Mike Stevenson: Go west for a real capital

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I’m only months away from my bus pass but the past few weeks have been the most exhilarating, politically of my lifetime. The stakes have never been higher, the level of debate never more intense, engagement more complete.

I was in a restaurant in Glasgow’s west end on the Friday night after the referendum result, and at every table I passed people were huddled in passionate discussion about some aspect of the vote – dissecting the result, speculating on the future constitution. I felt like a Parisian on the eve of the French Revolution.

There’s been much to look back on with pride and excitement; the revival of hustings meetings up and down the country; the involvement of 16 and 17-year-olds in the electoral process; the engagement of people of all ages and backgrounds, on an equal footing; the fading of tribal loyalties; the seeming irrelevance of party politics; and of course the unprecedented turnout.

At the heart of this explosion of opportunity and self-realisation was Edinburgh – our douce, safe, managerial capital city – seated primly and frigid like a virgin aunt at a hen party.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Edinburgh voted No, only in the context of how votes were cast in Glasgow and Dundee.

I was born in Edinburgh and I’ve lived here for most of my life, but I’ve never felt so alienated from the city. I’d always had a deep pride in its grandeur, its elegance and poise. How inappropriate these values now seem in a modern Scotland. When we need energy, self-confidence, ambition and drive, from Edinburgh we get stasis, conservatism and inhibition. Glasgow, in contrast, looks and feels like a city in flux and, as such, is more representative of the mood of the nation. It assumed the mantle of leadership when it was needed and for that reason, among others, I believe it should be re-designated as our Capital.

Scotland has undergone a fundamental political realignment in the past couple of years. This country has long been dominated by political hegemonies, for the past 60 years by the Labour Mafioso in its west central strongholds. That power base now looks to have dissolved, not so in Edinburgh where the Labour establishment worked hand-in-glove with City interests during the referendum campaign. While the rest of Scotland embraced change, Edinburgh appeared static, paralysed by fear and inertia. It was in Glasgow where the real sense of hope and commitment was seen.

Off the back of its amazing staging of the Commonwealth Games, Glasgow continued to shine, revealing its boldness and vitality. Where Edinburgh appeared judicious and individualistic Glasgow showed itself to be ambitious and entrepreneurial.

Edinburgh may be the administrative capital of Scotland but Glasgow is the real capital, the beating heart, the engine room, the people’s capital.

While Edinburgh will always be Scotland’s political and financial centre, those alone should not be the unchallengeable qualifications for a capital. What about Glasgow’s burgeoning commercial base, its universities, its growing manufacturing presence, its media city, its electronics, biotechnology and renewable energy sectors? But more than that, what about the people who articulate its philosophy? Where they appear outward-looking and altruistic, Edinburgh seems to be a city of introspective hoarders. If a nation’s capital is its public face, I know which city I want to be smiling at the rest of the world.

• Mike Stevenson is head of Thinktastic, a public policy consultancy that advises businesses and organisations on happiness and wellbeing