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Labour turning Glasgow's historic George Square into retail outlet

Citizens in Glasgow are up in arms over a council proposal to transform historic George Square, into a corporate “retail-led” space with crass “public art”. Many rightly see it is an attempt to drive the political and social life of the city out of this important square.

George Square has been the centre of struggle in the city from the 1919 uprising to demonstrations against the poll tax and Trident. Most recently, it was the site for the Occupy movement’s actions in Glasgow.

Without any consultation, the Labour-controlled council has unveiled six options, each more corporate than the one before, in a £15 million project, most of which will be borrowed against future business rates income.

The plans will ban protests and demonstrations from the space. No longer will councillors be within hearing distance of rallies outside their cosy offices. And people simply sitting and enjoying the space, eating their lunch or chatting with friends, will in future be surrounded with the pressure to buy more stuff, or driven out by barriers for big corporate events.

There has been an attempt to play the nationalist card, boasting that Victorian statues, for example of Sir Robert Peel will be removed. But this is a shallow view of history, which ought rather to be taken as a whole – including the fact that many grand buildings in the city centre were built out of the proceeds of slavery.

Virtually in secret, the council commissioned a PR firm to conduct a so-called consultation. When this writer asked under the Freedom of Information Act who was being consulted, and if she could be consulted, she was told that the council didn’t have the information, only the PR firm, and it was therefore commercially sensitive. This is a complete distortion of the meaning of the legislation.

It turns out that just 42 citizens were polled about whether the square should change. Apart from that, it was only corporate and city political bodies that were invited to comment, with the exception of the Scottish TUC who strongly objected to efforts to ban demonstrations from the square.

One of the Council’s notorious “arms length” organisations, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (slogan: “Glasgow with Style”) is driving the plans. Its role is to “create customers”. Council leader Gordon Matheson is the chair with other councillors on the board. There is more about the interchangeable web of corporate politicians and political corporates that run Glasgow on the Restore George Square website.

None of these bodies have any concern for a genuinely sustainable economy that works for the people. There is no suggestion that serious number of jobs will result from these glitzy activities – just as events like the City of Culture and Garden Festival did not improve the city’s fundamental economic situation.

The question is who owns public space – is it the council and their corporate partners in civic crime, or is it the people?  This is part of the bigger question of what kind of democracy we have and who it serves.

Thousands of city council workers have already been made redundant, and there are plans to get rid of at least 1,000 more between now and 2015. The total will probably be higher because the council was told in September that it is facing a £50m deficit by 2015.

The council meets tomorrow to agree further closures of day services for people with learning disabilities and that is only one of many services that are being devastated by cuts. There will be a protest on 23 January at the City Chambers. Meanwhile, youth unemployment in the city now stands at almost 25%.

We need to free ourselves from this system that operates solely in corporate interests and thrives off a repressive economy that benefits the ruling elite but has no benefits to offer the citizens.

Glasgow People’s Assemblies is hosting Assemblies for Change, where the nature of the changes needed, and the route to achieving them, are at the heart of an open discussion. Join us on Facebook and come to the next Assembly for Change event on January 26.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
17 January 2013

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Your Say

Cissie Lodge says:

Those ignoramuses who extoll the "value" of commerce should be made to write this sentence 100 times: “The Measure of any great civilization is in its towns and cities and the measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.” John Ruskin

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