Last week our esteemed editor wrote that the proposal by Jim ‘Irn-Bru’ Murphy, to turn Glasgow and Edinburgh into a twin-cities powerhouse, engendered a sense of déjà vu.
Yep, just as Bill indicated, we’ve heard it all before and what attempts there have been to get the idea off the ground have all fizzled out one way or another.
Moreover it is clear that any city with the intention of becoming a powerhouse – either on its own or in collaboration with another – requires a large and active middle class and this is something that Edinburgh has but Glasgow does not.
While Edinburgh’s middle class is domiciled within the municipal boundary, the Glasgow equivalent (or a substantial part of it) prefers the sanctuary of affluent enclaves just beyond the city limits, out of the clutches of Labour councillors who rule the roost at the City Chambers in George Square.
These suburbs – e.g. Milngavie and Bearsden to the north; Clarkston and Newton Mearns to the south – emerged as a result of the demand for new-build owner-occupation at a time when so much of the available land within the city proper was zoned for municipal housing schemes. However it was assumed that – just as burghs like Govan and Partick were absorbed by Glasgow in 1912, pushing the population to over one million – these outgrowths would eventually follow suit.
But as the socio-economic gap between the two grew, so the peripheral communities began to value their independence and, despite being physical extensions of Glasgow and dependent on the city for employment, shopping and leisure, determined that things should stay that way.
The consequence has been an ‘elephant in the room’ type of conspiracy of silence over the dichotomy whereby so many top-flight business personnel, who closely identify with Glasgow, actually choose to reside in suburbs which have, whenever threatened with annexation, fought tooth and nail to stay out of the city.
Still, you might expect Jim Murphy, as a good egalitarian Labour man, to indulge in a bit of straight talking.
For example: “C’mon, you are part of Glasgow in everything but name so isn’t it about time you paid council tax into the city’s coffers?”
Or: “Until you’re prepared to take an active part in its governance, what right do you have to carp from the sidelines about so-called inefficiency within Glasgow City Council?”
Only he won’t, because Mr Murphy represents East Renfrewshire, which mostly comprises a great swathe of middle class communities just over Glasgow’s southern boundary who like things just as they are and see no reason to change.
Any parliamentary candidate, of any persuasion, suggesting otherwise to this electorate is the proverbial turkey voting for Christmas. And with almost every seat in Scotland now considered a marginal that is up for grabs, the issue will continue to gather dust in one of the pigeon holes of Scottish political culture.
Mr Murphy is said to be a model railway enthusiast, which perhaps is one reason (apart from there being an election on the horizon) why he has pledged financial support for the controversial scheme, Glasgow Crossrail.
Just like the twin-cities idea (referred to above), Crossrail is a proposal which raises its head from time to time but never goes much further, no doubt because it has been analysed for cost-benefit purposes several times and each time found to be wanting.
Crossrail refers to a line, currently goods-only, which runs from Shields Junction in the south-west of Glasgow and crosses the city in a north-easterly direction, eventually linking up with the wider rail network – hence its value, say the scheme’s protagonists.
Certainly, Crossrail would enable the launch of direct rail services between the Clyde Coast/Greenock/Paisley and Edinburgh/North-east Scotland, by obviating the need for passengers to change between Glasgow Central and Queen Street stations. This will undoubtedly lead to improved journey times and less hassle but there must be a question as to whether the level of potential passenger demand justifies the £200 million bill (the last estimate for Crossrail).
Crossrail’s other advantage, claim its supporters, will be in physically linking the suburban rail systems north and south of the Clyde through the creation of a short spur called the St John’s Link. Again, this is true but the result would mean some of the trains that currently terminate at Glasgow Central Station being sent instead on a long detour to Queen Street (Low Level) even though Central is the more convenient terminal for commuters and shoppers.
If an additional £200m (with inflationary costs added) is available for rail improvement in Scotland then well and good, but perhaps there are other parts of the network more deserving of the money than Crossrail.
The nickname, “Irn Bru” seems to have stuck following the revelation that Mr Murphy presented two expenses claims of £1.30 each for supplies of the amber nectar.
Well, it could be argued, when you’ve just saved the Union with a hectic tour involving “100 towns in 100 days”, what’s the harm in claiming for a few bottles of pop?
And,to be fair, the Scottish Labour leader is certainly not unique among politicians in claiming for things like this; as the MP expenses fall-out revealed, a former constituency MP of mine (a Lib Dem) regularly sought reimbursement for the cost of individual cartons of fruit juice.
Although the expenses debate focused on big ticket goods like duck houses, flock wallpaper and HD television sets, perhaps of more relevance are the numerous claims still made by MPs for everyday items – a soft drink, sandwich, bar of chocolate, packet of chewing gum, box of tissues, toilet roll.
This is something members of the general public fork out for with their own money day and daily – and why they head off to work with a tenner in change and come back home in the evening wondering why just 50 pence is all they have left.
Politicians, on the other hand, now seem so ingrained in the expenses culture they have forgotten what it’s like to put their hands in their own pockets (or purses). This, I believe, distances them from members of the public just as much as a claim for an annual subscription to Sky Sports.
And here’s another thought: given that our parliamentarians claim to be so over-worked, how do they find the time to record the minutiae of money spent on soft drinks and bog rolls in the first place?