come up against this question, 'what school did you go to, and what tribe you belong to?'

"Certainly, forty or fifty years ago, it mattered a lot in terms of which network you belonged to. And it was important in getting a job. Wearing the old school tie was very important. You went for a job in banking, or chartered surveying, or one of the professions, and you wore the school tie. And that has hung on".

The Herald: Prof McCrone at the book festival in 2015Prof McCrone at the book festival in 2015 (Image: Steve Cox)

Private clubs were another key issue, Professor McCrone added. "Membership of the New Club, the Merchant Company, the Royal Company of Archers, all those sorts of things - a kind of freemasonry with a small 'f' and even a big 'f' at times".

The charmed circle, he said, "still hangs on in the sense there is a kind of cultural history into which people try and place you".

There is also a distinct dining scene in the capital, one that was not so much about assuaging one's hunger "as actually meeting people like yourself".

"Yes", he concluded, "there is a charmed circle - at least people believe and therefore they think that it still operates - and no, it's now a much more open city, and 25 per cent to 30 per cent of people living in Edinburgh don't come from here, which makes it a very interesting and challenging and exciting place".

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The hour-long book festival event, 'Talk of the Town', touched on issues as diverse as funding and investment in the Festivals, civic vandalism by Edinburgh University in the Sixties, and the current state of Princes Street.

Arts writer David Pollock, author of Edinburgh's Festivals: A Biography, lamented the knocking-down of a swathe of tenements, including the building that housed the legendary Paperback Bookshop opened by the Traverse Theatre founder Jim Haynes, to make way for the Potterrow complex.

The Herald: Debora Kayembe, rector at Edinburgh UniversityDebora Kayembe, rector at Edinburgh University (Image: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

He acknowledged that the university contributed much to the Festival but he called on it to consider opening up its accommodation in the summer to some of the performers and visitors who descend on Edinburgh each August.

"Festival performers are gouged when they come to Edinburgh. They are probably going to make very little on their shows but they're paying top rates for AirBnB".

Sponsorship has become a touchy subject, with more than 50 authors having called on the book festival to cut ties with its lead sponsor, Baillie Gifford, over climate concerns. "People have their own opinions on that", said Mr Pollock, "but it is certainly the fact that [sponsorship] is not the lifeblood, but it supports a lot more of the Festival than we think".

Mr Pollock said that tourism had boomed in Edinburgh since the turn of the century, visitors being drawn to the capital by picturesque photographs on Instagram. "That has also happened to Venice and to Barcelona. How do you manage that demand? We don't want to turn folk away, we don't want to say 'you're not welcome in our city'". A tourist tax would be worth considering for the Scottish capital, he added.

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On the issue of finance and sponsorship, Ms Debora Kayembe, rector at Edinburgh University, said the value of humanity and the state of the planet were crucial owing to wars, the climate emergency, and the exploitation of children. "We are working for the making of a better world but if we get money from places that are very controversial, it's not good enough".