In ordinary circumstances an event featuring Barack Obama as a keynote speaker would be something to shout from the rooftops. Tonight, the former US President will make an appearance at a charity fundraiser in Edinburgh and although there is still a palpable sense of excitement in the air, the dreadful terrorist attack on young concertgoers in Manchester on Monday night has cast a long shadow over what would have otherwise been a massive celebration for the city.
If anyone can find the right words for the occasion, though, it is the former leader of the Free World, whose eloquence when faced with tragedy in his own country is a very well-known and rightly admired quality. There will be an expectation on Mr Obama this evening to touch on some of the hurt felt this week by many people throughout the country as they come to terms with an atrocity perpetrated by an individual who set out to deliberately kill and maim children. But if anyone can communicate such a message, he can.
In anticipation of the event – organised with considerable enterprise by business mogul Sir Tom Hunter, for his own charitable Hunter Foundation – I had written a piece about it for our weekly briefing newsletter. I had been excited by the small ‘scoop’ after learning Lux Events, a boutique events agency in Edinburgh, had been contracted to run the event on the night, liaising of course with the very capable in-house events staff at the venue, the EICC.
When I spoke to Elise MacDonald, the company’s experienced MD, I asked for a quote from her about how excited she was to be organising an event for an ex-President who had not been to Scotland during his eight years at the White House. Naturally, she was enthused, awed and excited about the prospect. She told me she felt her company had been very ‘lucky’ to be involved with the occasion. I then asked about security, which I presumed would be of paramount importance for organisers, and was not surprised to learn that the elite US Secret Service had checked out the venue and vetted the 1,200 men and women attending, including her own staff. Our own domestic services, Police Scotland and the Metropolitan Police, are also part of what will undoubtedly be a heavily-guarded event that is, unusually, closed to media.
Scotland and the UK has a very good reputation internationally for security and despite the stomach-churning suicide bomb attack on fans at pop star Ariana Grande’s gig at the Manchester Arena, I believe that reputation will remain intact.
Our security services work very effectively behind the veil of secrecy to uncover, track and then foil may would-be attacks on our everyday freedoms. We are not immune to guns in this country but fortunately our island nation status makes cross-border trafficking of firearms near impossible. We have not been exposed to marauding gun attacks such as those on the continent and although Manchester was a dreadful reminder that we should never be complacent, and that bomb-making is possible with some scientific knowledge and materials, the options open to those who seek to commit mass murder have been thankfully limited.
Part of my duty in the wake of the attack this week has been to take soundings from the events industry in Scotland; after all, the Manchester Arena is an events venue and it is only natural that the likes of the SEC in Glasgow, the EICC in Edinburgh and the AECC in Aberdeen would be reflecting on the measures they have in place in consultation with police. No doubt those attending the EICC tonight will be among the best-protected people in the world but I dare say even those well-looked after men and women will in the back of their minds be ruminating on ‘foyers’, ‘reception areas’, ‘registration desks’.
Sadly, this is the effect of Manchester. It will, inevitably, weigh heavier on some minds than others but it would be enormously cavalier not to think about it at all. I doubt those who visit our nation’s great venues this weekend for concerts, sports events, the Scottish Cup Final being one, or trade shows, will pass armed police and soldiers without a thought towards their safety.
But as we reflect on the attack on the Manchester Arena, as devastating and awful as it was, as an industry we should not let emotion cloud our judgement. Our nationwide threat level may be at ‘critical’, meaning security services expect an attack to be imminent, but before we rush to install all manner of body-scanning and metal-detecting equipment in our precious venues we must await the outcome of the investigation. Keeping calm and carrying on may be trite but it is the best possible response we have, for now.