Thursday, 24 July 2014

Glasgow's Miles Better

"Glasgow's Miles Better" was the famous slogan from the 1980s campaign to change Glasgow's image from one of industrial decline to that of a vibrant European city. It was also the start of major regeneration which took place across the city and still continues today. Last night saw the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games which took place in Glasgow's Parkhead Stadium, a culmination of years of work and a combination of different excellences.
My family are all from Glasgow and whilst I grew up in England, to a large extent, I consider Glasgow to be my hometown in many ways. Growing up I spent every school holiday there and I lived there for 10 years, it's one of my favourite cities. The current city branding slogan being used is "People Make Glasgow" and that's so true. The opening ceremony was a reflection of that and so much more.
Whilst the huge kilt, dancing teacakes, Karen Dunbar and John Barrowman, weren't to everyone's taste, it was a uniquely Glaswegian performance. Much of it might have seemed alien to those who perhaps had never visited Scotland, or even Glasgow and whilst it was never going to be the same as London 2012 (nor should it be), it had heart and I think it came from a genunine place. Of course there was also a little bit of patriotism (quite right too) with the list of Scottish inventions being reeled off, including the fact that it was a Scot that founded the Bank of England!
Sport events are inherently political and Glasgow didn't shy away from that and saw a same-sex kiss within the opening minutes. The timing of this couldn't be more crucial; there are debates about equality raging within the UK and of the Commonwealth countries competing in Glasgow, 42 criminalise homosexuality. The Scottish Government is proudly flying the rainbow flag to symbolise diversity. There was also a tribute to Nelson Mandela - which was fitting considering that Glasgow gave him the freedom of the city back in 1986, at a time when Margaret Thatcher had denounced him as a terrorist. Glasgow has a long history of fighting inequality and that is something that the city should be extremely proud of.
2014 is a significant year for Scotland and it'll be interesting to watch the impact (if any) that these games have on undecided voters in the upcoming referendum. It was rather amusing to hear such a roar for the Queen at Celtic Park of all places- this is surely the first time in the history that this has happened. It was fantastic to see Team England receive such a welcome during the parade, quashing the rumours set by scaremongers that the English would receive a rough ride.
A particularly poignant moment came when a minute's silence was held for the victims of the MH17 crash. There were over 40,000 people in that stadium and not a sound was heard. This was Glasgow and its people at its best.
Some might scoff at the Commonwealth Games, arguing that they're irrelevant, an opportunity for the UK to somehow feel powerful on the world stage. To a certain extent, I can understand some of those arguments. However the Commonwealth Games are still a mega event, attracting media attention, investment and scrutiny. Over 1 billion people were said to have tuned into Glasgow's ceremony last night, promotion that no city could ever really afford if it had to buy the airtime.
The Glasgow opening ceremony was everything I thought it should be - fun, inclusive, controversial and self-depricating. The fact that the Wellington Statue (with traffic cone) featured so prominently was not only a reflection of Glasgow humour but a testament that Glaswegians do not take themselves too seriously. Well done Glasgow, to use the famous quip, you've done "no bad".