Hello world! Welcome to the Commonwealth Games. We’re your hosts, Glesca Labour Cooncil, watch us blow up our city and sell it off to private developers!
Gordon Matheson, leader of Glesca Cooncil’s Committee for Secret Rendevouz in Car Parks and Pretendy Architectural Competitions, thinks demolishing the Red Road flats as a spectacle to celebrate the opening of the Commonwealth games is a great idea, a brave idea, one that highlights Glasgow’s social history. But however batshit insane anyone might think the idea is, Gordie is correct, and the city faithers are only continuing in a long and proud tradition of demolishing the city in the name of supposed regeneration, then crowing about it crassly. Well that and having suspiciously friendly connections to property companies.
It’s Glasgow’s social history. It’s the social history of a Victorian city council that demolished a 15th century university building to make way for a railway goods yard, then in the late 20th century demolished the railway goods yard to build new office spaces. It’s the social history of Parliamentary Road, once one of the city’s main thoroughfares and the heart of Toonheid, which is now lost under multi-story blocks and a motorway. It’s the story of the Gallowgate, once a thriving bustling street of shops, the aorta of the East End. Now the Gallowgate is empty and dead, a through route but not a destination. Glasgow’s social history is the history of council vandalism in a city run for the powerful, not the people who form its soul and who breathe its life and vitality.
Social history is the history of the people and the communities they create. But communities are organic, they grow naturally out of settled groups who form relationships and connections. A mature community takes generations to evolve, and forms a rich rain forest (well, it is Glasgow, of course rain is involved) sheltering a diversity of family ties, bonds of friendship, places of work and leisure. Community regeneration Glasgow style involves blowing up the rain forest, selling off the valuable timber, and replacing it with spindly saplings tied to poles in a wasteland of cheaply constructed buildings which have to be demolished 30 years later, before a community ecosystem has a chance to regrow.
In Glasgow, the social history clock is reset to zero every generation. The result is disconnection and disorientation, alienation and deprivation. The distinctive flora and fauna of the Glasgow cityscape is driven away, never to return. The windae hinging wummin, the weans playing in the street, the auld boys smoking fags outside the pub, they go the way of the Amazon’s rare and precious creatures, preserved only in books of tastefully shot photographs that cost half a weekly benefits payment. The wee guy in the bunnet on the page facing the chieftain with the lip plug, gazing out the pages of a book that neither can afford. Dignity preserved in sepia, but not allowed to flourish. That’s what Gordon Matheson thinks of when he thinks of social history.
The Red Road flats were another one generation long experiment in social engineering, an experiment that failed. Glasgow is full of those. The flats are damp and unsuitable and need to be demolished, but at least they provided social housing. If the flats were being levelled in order to give the residents of Red Road the chance to rebuild their community in new and better social housing, perhaps that would be something to celebrate. But Glasgow Council is blowing up the 11,000 Glasgow Housing Association flats to make way for 7000 low rise housing units. Most of the new houses will be privately owned, just 500 new social housing units are slated to be constructed in the redevelopment plan. The social history clock is being reset to zero again.
One tower block is still inhabited, mostly by asylum seekers. Many of them came to Glasgow to escape those who wanted to blow up their homes. Now they’re getting to witness explosive destruction again, as the buildings around them are cleared for a redevelopment that they don’t earn enough to live in.
In the Glasgow North East constituency where the Red Road flats stand, 43% of children live in poverty. The same week that the announcement was made to blow up part of the constituency to thrill and enthrall visitors to the Commonwealth Games, the local Labour MP, Wullie I-Stay-With-Ma-Maw-But-Not-In-Red-Road Bain, voted in favour of the Tories’ benefits cap along with 31 other Labour MPs representing Scottish seats. As a local dignitary, whose dignity is not to be confined to the pages of a book of tastefully shot black and white photies, Wullie will get an invite to the opening ceremony.
Tickets for the opening ceremony cost £40 each, how many of the kids living in poverty in Glasgow North East will be able to afford that? Probably about as many as will be able to afford one of the new private homes that will go up where their tower blocks used to stand.
When the Games were announced, Glasgow was promised all sorts of goodies. The legendary East End Subway extension was to be constructed, bringing a vital public transport link to a part of the city where car ownership is the lowest in the UK. The East End has been waiting for it longer than we’ve been waiting for a positive case for the Union. But the plans were quietly dropped, just like they were quietly dropped when an East End extension was first mooted in the 1940s. Instead we’re promised a new expressway for the cars few can afford. It’s going to run along an old railway line that’s now a public green space where the local dogs are walked and foxes and squirrels make their home. They’ll become more refugees as the cooncil lets Glasgow flourish in a fog of car exhausts.
This is the city that Glasgow Labour wants to show to the world – one that destroys social housing to make way for the market, one that ends the social history of a community in order to celebrate it. It builds houses that those cleared out cannot afford to buy. And it wants us to rejoice.
“People make Glasgow” is the Council’s marketing slogan. It’s rarely rung more hollow. Glasgow’s legacy from the Games will be opportunities for property developers to make money. It’s Glasgow’s antisocial history. So no change there then.
I’ve just heard that Margo Macdonald has passed away. She was a remarkable woman who had strong convictions and a deep commitment to Scotland and to ordinary working class people. It is a tragedy that she will not be around to witness the referendum vote in September. She’ll be much missed.
Meanwhile, on a much lighter note – I hope to be able to come along to the Wings Over Scotland gathering in the Counting House in Glasgow this evening. I won’t be able to stay long, and will only be able to make it if the other half is settled after the care assistants come this evening to give him a shower. But it will be nice to get out of the hoose for a wee bit.