ONE of the things most newcomers to Scotland are eventually struck by is the amount of division that is jam-packed into one small country: East versus West Coast; the Central Belt or the Highlands; some deep dissent supposedly rooted in religion and; more recently, Yes/No.
That’s an awful lot of division for a country of fewer than six million people, and those are just the major points of contention.
The question of independence is settled for now, but Scotland’s referendum has unleashed a swell of demand for change across the UK. The flow of power and cash from central to regional level is firmly on the agenda, and it’s not going away.
Ideally, this will lead to more effective governing that drives the prosperity we all relish. To what degree that happens is, as ever, down to human foible. But with other metropolitan areas across the UK seeking greater prominence, it’s time Scotland’s two major cities start working more closely together.
Property veteran Hugh Rutherford, head of commercial at Montagu Evans, is among those calling for urgent action. With city regions increasingly dominating the global economy, leaders in Edinburgh and Glasgow must hammer out a strategy for combining their strengths to create critical mass.
Definitions of a city region vary, but today there are roughly 300 of these conurbations of one million or more people around the world.
Size is key, as research has shown that investors setting up in Glasgow or Edinburgh are comforted by the fact that irrespective of which city they choose, there is a skilled labour pool and additional business infrastructure just down the M8.
The Edinburgh-Glasgow combine includes eight universities, two international airports, an array of complementary industries and a population in the order of 3.5 million people. That’s smaller than the catchment of Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester – all of which are actively scaling up their own economic muscle – but still a better proposition than two neighbouring cities divided.
Elsewhere around the world, officials in Dubai and Abu Dhabi pledged earlier this year to bridge the 81 miles between them through closer economic co-operation. In California, the cities of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose work across a span of 57 miles through the Bay Area Council Economic Institute – just two small examples from the larger global trend.
“If we do not seize the moment to work together we will regret losing the opportunities that greater co-operation and integration of our economies can bring, and our city-region economies will suffer as a direct result relative to the competition,” Rutherford argues.
“The speed of change and direction of global cities highlights that time is not on our side.”
Glasgow already has its City Deal, which pulls together eight contiguous local councils. More of the same is needed, starting with an advance 46 miles to the east. «