Donald Anderson: A tale of two cities that could be a success story

'˜Tell me, were you born in Glasgow?', said the journalist from a well-known paper based in the city, asked in the aftermath of Edinburgh announcing that the new Harvey Nichols store would be coming to the Capital, not Glasgow. Almost everyone responded with disbelief that Glasgow could lose out on such a flagship development.

Friday, 21st September 2018, 6:00 am
Glasgow has come a long way since the dark days of the 1980s. Picture: Robert Perry
Glasgow has come a long way since the dark days of the 1980s. Picture: Robert Perry

After all, Edinburgh just wasn’t a serious shopping destination in those days. Indeed, having worked hand in glove with LaSalle Investment Management for three years, we couldn’t be sure that we weren’t being played to get a better deal out of our sister city in the west.

The journalist tried hard as I ­batted back questions clearly designed to get a headline that could proclaim a bitter rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with me, then leader of Edinburgh Council, rubbing Weegie noses in a decision that was just about fixing Edinburgh.

He thought the only explanation was that I was Glasgow-born. “Edinburgh born and bred”, came my response. His question was one of my proudest moments, for as an avowed Edinburgh Nationalist, I have a ­confession. I love Glasgow too.

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Donald Anderson is director of Playfair Scotland and a former leader of Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Neil Hanna

We have two fantastic world-class cities in Scotland practically next door. Forty miles may seem like a long way, but in America it would be considered the same place.

Both cities have made huge progress since those dark despairing days of the 1980s. However, as recent reports ­commissioned by the David Hume Institute and by legal firm Shepperd and Wedderburn (happy 250th birthday!), Scotland’s economy hasn’t ­progressed with productivity sluggish by European standards.

I’m all for fixing the problems ­Glasgow has in moving to a post-industrial age. Holyrood and Glasgow Council have done amazing things to help tackle those issues. Fixing Glasgow matters to me and every Scot.

But what Scottish politics is less effective at is supporting success. Politicians of all hues largely see helping other areas to reach the heady heights of the success in Edinburgh. Well, I’m sorry but if that is the scale of your ambitions you’re just not ambitious enough. Edinburgh’s success is fantastic, but we could do so much better.

Supporting success seems difficult for Scotland. I can see no better example of that than the consideration of the tourist tax. As veteran journalist Ian Swanson said in this very paper, “Tourists will pay and you won’t – what’s not to like?” It’s a tax that will help transform Edinburgh’s ability to market itself and take heat out of issues that impact on local residents.

Council leader Adam McVey put a strong case to Holyrood recently, but I’m not aware of him being carried out on the shoulders of MSPs for coming up with something that will help Edinburgh and Scotland up that ­productivity league table. Alas, the tourist tax seems as far away as ever.

So back to Glasgow. A stunning and dynamic city with huge potential. Might Glasgow and Edinburgh work together to help transform Scotland’s economy? It makes sense to make the most of what is, in city terms, a ‘Lennon-McCartney’ relationship.

We have an overflowing Festival – Glasgow has capacity. It would undoubtedly take government funding to win hearts and minds, but in my experience, you can get councils to buy into any strategy provided it’s written on the back of a cheque. So, could there be a partnership that ­promotes and fosters success across the Central Belt that supports Scotland’s two greatest economic assets? More likely we will continue to read reports about a sluggish economy as we just don’t do success well enough. That’s a missed opportunity for us all.

Donald Anderson is director of Playfair Scotland and a former leader of Edinburgh City Council.