It was after watching the rather ponderous 1958 version of A Tale of Two Cities starring Dirk Bogarde that I thought about the two main cities in my life. They’re not quite London and Paris, but Edinburgh and Glasgow in their own ways are very special.
Though I was born in Glasgow, I have now lived here more than half my life, and I can honestly say I love both places dearly – not equally, for Edinburgh is my home, the birthplace of my children, and it is the only place I would ever want to live.
I only have to saunter around Edinburgh and look up to the Castle, or walk through Princes Street Gardens, or traipse down the Canongate, or maybe take the bus down to Leith, and I am rejuvenated by the knowledge that I live in a truly historic European capital city – even in the port I see the signs of the ancient trade with Europe, such as the vaults where the claret wine was stored.
Walk up the Royal Mile, or visit the museums and libraries and you get an overwhelming sense of the history that surrounds us and underpins the city, with the crowning glory being the period of the Enlightenment which buttress the foundations of the scientific and literary culture of Edinburgh.
Glasgow was once a tiny town, of no importance except as a religious settlement, proven by the fact that it has a magnificent cathedral but no central castle. Its fortunes depended on the River Clyde, and trade to the west.
In a very real sense, America built Glasgow, thanks to the tobacco trade, then along came the industrial revolution which led to massive growth in the 19th century through shipbuilding and heavy industries so that Glasgow really was the Second City of the Empire.
Glasgow produced its great figures such as Lord Kelvin, but the most astounding ‘figure’ of all was that in some years before the Great War, a third of all the ships built in the world could make the proud boast that they were “Clyde built”.
We still have two different cities. Edinburgh has its Festival, education and research, light industries, financial services and the parliament. Glasgow suffered the collapse of its heavy industries but saw its slums cleared and population dispersed.
The old No Mean City image still survives in places with criminal gangs – no, I don’t mean the Old Firm’s supporters – still extant, but Glasgow has superbly reinvented itself over the last 30 years through art and culture, with new landmark buildings such as the Burrell Collection and the SECC complex, and events such as the Garden Festival and City of Culture, though personally I date the revival from the introduction of the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign in 1983.
In that respect, Glasgow has definitely had an edge over Edinburgh – Inspiring Capital just doesn’t cut it as a slogan.
The political differences between the two cities have been changing, too, with the Labour Party no longer able to consider Glasgow its fiefdom, while the ongoing death of the Lib Dems will surely make Edinburgh a straight SNP v Labour contest in future.
I used to be a fan of initiatives to make Glasgow and Edinburgh work together for the greater good of Scotland, and where that is possible, of course the two cities should co- operate. But latterly I’ve been thinking that a bit of good old-fashioned competition at either end of the M8 could be profitable to both cities.
Certainly in professional rugby that competitiveness has worked with record crowds for both the legs of the inter-city 1872 Cup last week. More than 22,000 people attended the two games, and it was heartening to hear the crowd at Firhill bellowing “Glasgow! Glasgow!” as their team deservedly won the cup. A club that everyone in the city can get behind? Wouldn’t get that in football.
There’s no doubt that Glasgow will be the focus of attention when the Commonwealth Games takes place in 2014. Rightly so – on a recent visit to the East End and Clydeside it was genuinely exciting to see the new arenas going up, and I’m sure Glasgow will deliver a fabulous Games.
I hope noses will be out of joint in Edinburgh when Glasgow is in the spotlight. Maybe then people will ask why we have thrown away the legacy of the 1970 and 1986 Games by letting Meadowbank Stadium fall into such a poor state. More pertinently, it will perhaps make us all think what can be done to promote Edinburgh on an international stage again.
What we should have is a year to celebrate Edinburgh and the unique role this city has played in history. I hope that will transpire with Edinburgh becoming the capital of a newly independent country, but in the meantime, we could designate 2013 or 2015 as the Year of Edinburgh.
Before anyone accuses me of special pleading for Edinburgh, in years to come we should also have celebrations of the other cities in Scotland. It is about giving everybody a turn in the sun, a chance for each city to show new leadership in a new Scotland.
Neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow nor anywhere else has the copyright on leading Scotland, but let us see which city can do so.