In Gerry Hassan's
article about Glasgow, there was a reluctance to face up to the reality of the city's past, present and future. The comment that the council has little power is correct but this is not unique to Glasgow; local government has long ago been replaced by local administration of decisions made at Holyrood or at Westminister.
Further, it is worth looking at how and why Glasgow, specifically, became politically impotent. When local government was reorganised in 1975, Glasgow lost most of its power to Strathclyde Regional Council. There was little opposition to this move. The people of Glasgow showed no inclination to fight to retain their city government. There remained Glasgow District Council but even here – in a significantly less powerful body – there was opposition to being included with Glasgow. As originally planned, prosperous Bearsden and Milngavie would have joined Glasgow. Local opposition put a stop to this. Interestingly, working-class Clydebank was also asked to go down the same route.
Once again, local opposition torpedoed the suggestion. It is worth asking why 'the Second City of the Empire' had become so unloved. The answer is in its political failures, especially over housing, probably the single most important issue in local government in the first two thirds of the 20th century. Glasgow had vast housing problems but chose to deal with them in a series of disastrous ventures; the peripheral housing schemes and large number of high-rise buildings being the best known.
The other side of the the coin was the – de facto – ban on private house building in the city. People wanting to own a home, a common ambition among young Scots, were forced beyond the city's boundaries. That these people should be reluctant to be reincorporated in the city is far from surprising. If housing had been an exception, Glasgow's reputation might have survived. It was not.
Schooling in the city deteriorated. It was only when Michael Forsyth forced the publication of exam results that the size of the 'attainment gap' became public knowledge.
Presiding over this litany of failures was a Labour Party secure in the knowledge that it faced no opposition. When local elections came round, Labour played its trump card; a commitment to low rents for council houses. Since so many of these were substandard, it is hardly surprising that there was massive reluctance among tenants to increased rents. This locked much of Glasgow into a cycle of decline while, on the rim of the city, small burghs such as Bearsden increased massively in size.
Following the trauma of the industrial collapse of the early 1980s, Glasgow made a lopsided recovery. The prosperous areas, especially the West End, grew wealthier and expanded. The rest of the city did not fare so well. The end result, today's Glasgow, can be seen by looking at two wards, one in the west and another in the east; 14 minutes apart by train. In 2016, in Carntyne/ Haghill, there were 1,410 crimes per 10,000 population. In Partick/ Hillhead, there were 19. When it came to unemployment/ incapacity benefit, 43% of people in Carntyne/ Haghill received this; in Partick/ Hillhead only 2%.
There is clearly a large and prosperous Glasgow. However, it has no desire to achieve political power. The obvious reason for this reluctance is that power would involve responsibility – for the rest of the city. Here there is a huge difference between the Glasgow of the early 20th century and the city 100 years later. At the start of the 20th century, Glasgow's elites had pride in their city and their capacity to continue to improve it. (Glasgow's finest buildings all pre-date 1914. A story replicated across the towns and cities of Scotland.) Today, this is not the case.
It is very difficult to be optimistic about the future of Glasgow. Clearly, there will be no return to the time when it was one of the industrial powerhouses of the planet. A more modest ambition, to be able to stand comparison with similar-sized cities in northern Europe, seems equally unlikely to be achieved.
Our local seaside resort is Largs, that jewel in Ayrshire's coastline. Blessed by the presence of two Nardini restaurants (one a superb Art Deco extravaganza opened in 1935 by a famous Italian immigrant family from Lucca), it has a lengthy promenade that uncoils along a generally calm seascape. Tottering along this pleasant way a few years ago, we found a splendid memorial to recent local history.
It might have been common knowledge to locals but we knew nothing about the use of the little town as the place where the Second World War took a decisive turn. Two big local hotels were commandeered by Lord Louis Mountbatten and subsequently welcomed Churchill, Eisenhower, 20 generals, 11 air marshals and commodores, eight admirals, and a clutch of brigadiers. The Rattle conference in late June 1943 decided where and how the D-Day invasion would take place.
One of the hotels has been demolished, the other is now flats. Not far away, a carefully tended display board tells the story of the conference. It does not mention, however, that – according to some respected military historians – it was a year later that Churchill and Eisenhower met again at Knockinaam Lodge on the Rhins of Galloway peninsula to agree the final details.
Wherever the crucial decisions were taken, 6 June 1944 was when the liberation of north-west Europe began. Largs played its part in that momentous event. Ironically, the town's most famous family, the Nardinis, did not have such a respected wartime experience. Three brothers, grandchildren of the founder, were sent, by bureaucratic lunacy, into internment on the Isle of Wight for three years. The womenfolk kept the business going. I would love it if they had sold pokey hats and sliders to the minions and maybe majors and generals who attended the Rattle get-together.
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to email@example.com