Brian Ferguson: Dundee and Paisley aiming for rare cultural double

As the outdoor festivals season draws to a close, the aftermath is normally one of the quieter spells in the Scottish cultural calendar.
Paisley is bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021.Paisley is bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021.
Paisley is bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021.

But behind the scenes this year, in two different parts of the country, the next few weeks will be anything but.

Things are about to come to a head for the teams working feverishly on bids which could, in theory, see both Paisley and Dundee crowned capitals of culture within the next year or so.

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Official documents setting out their separate cases for the UK and European “City of Culture” titles are about to be lodged with the Department for Culture Media and Sport in Westminster.

Paisley’s will be the more advanced, after it was shortlisted for 2021 UK City of Culture, in July, along with Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Swansea.

Its fate should be known by the end of the year, by which time Dundee should have been told if it is one of the final contenders to be European Capital of Culture in 2023.

There has been palpable excitement in Paisley about its prospects for over a year now, mainly down to a shrewd, eye-catching and inclusive campaign, which has secured all-important political support, underlined last week with £10 million worth of backing from the Scottish Government.

Paisley has reached the tantalising stage that Dundee got to four years ago, when it reached the final of the UK contest, only to have its hopes dashed by Hull, which is basking in the limelight of its ongoing winning programme.

Paisley appears to have drawn plenty of inspiration from Dundee’s 2017 bid, as well as hope that the key factor that seemed to tip the balance in favour of Hull - that it “needed” the title much more - could greatly benefit the troubled Renfrewshire town this time round.

There are high hopes that the economic and social benefits of Paisley’s bid, said to be potentially worth £172 million worth, could be a once-in-generation game-changer if it claims the big prize.

With historic venues like Paisley Abbey, where Paolo Nutini will play a huge homecoming gig next month, a multi-million pound museum transformation planned and a track record of producing key figures like Gerry Rafferty, David Tennant and John Byrne, it must be a strong contender.

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Dundee’s bid for the 2023 European title, which has its origins going back almost a decade, when a UK bid was first discussed, has perhaps been somewhat overshadowed by Paisley’s impressive efforts.

But everything would suddenly change were Dundee, up against Leeds, Belfast-Derry and Nottingham, to enter the serious running for the 2023 honour.

Anyone visiting Dundee over the last couple of years will have noticed how quickly the city is changing, with the waterfront regeneration and its striking new centrepiece - the first V&A museum to be built outside London.

In many respects, Dundee has now become Scotland’s third major culture capital. Significant new festivals and events are increasingly commonplace, the city is arguably one of the most confident parts of Scotland and further cultural investment is planned regardless.

But Dundee has long had its eyes on trying to emulate the success of Glasgow in 1990 and the team it has assembled for its new bid, including former Brit Awards producer Helen Terry, veteran events supremo Pete Irvine and Australian impresario Sir Jonathan Mills, shows it means business.

There are unsurprising conspiracy theories surrounding the two bids and whether the prospects of one may be enhanced, or damaged, by the other. The political dimension to the bidding processes is both fascinating and complex, but could be a red herring.

With their slightly different timetables, both bids would seem, at this point, to stand a terrific chance of success.

Whatever happens next, their efforts should already be inspiring other parts of the country to raise their ambitions to new heights.