Is Glasgow Getting a Bad Rap in the Run-up to Cop 26? Letter from Scotland October 23

It was interesting to see on the front page of the FT last week visitors to COP26 complaining that the nearest accommodation to the conference was in Edinburgh, 45 miles away. “Our people are coming from the other side of the world and the closest accommodation is in Edinburgh,” said Pacific Island group coordinator Tagaloa Cooper-Halo.

It reminded me of a favorite story of my uncle’s about the late Norman and Janey Buchan who were driving back from Barcelona after Rangers played in the European Cup. A man in a kilt was hitching at the side of the road at the outskirts of the city, leaning against a palm tree for support. “Where are you going?” the hitcher asked – “Glasgow” he was told. “That’s no good to me – I’m going to Edinburgh”.

The two cities each have a strong identity and a keen rivalry but they are part of the urban corridor known as the central belt where most Scots work and live. The travel time between them is 50 minutes by train – a good bit less than an average London commute. There is a train strike looming – but Scotrail still intends to run a limited service for the conference. There are also busses that run through the night and people do sometimes take cabs or Ubers.

The FT news story was about inflated accommodation prices – they quoted an Airbnb flat priced at a ridiculous £34,000 and there are many similar tales in the media at the moment. Then there are the rats. A bin strike looms and the BBC programme Question Time on Thursday ended in a row about the cleanliness of the city. Succession actor Brian Cox apparently shocked Scotland when he said the problem was “just life”. A Tory politician seemed keen to lay the problem at the door of the SNP. After the show, Glasgow council leader Susan Aitken said Edinburgh was dirtier and had more rats. (We do have rats in Edinburgh but we call them ‘rets’ and they wear smart wee berets).

Actually on a trip to London recently I saw several huge rats roaming around and a friend told me the pandemic seems to have increased their number – rats were seen in Sainsbury’s, MV London reported last week, and there are 18 million in the capital, apparently.

Glasgow seems to be getting a bad press on this. “We’ve been caught half-dressed – ambivalent Glasgow awaits COP26” was the Guardian headline yesterday. “Embarrassing Glasgow City Full of Rubbish and Rats” was the Express. Some of this is undoubtedly political – the Spectator reported this week “Glasgow — whose council is now run by the SNP for the first time — is a city in crisis where streets are overflowing with rubbish.” That is a clear exaggeration. I visited recently and I would describe the centre of town as looking pretty perjink.

We will be seeing many images of Glasgow in the next few weeks – one will probably be the statue of Wellington with the traditional traffic cone on his head. The mirrored mosaic which decorates the entrance to GOMA behind him is also of interest – it is the work of Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the 20th century’s most important female artists. She created much joyful and colourful art, out of a life which contained a lot of pain and struggle.  The museum has a notable collection of her work.  Glasgow is a wonderful city – rich in treasures of art and architecture, many of which are underappreciated – that is just one example.

A positive side to the run-up to COP26 is the number of people offering free accommodation to conference delegates. I heard Edinburgh Unii’s professor of Carbon Capture Stuart Haszeldine on the radio talking about the Homestay Hotel. On the site this evening, it seems there are quite a few rooms being offered free or virtually free in various locations across the central belt. People are coming onto the site all the time to add new places.

Many people are obviously keen to welcome the climate change delegates and activists who are coming to put their heads together to try to work out how we can avert the looming climate crisis. Politicians like Boris Johnson will use it to grandstand, but in the background people will hopefully form connections and make some kind of progress on the huge task that lies ahead.

In the words of Hamish Henderson’s anthem of unity and hope, the ‘Freedom Come All Ye’, “There’s mair nor a roch wind blawin/ Thro the Great Glen o the warld the day/ It’s a thocht that wad gar oor rottans/ …Tak the road an seek ither loanins”. (In English roughly – ‘there are ideas sweeping our country right now which should make the rodents leave’ )  I have no doubt the  COP26 delegates, as the song says,  “will find breid, barley-bree an paintit rooms” in Glasgow – or Edinburgh.

Listen to Skippinish perform the “Freedom Come All Ye”

A walk through Glasgow city centre