John McLellan: 2019 predictions likely to be less crazy than reality

No-one knows what will happen next year, so guess away '“ the truth is likely to be stranger than fiction, says John McLellan

Going by the fly-through, £46m buys you an adequate but underwhelming Meadowbank sports centre

Filling newspapers at Twixtmas, as we must now refer to the week separating Christmas and New Year, is a pain; all those reviews of last year and wild predictions for the one to come because nothing’s happening.

At HQ the holiday cover just wants something, anything to fill the space. And early, please. The trade secret is what is known in politics as the Christmas Box; a folio of previously prepared stories from press teams under day-by-day embargo drip-fed to tide the papers over until proper news starts happening again.

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Without Christmas Boxes, the news agenda would just be a diet of the day’s emergencies, the aftermath of drunken violence and the Old Firm. A bit like BBC Scotland every weekend.

This year it’s much, much easier. No-one, not the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the First Minister, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Patriarch of Constantinople or Richard Dawkins has any idea what’s going to happen in British or European politics next week, never mind next year, so commentators can speculate away in the knowledge that reality will be crazier than any guess.

My punt is the Prime Minister’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement for leaving the EU will win the day but only if she follows the advice to narrow down the options. There is no parliamentary majority for any of the possible pathways and despite talk of Norway or Canada Plus, it might as well be Norwegian Wood or Canada Dry for all the attention the EU is paying. The options come down to a second in-or-out referendum, the draft deal or a no-deal departure.

As the government is committed to the meaningful vote by 21 January, the first move on return from recess a week on Monday should be to force a vote over a second referendum. With Jeremy Corbyn committed to Brexit it’s a vote the government should win, which would leave the draft withdrawal and a no deal departure which the majority also oppose. Game, set and match, Mrs May.

But having gambled with General Election odds in her favour and lost heavily, will Mrs May gamble again? With advice from the level-headed David Liddington, I’m not betting against it.

V&A envy

Enterprising individuals can make their own headlines, as Edinburgh Labour leader Cammy Day has done with his views on the Dundee V&A and how Edinburgh should be following suit.

What caught the eye, on Tayside certainly, was Cllr Day’s rejoinder that “if bloody Dundee can get a V&A, then the capital city wants something even better”. Somewhat more diplomatically, bloody Dundee councillor Lynne Short responded calmly: “It is good if we are inspiring other towns and cities.”

Happily, now working on what could be Edinburgh’s answer to the V&A is award-winning Scottish architect John McAslan whose catalogue of major international works includes London King’s Cross Station. Typically in his game there has been the odd political scuffle, most notably his shelved plans for Glasgow’s George Square.

His practice has been working on the £75m Granton collections centre for the National Galleries of Scotland and ever-helpful Cllr Day chipped in: “What we don’t want is a big storage container. We want a V&A, we want something that’s quite iconic. If that’s not what’s coming forward then we are not interested.”

“Quite iconic? How quite iconic would you like it, sir,” might not be Mr McAslan’s immediate reaction, but the point about a focal point for the new district is reasonable. I could hardly argue, given I made the same point in June after a sneak preview of the V&A. “Siting anything like the V&A in or around Edinburgh city centre would cause uproar, but put it on the seafront in Granton and it might have a similar effect as it’s having in Dundee,” I wrote.

The problem with iconic, as the saga of the ten-times-over-budget £414m Scottish Parliament building demonstrated, is cost. The Dundee V&A is only about the same size as the Holyrood debating chamber alone and from £45m ended up costing just over £80m.

Not quite iconic

Iconic is not a word often used to describe Meadowbank Stadium. Controversial or crumbling certainly, historic to an extent but symbolic not so much, not in architectural terms anyway.

But the various schemes to replace the Commonwealth Games complex have come to symbolise bitter cynicism about local decision-making and a deep disenchantment with Edinburgh Council. For all its shortcomings, the stadium gave the district a sense of identity which the new sports centre will struggle to match.

A new animated ‘fly-through’ of the replacement centre has just been released by the council, revealing a perfectly functional regional sports centre, but to borrow from Cllr Day, it’s not quite iconic. Maybe the reality will be more impressive, but it doesn’t look like much for £46m, certainly not the underwhelming 500-seat spectator area which is supposed to be a new home for Third Division high-flyers Edinburgh City.

There is no sound business case for the council to build and maintain an international athletics stadium which would be needed about once every two years. If a millionaire track and field fan came forward then maybe it could be different, but the last time a supposed tycoon flashed his wallet around Meadowbank it didn’t end well. But the new images will do little to quell the feeling the area has been short-changed.

Progress prediction nil

New Meadowbank is due to open in 2020 and approximately 18 months later voters get a chance to pass judgment on their councillors at the 2022 local elections. So in the spirit of all those Twixtmas space-fillers, here are a few predictions for Scotland’s capital in 2022 after ten years of SNP-Labour coalitions: the Newhaven tram completion will not have taken its first fare-paying customer, the huge new Granton estate will not have risen from the old gasworks site, the South Suburban rail line’s only service will still be freight and the airport International Business Gateway will still be a field.