Efforts to demonise Glasgow’s famous street market, the Barras, have gone into overdrive this week. “Police seize more than £30 million of fake goods in a bid to clean up the Barras” was how the Scottish media, without exception, reprinted a press release detailing the extent of the “fake” clothing, tobacco and electronics that the police say they’ve seized from the market over the past three years.
“We have ended the reign of criminality in this area,” announced Baroness Neville-Rolfe, a Conservative minister, a life peer in the House of Lords, and a director of Tesco until 2013. “Legitimate businesses, previously undercut and threatened by counterfeit traders, are returning and I am happy to see that the area is being regenerated.”
“A crime ridden midden”
It’s a familiar story. In fact, to see what’s really going on here, we only have to look just down the road from the Barras, where Paddy’s Market once stood. Over several years, the authorities painted an image of Paddy’s Market as everything that was wrong with modern Glasgow. In the words of one Gordon Matheson, it was memorably denounced as a “crime ridden midden”. Despite opposition from traders, it was then shut for good in 2009. The council have since paid £500,000 (and counting) to Network Rail, the landowner, to ensure it remains that way, with plans to turn it into a “Camden-style Market” and an “international tourist attraction” strangely not coming to pass.
It’s only been two months since this blog asked whether the Barras can survive the latest attempts to regenerate it. That “fake” goods and tax-free baccy are sold at the Barras is not news, which makes the timing of this latest announcement all the more interesting. Baroness Neville-Rolfe also took the opportunity to announce that “£5million has already been awarded to help regenerate the area in Glasgow’s east end”, while the police added that “this area, now free of criminal counterfeiters, will be regenerated.” Despite their spin, two weeks ago there definitely still was guys selling pirated DVDs (in any case, the £30m figure is total bullshit; like with the figures given for drug seizures, it’s fantasy maths a bit like “the equivalent of buying a £10 bottle of Scotch and the police valuing each individual nip at £7″).
But reading on, it became clear that the “regeneration” being referred to was actually about artists’ studios, music venues and “opportunities for young people”. You can’t fault artists for moving to an area with cheap rents and an abundance of underused properties, but when it becomes part of a joint council, Government and police agenda to “clean up” crime, you need to question what’s really going on. Rarely is gentification quite so blatant.
It’s all the more bizarre that they chose an unelected Tory baroness, who serves as the Minister for Intellectual Property, to front the latest regeneration drive for a place that she’s never visited. For the 16 years prior to taking up her seat in the House of Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe held senior management positions at the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, serving as their Director of Corporate Affairs and on their board of directors. So she may never have done any shopping at the Barras, but she does have plenty of experience of destroying working class Scottish communities. Linwood, for one.
In 2001, Tesco used a secret front company – Balmore Properties – to buy up the centre of Linwood, a small former industrial town near Paisley. Over the source of six years, Balmore set about finding petty excuses to evict shopkeepers and refuse lease extensions. The town centre became a virtual no go area, blighted by vacant units and anti-social behaviour, causing furious local residents to start a mass campaign to “boot out Balmore”. When a Tesco director arrived in the town, he was literally applauded in the street, as he announced plans to buy up the centre, flatten it and built a Tesco superstore on the site. It was only several years, in 2010, that the truth came out: rather than being the saviour of the town, Tesco had played a large part in destroying it through their secret front company. The full story is told by Andy Wightman here.
Throughout this time, Baroness Neville Rolfe was on Tesco’s board of directors and would have been well aware of their shameless strategy. Now, apparently, she is fronting efforts to revitalise the “crime-ridden” Barras. Don’t believe the hype.
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