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2018 will be the Year of Dundee but whose Dundee will it be?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 20th 2018

2018 will be the Year of Dundee. There is excitement and expectation in the city. After years in the doldrums, Dundee has now been punching above its weight for over a decade.

It is not just the anticipation of the V&A’s public opening on September 15th. The city has been picking up international attention and plaudits as variously ‘Scotland’s coolest city’ (Wall Street Journal), the ‘coolest in Scotland’ and undergoing a ‘renaissance’ (Condé Nast Traveller), ‘Britain’s coolest city’ (GQ magazine), and one of the top ten global destinations for 2018 (Wall Street Journal).

There is a good story here and we should celebrate it. Dundee has changed, lots of positive things have been happening, and more is on the way. Yet, it is also true that Dundee has historically been neglected by large parts of Scotland, from being overlooked to being patronised. How often have I heard the line ‘I have never been to Dundee I have just passed through it without stopping’, as a friendly Aberdonian recently said at a party in Edinburgh. Dundee planners have even made this easier as the Kingsway provides an easy by-pass cutting through the city.

That condescension is felt by Dundonians. My auntie Betty, in her 80s, and an astute observer of all things related to the city commented last weekend that ‘Dundee has always been a Cinderella city. Edinburgh is the capital, Glasgow is always buzzing with things going on, and Aberdeen had the oil.’ Is it possible that Scotland’s Central Belt tunnel vision, which is really a Glasgow-Edinburgh focus, will give Dundee a chance to shine and be noticed? Read the rest of this entry »

A Warning from the Past: What happened to Scottish Labour could happen to the SNP

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 14th 2018

What goes up must come down is a truism worth remembering in relation to politics – as well as to economics and every kind of asset or property bubble.

There once was a political party in Scotland which saw itself as the embodiment of the radical tradition, in touch with voters, and embodying social justice. It became more and more complacent, self-congratulatory, and out of touch – eventually morphing into the Scottish establishment. That party was the Scottish Labour Party.

The received wisdom of many people in each party about Scottish Labour and SNP is that no two parties could be more different. But in reality the similarities are much more real than the differences. Take current politics. The emergence of a Corbyn factor north of the border has changed our political dynamics. This became a live issue particularly in the 2017 election and its aftermath. It established Labour on the left flank of the SNP and illuminated the SNP’s cautious centrism which the party leadership has judged pre-Corbyn to be enough to present themselves in social democratic colours. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Put the Culture into Creative Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 7th 2018

Creative Scotland’s latest stramash has again brought arts funding, decision-making and the role of the organisation centrestage.

It is a recurring problem. After the good news story before Christmas, of Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop announcing – against expectations – a real terms increase in the funding of Creative Scotland, all seemed for a brief period sweetness and light. Then came the announcement on 25 January for Regularly Funding Organisations (RFOs), who have a three-year funding cycle, of significant cuts in a host of success stories – Transmission in Glasgow and Macrobert in Stirling being but two. More seriously, seven high profile, non-building based companies had their funding completely cut, with their sole support the prospect of one year touring funds.

This has brought controversy and resignations, with Ruth Wishart and Maggie Kinloch resigning from Creative Scotland’s Board. Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop indicated a degree of displeasure at the recent funding announcement, tweeting that ‘angst and worry could be avoided if CS is clearer’ to bodies it was funding – in what amounted to an unprecedented public dressing down.

Joyce McMillan observed that Creative Scotland ‘is still an agency that generates blizzards of impenetrable reports and strategies, in all of which principles like equality, diversity and inclusion loom large, along with the importance of arts for children and young people.’ Neil Cooper, writing in ‘Bella Caledonia’, commented that the agency was characterised by a ‘dunder-headed managerialism’ which is ‘a microcosm of a far greater global malaise’ – and that ‘Creative Scotland was an ideological construct from the start’. Read the rest of this entry »

The Football Club That Refused to Die: The Tragedy and Beauty of Third Lanark

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 31st 2018

Glasgow’s history has long been the stuff of legend – the stories of Red Clydeside, rent strikes, the power of shipbuilding, the scale of slum clearance – and of course, football.

In Scotland we seem to get too much football and too much bad football coverage. We get a narrow bandwidth of football which results in numerous stories, triumphs, tragedies, and moments becoming forgotten, as we surfeit on a diet of the stale Old Firm (cue a chorus from some that the Old Firm no longer exists).

One of the most poignant tales of our game is that of Third Lanark – a club once at the apex of Scottish football – that tragically went out of business in the summer of 1967. The bare bones of this story are widely known, but the detail of the story isn’t. And it is therefore welcome that purpleTV have made a one-hour long film, simply titled ‘Third Lanark’, aired last weekend on BBC Alba. Read the rest of this entry »

The World Has Been Turned Upside Down: The End of the Era of Robber Baron Capitalism

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 24th 2018

The world has been turned upside down in the last few weeks. Ten years after the banking crash showed that the economic assumptions which shaped most of our lives were bogus, along has come the collapse of Carillion, the biggest outsourcing company in the UK.

The taking of the public out of public services has been a long war of attrition which has been waged by all the mainstream Westminster parties. It hasn’t improved public services or benefitted the public. Instead, the winners from it have been the companies who have won such contracts, their directors and shareholders, who have made millions of pounds from the public purse.

The Public Private Initiative (PFI) and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) was born of John Major’s government, but came of age under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: being seen as a way to engage in significant public investment while keeping it off of the government’s books. Of the 720 PFI-PPP schemes more than 75% of them were signed off under New Labour’s period in office. They liked the supposed efficiency the private sector aided, but in reality, were driven by undertaking public spending off the balance books and the dogma of thinking ‘private good, public bad’.

Most of us know that public sector monopolies can provide poor services insensitive to the needs and interests of the public. But the tales of PFI-PPP were of a new order of providing services which weren’t about the public, but creating a guaranteed income stream and scam to the vested interests of crony capitalism. Thus, PFI-PPP schemes involved grotesque inefficiencies and inflexibilities which were paid for by the public purse. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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