One of the busiest parts of the city centre, the steps below the Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street are not just iconic, but one of Glasgow’s most well used civic spaces. Saturday just gone was no different, with the location being utilised by Yes campaigners, people eating their lunch or just looking for a sit-down, a mass choral flashmob, and a protest by the city’s Iraqi community – all of which was witnessed in the space of about 30 minutes.
As we know, however, Glasgow City Council aren’t that keen on zany ideas like preserving public space for its own sake, preferring to view the city’s parks, squares and streets as conduits for SHOPPING and COMMERCE above all else. Just last month, we looked at the council’s plans to hive off part of Victoria Park in the west end, which has been deliberately run-down as a pretext for selling it on to developers.
One of their most talked about projects in recent years, and one which existed well before the ill-fated George Square development had even been dreamt up by Mr Shouty Matheson, is the fabled Buchanan Galleries extension. As far back as October 2008, GCC were proposing to demolish the bus station and stick it in the basement of an expanded shopping mall. Then the economic crash happened, and as multiple high street chains collapsed in front of them and city centres became little more than rows of Poundlands, bookies and payday loan providers, the justification for splurging £300m on a shopping centre became a stretch even for GCC. But our council are nothing if not persistent in their drive to turn Glasgow into a solid block of plate glass, sheet metal and G1 bars, so the proposals inevitably resurfaced before too long.
Compulsory Purchase Orders – which as the recent history of their use in Glasgow makes clear, are rarely used except to meet the interests of mega developers – have now been drawn up, with 93 plots of land required so that the Buchanan Galleries can be extended by 1.2m square feet. Why we need this huge expansion, particularly when parts of Sauchiehall and Argyle St remain practically desolate, is not explained, beyond the predictable assertion about how many “new” (low paid, zero hours, insecure) retail jobs it’ll create. Why it’s necessary to create a huge new Marks and Spencers store, when two already exist a few minutes walk in either direction, is again not explained. Presumably, one or both of the existing shops will shut down, further contributing to the decline of these streets. An explanation is also not offered about why we need a new 10 screen Showcase cinema, when an 18 screen cinema exists 30 seconds over the road, beyond some vague inference about this Exciting New Development underlines how great SHOPPING and ENTERTAINMENT are in Glasgow.
All is not well in camp GCC, however. Todays’s Evening Times reports that a Yes vote in next week’s referendum could jeopardise the £350m development, with backers considering pulling out due to the “economic uncertainty” it would create. After all, it’s now an established fact that people won’t want to buy clothes any more in an independent Scotland or go to the cinema, or everything will cost 30% more or whatever today’s incredibly selective scare story is.
Shouty Matheson has intervened to say:
This is a glimpse of what’s to come if we vote yes. This is a great project for Glasgow and for Scotland and is needed if we are to stay competitive. Projects like these are hard won, but can be lost overnight. I don’t believe these jobs are a price worth paying to indulge the SNP’s lifelong obsession with breaking up Britain. It’s a risk Glasgow and Scotland simply does not need to take.
Okay Gordon, who the fuck are we competing with in terms of shopping centres and cinemas? But more to the point, while the Scottish Government, for all their failings, are putting across serious plans to re-industrialise Scotland through renewables and manufacturing (“enthusiastically” welcomed by the STUC), Matheson’s entire strategy hinges on securing a few thousand transient service sector jobs. Unintentionally, he’s managed to sum up the entire essence of the debate right now. We can have a UK which prizes shopping centres and precarious employment above all else – not least important civic spaces in our city centre – or a Scotland that offers a us glimpse of breaking out of the neo-liberal nightmare, with a focus on reclaiming our cities, parks and land, and creating decent jobs.
A lot of allegories have been drawn recently about the Scottish Labour politicians of yesteryear “spinning in their graves” at the actions of their successors. If Glasgow Labour get their way and a No vote prevails, they may soon be going a step further and tearing down a statue of Donald Dewar so that a giant greenhouse housing an M&S can sit in its place. “THERE WILL BE A SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT” declares Dewar’s statue. Maybe, once Matheson constructs a monument of himself somewhere, it can be engraved with his timeless proclamation: “THERE WILL BE A BUCHANAN GALLERIES EXTENSION”.
Only a Yes vote can halt GCC in their tracks.
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