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Glasgow says goodbye to Sir Walter Scott

Why do Glasgow’s ‘stakeholders’ have more say than citizens on the fate of George Square, asks Rory Olcayto

There is something pretty cool in having a poet, rather than a warlord or politician, overlook a city square.

That is the case in Glasgow, where from the top of a fine Doric column in George Square, there stands a stone carving of Sir Walter Scott, the first monument anywhere in the world to honour the hugely popular wordsmith.

Glasgow is a city of storytellers – modern ones too, with Doctor Who, Batman and the X-Men, all being scripted by various sons of the region. So it feels especially right to have Scott mark its centre in this way, even if he did hail from hated, east coast Edinburgh. The fact that it was completed 10 years ahead of the 1846 Walter Scott Monument on the capital’s Princes Street is proof the seeds of this rivalry were sown way, way back.

But despite the protests of Scotsman of letters Allan Massie in the Telegraph last week, and more vigorously by classical sculptor Sandy Stoddart in the Herald the week before, its removal, along with 11 other works honouring figures such as James Watt and Queen Victoria form part of the council’s plan to rework George Square as ‘fit for the 21st century’.

Just last month it announced a shortlist of six firms, including New York high line architects James Corner Field Operations and London’s Leicester Square revamp team Burns + Nice to offer up their ideas for the £15 million contract before a decision is made in January 2013. Alongside these plans, the council proposed the removal of all listed statues, bar the Cenotaph, for conservation and repair and probable relocation to other parts of the city.

The reason is that the sculptures, which Stoddart claims are ‘among the finest and most historically important statues to be made in these islands’, are positioned in such a way as to make the square useless for Innocent Smoothie-backed concerts and the like. These are a deadening legacy of the Glasgow’s City of Culture reign in 1990 and, unfortunately, are the more likely driving force behind the bold plans rather than a desire to make the busy square – once famous for trade union rallies, which the council also wants to ban – more artful. Not that this should put off the shortlisted firms from trying.

What is particularly annoying is that the council’s own consultation document reports that ‘there was strong support, particularly among residents, for keeping the existing statues within the square as these were seen as a valuable attraction for tourists and visitors. However, stakeholders were less concerned about the current statues remaining in the square.’

So who are these stakeholders that the council is paying greater attention to than the city’s own citizens? In no particular order: Strathclyde Police, Strathclyde Passenger Transport, Glasgow Hoteliers Association, Glasgow Restauranteurs Association, Glasgow Chambers of Commerce, Glasgow Marketing Bureau and the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). The RIAS has been notably quiet on the statues’ fate, probably because it helped organise the competition and secretary Neil Baxter is on the jury as an observer. (In 2002 Baxter was hired by the council to manage the PR for its City of Love festival that saw a Ferris wheel erected in the square).

If you’re still in doubt that the reason for the statues’ removal has anything to do with consolidating George Square’s status as a pay-to-enter fairground, one name on the jury should swing it: Geoff Ellis, the T in the Park festival supremo. Welcome to the 21st century, Glasgow. How much is it to get in?

Readers' comments (1)

  • Well said.
    The unseemly haste with which the statues are being hurried out of the square, before we have seen a single sketch proposal for what might replace them flies in the face of the Planning Authority's own guidance for development within a conservation area. Poor show GCC.

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