Parliament kept out in double blow for Glasgow

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The Independent Online
ONE CAN imagine the howls of outrage down Sauchiehall Street. In a day of a double whammy, Glasgow lost the initial hosting of the Scottish Parliament to Edinburgh, and then lost its bid for money to establish a National Gallery of Scottish Art and Design.

The first blow came from Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland. Glasgow, which had promised a "bare-knuckle fight" to be the first home of the nation's first parliament in 300 years, was told it had lost the battle to the old rival Edinburgh, traditionally viewed as the city of the "establishment".

Then came the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund had turned down the pounds 18.5m grant application for the gallery.

The Government had from the outset shown a preference for Edinburgh to site the new parliament from its inception. That was confirmed yesterday despite an offer from Glasgow to house it in the Charing Cross building formerly used by Strathclyde Regional Council.

Mr Dewar said: "The Glasgow option ... was very attractive. It offered a suitable debating chamber and ample office accommodation nearby. I am very grateful to the Glasgow Council." However, he continued: "A decisive factor was the need for the Parliament to put down roots in the vitally important early years.

"It would have been difficult for the Parliament and its staff established in Glasgow for the first two years to face a move to Edinburgh. That would be hard on businesses and other organisations seeking to establish a presence near to the Parliament."

The Glasgow option had been expected to cost just pounds 3m, and Edinburgh would be more expensive. But Mr Dewar said that was almost entirely because rates were higher there.

Asked if he expected the people of Glasgow to be bitter about the decision, the Secretary of State responded: "In a competition between sites there is always going to be a measure of disappointment. I hope they will not imagine that this was some kind of stitch-up to deny them."

But the Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond claimed it indeed was a stitch-up. "It looks as though Glasgow was used as a pawn in order to get a better bid from Edinburgh," he said. "It's a shabby way to treat Glasgow and leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

Mr Salmond added that the dispute between the two cities could have been avoided by placing the Parliament in Calton Hill, the favoured location of traditionalists.

Glasgow officials were aggrieved but sought to stay on the moral high ground. A City Council spokesman said: "We are proud of the case we made for Glasgow and believe that on quality and cost it was the best bid. Obviously we are disappointed the Secretary of State did not feel able to agree with us."

Edinburgh City Council members felt the natural order of things had been maintained. The Lord Provost, Eric Milligan, said: "This is a recognition that Edinburgh is the natural home of the Parliament and that it must meet here from the very beginning."

Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, noted the Lottery Fund's rejection of the Scottish Art and Design project came in the midst of focus on nationhood with the Scottish Parliament in the news. "It is an irony that with a Parliament about to sit in Scotland again, and with Scotland so conscious of nationhood, the concept of a Scottish gallery has been rejected," he said.