Thursday, December 9

Glasgow has two sides. Cop26 will show only one of them | Ian Jack

SThe Clyde’s disease was once the way most foreign travelers reached Glasgow, as well as those from Ireland, the Hebrides, and the Argyll peninsulas. Passenger liners ran upriver up to a mile from downtown from New York and Boston and the imperial cities where Scottish influence was particularly marked: Calcutta, Rangoon, Halifax, Montreal. As late as the 1960s, a traveler could disembark in Glasgow after embarking in Dublin, Belfast, or Mumbai, although at the time the larger transatlantic ships were transporting their passengers ashore in deeper waters off Greenock, 40 kilometers river. down.

This trade slowly contracted in the last 50 years of the last century and then suddenly disappeared. Other port cities have been equally deserted, but perhaps in none of them, not even New York, the loss felt so disconcerting. After all, Glasgow had seen a steamship long before it had seen a steam engine; Europe’s first commercially successful steamboat began operating on the Clyde in 1812, second only to the first time in the world (by the Glasgow Patriots’ reckoning) by the keen practice of an American who had stolen the idea and the had put into operation on the Hudson. Today, the last container to perpetuate this two-century tradition is the elegant Waverley paddle steamer, built in 1947, which sails to and from Glasgow for two to three months every summer and whose almost miraculous survival is a testament to Britain’s love for ancient machines.

A trip upriver on a beautiful afternoon this week revealed that deindustrialization has its tradeoffs. After we left the beautiful estuary behind, in the days of international sea travel, considered the most majestic gateway to Europe, a pod of dolphins played around the ship at Greenock, while a few miles later hundreds and hundreds of Swans gathered on the sandbars near Dumbarton. The shipping channel was already narrow, the result of an ingenious but simple piece of engineering from the 18th century that deepened the river by forcing its flow through a narrower space, traversing the bottom to allow ships navigating the ocean to reach. inland like the warehouses of Glasgow. . “The Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde” was a saying that all Glasgow people once knew, because deepening also allowed for a thriving shipbuilding industry, which grew throughout the 19th century until in the era Edwardian the Clyde was doing a fifth of world tonnage.

On the deck of our ship, older men (each year fewer and fewer) pointed out patches of wasteland or new buildings in the yellow / orange brick that seems to favor bargain architecture, and announced a name.

“That was from John Brown.”

“That’s where Connell’s yard used to be.”

Then Barclay Curle. The Nevasa came out of there. “

Sometimes there was a disused slipway, sometimes a rotting wooden dock, sometimes a field of cows. When new apartment blocks were erected on either bank, the rhythm of our oars echoed through them. The families came out to their balconies to say hello. We passed a scrap-loading roller coaster, the only boat on the river that could be seen from Greenock, and then, near our destination, the unlikely sight of a half-built frigate resting on stock.

Daylight was fading as we disembarked, not far from a hammerhead crane, built to load ships with loads of railway locomotives, which stands as a kind of memento mori between conference centers, media headquarters communication and luxury hotels that have replaced the piers. The river, which no longer bubbles or stinks, is crossed by new bridges and lined with little trees. Lighting is cosmetic. It was hard to reconcile this clean, timid landscape with a 1960s memory of a dock pub full of unstable sailors and longshoremen, or departing from a nearby dock on the night ship to Belfast. (The bar for those traveling first class was heated with a charcoal fire.)

COP26, the UN’s 26th annual climate change conference, will gather in this ancient port in November for what it describes as “the world’s last best chance to control runaway climate change.” Some 25,000 government representatives, media people and environmental climate activists are expected; Covid regulations for foreign visitors will be relaxed. There is a world to save and a civic reputation to reinvent and polish. The UK government, this year’s Chairman of the Police, chose Glasgow as the venue for the conference, and Glasgow is determined to show that there are better reasons behind that decision than a glut of hotel rooms. According to the promotional video that the city council made for Cop, “Glasgow is a city transformed … a city that continues to embrace change” using its traditions of innovation and social justice to overcome the legacy of its past and give its people an environment cleaner. , a greener and fairer future. “Glasgow can show the world that we are becoming the city of our time in [sic] the problems of our time “.

Promotional videos never speak under oath; Still, the language is ridiculous. Away from its new shoreline, Glasgow is often dilapidated. The shopping streets, especially Sauchiehall Street, seem shoddy and neglected; Shrubs sprout, an unplanned greening, from the roofs of Victorian offices. The legacy of its best architects, Alexander “Greek” Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, faces an uncertain future. Thomson’s Egyptian halls sit, as they have for years, rotting behind cloth partitions and scaffolding on Union Street. No one can say if Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, badly damaged by fire in 2014 and destroyed in another fire four years later, will be rebuilt or in what way. Earlier this year, a confusing reorganization and reduction of garbage collections left garbage piled up on the sidewalks. Loss of revenue at Glasgow Life, the so-called independent executive organization that runs the city’s department of culture and sport, led to the closure of 80 of the 171 venues, many of them galleries, museums and libraries. Some have since reopened, many others have not. Around 500 jobs will be lost.

Naturally, the causes of Glasgow degeneration are complicated and have a long history. However, the blame for the most recent failure tends to lie with the current state of Scottish politics and the fierce centralizing instincts of the Scottish National Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP won control of Glasgow city hall in 2017 after generations of Labor in power, but city leaders have been found to be ineffective local champions. In the words of journalist and commentator Gerry Hassan: “Glasgow councilors are more agents of the SNP’s national administration in Edinburgh than independent advocates of the city that elected them. And yet your city is declining. There is real and obvious anger about the place. “

Between 2013 and last year, Glasgow, which is still Scotland’s largest city, lost £ 270 per capita a year in Scottish government funds; only one or two local authorities in Scotland made it worse. This week the SNP formed a useful alliance with the Greens, which can strengthen the party and enhance Scottish credibility at Cop26. And so when November rolls around, the new riverside can glow with the kind of optimism not seen since John Brown’s shipyard launched the Queen Mary. The old city, understandably, reserves the right to feel left out.

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