Home to around one-fifth of the nation’s population and sustaining hundreds of thousands of jobs, the city will shape Scotland’s economic performance in the years ahead.
This week, the 23rd annual State of the City Economy Conference will be held in Glasgow and hear about the opportunities for growth. The city has a chance to transform into a green powerhouse and take advantage of new industries such as digital tech.
We have the people and we have the talent. But this transformation will also require ambition for Glasgow. And that is sadly lacking in the current SNP administration in the City Chambers. With Susan Aitken in charge, we do not have a champion for our city.
Instead we have someone who refuses to take responsibility and blames the residents of Glasgow for its current challenges – wrapped up in rhetoric that would make Margaret Thatcher blush.
It’s just a “spruce up” that the city needs, she told STV in a car-crash interview. It’s “wee neds” to blame for the state of the city, she told the BBC in another attempt at deflection.
Rubbish piling up on the streets? People need to take more responsibility for cleanliness in their communities, according to Councillor Aitken. Every single time, whatever the problem, there is always someone else to blame for the SNP.
The reality is that the blame for the current state of the city lies with Councillor Aitken’s colleagues in Holyrood who have underfunded local services in Glasgow.
They can get away with it because the nationalist administration in the city doesn’t complain. The SNP council is failing the city and Glaswegians are being treated with utter contempt.
So when the State of the City Economy Conference gets underway, as well as looking to the future, it must also address the present.
Glasgow City Council’s latest household survey has told us what people think of local services. It was hidden away on the council’s website, presumably because the current administration doesn’t like the findings, which show that only 48 per cent of residents said they were satisfied – down from 67 per cent in the last survey in 2019.
Among universal services, the largest decrease in satisfaction was – unsurprisingly – with refuse collection, down 21 percentage points to 48 per cent.
The only surprise is that satisfaction is as high as it is. I’ve never seen my city looking so unclean.
The pile-up of rubbish has not only turned Glasgow into a playground for rats, but it has also become a national embarrassment that is harming our economy.
In November, the world’s leaders will gather in the city for the Cop26 climate summit – US President Joe Biden among them. The streets will be cleaned up, temporarily, for this Joe – but not for Joe Public.
At the same time, community facilities are being closed across the city and residents are marching in protest.
It means we have the astonishing spectacle of libraries shutting their doors to the public while Nicola Sturgeon – a Glasgow MSP let’s not forget – boasts on social media about the latest books she has bought from her favourite bookshops.
She is becoming as out-of-touch as the Tories in Westminster she likes to deride so much.
However it isn’t just local communities who suffer from SNP cuts. Glasgow has some of the best cultural venues in the world, attracting millions of visitors in normal times and bringing massive economic benefit to the entire country.
But its museums run on just over £12 million of support for their 4.4 million visitors, while the National Museums of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland attract only 3.2 million and 2.4 million visitors but have budgets of £22.4 million and £21.2 million respectively.
Glasgow is being short-changed by the SNP in Edinburgh, and Scotland pays the price. In fact, since 2010 the SNP has cut £1 in every £6 from the city’s budget.
It deserves proper leadership focused on the city; a leadership not afraid to call out cuts to its budget, not afraid to stand up to the SNP in Edinburgh, and never afraid to put Glasgow first.
Labour understood this, which is why we spearheaded the Glasgow City Deal in 2014 – harnessing millions of pounds of investment to regenerate and develop sites, help small and medium enterprises grow, and establish programmes to support unemployed people. We rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in.
We would do it again right now with a jobs recovery plan to provide every young person who has struggled to find work a job and access to training, a stimulus package aimed at helping vital sectors survive by encouraging shoppers and tourists to support their local economies, training funds, more apprenticeship schemes, and support for businesses to transition towards greener and more digital futures.
These are the kind of bold ideas we need so that we can drive Scotland’s recovery in Glasgow.
There should be no limit to our ambitions. Economic recovery, a green new deal, improved public transport and active travel, culture and leisure facilities celebrated and supported, and a catch-up plan for every pupil in the city.
But it’s painfully obvious that Susan Aitken doesn’t have the ambition for Glasgow and isn’t up to the job.
It’s not only residents who have lost confidence in her; her own SNP colleagues are increasingly exasperated in private.
If she isn’t prepared to do her job, she should let someone else do it.
Next year, the council elections are an opportunity to elect champions for Glasgow – because the city deserves better.
Councillor Malcolm Cunning is leader of the Glasgow Labour Group