Brian Ferguson: Dundee still has a bright cultural future despite EU blow

The V&A Museum emerging on Dundee Waterftont.
The V&A Museum emerging on Dundee Waterftont.
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DUNDEE still has a bright cultural future despite EU blow, says Brian Ferguson.

Followers of Scottish sport have long been familiar with the agonies of an injury time defeat.

At times it has felt as if it is written into the national psyche to have victory, or even a glimpse of glory, snuffed out at the eleventh hour. I can only imagine a similar sense of deflation swept across Dundee when the city discovered that its hopes of becoming a European Capital of Culture had been dashed. Its council leader, John Alexander, had another analogy, describing the European Commission’s decision to ban UK cities from hosting the title to being “jilted at the altar.” Of course, Dundee was not alone, with Leeds, Belfast/Derry, Milton Keynes and Nottingham also cut adrift after the deadline for final bids.

It says a lot for Dundee’s cultural ambitions that the city seemed to feel robbed of the right to host the title - even though it will never know if it was a genuine contender. The mood music had been quietly confident, but without bombast or bravado, about a bid which was, perhaps wisely, kept firmly under wraps. But the key figures speak for themselves. A £40 million programme was projected to deliver a £128 million boost to the economy and create 16,000 jobs. Crucially, much of the promised infrastructure was due to happen regardless of the bid’s success.

It is little wonder the Dundee 2023 bid team could not hide its disappointment with the European Commission, describing its move to block the UK’s intervention - and timing - as “disrespectful not only to the citizens of Dundee, but to the people of all five bidding cities who have devoted so much time, effort and energy so far in this competition.” There were was a predictable rush from the SNP to blame the Tories - which seemed to entirely miss the point.

Theresa May’s Government had thrown its weight behind the idea of UK participating in the competition nearly a year ago - following a spell of speculation that it would renege on a commitment to host the title in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

If the Scottish Government felt there was a risk hanging over Brexit in the last year what did it do about it? And why was there public funding pledged towards the Dundee bid if alarm bells were ringing so loud? The Scottish Government was caught on the hop just as much as Dundeee last week. To ask for a rethink from the European Commission after the horse has bolted, and demand reparation from the UK Government, just seems like political posturing. Mercifully, this has not been the approach of either the bid team or the city council. The bid team was swift to point out the “sad irony” its bid was driven by a desire to enhance the city’s cultural links with Europe, which have now been undoubtedly badly damaged. As far as the council leader is concerned, the cancellation of the UK’s right to host the contest has been “completely mishandled and misjudged.” It is hard to disagree.

In terms of where the city goes from here, it is fortunate the the opening of its long-awaited V&A museum is on the horizon next year, beside the new outdoor arena, Slessor Gardens. What cannot, and I strongly expect will not, be allowed to happen is for any sense of defeatism to set in over Dundee’s cultural prospects. Within hours of being dealt last week’s blow, its 2023 team was talking about taking forward the “enthusiasm and imagination” of its plans with the Scottish and UK governments. I suspect this may still provide the impetus to take the city to much greater heights in the years to come.