Revived Edinburgh reclaims high ground

Inter-city rivalry: Scotland's capital sheds its bad reputation to leave Glasgow trailing in the battle for hearts and minds
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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

Summer 1995 and Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, is basking in the glow of international acclaim. One month after the Tall Ships Race attracted one million visitors, more than 600,000 tourists and performers are filling the theatres and concert halls as the 49th Edinburgh Festival reaches a climax.

Tickets worth pounds 1.8m have been sold for the official festival and Fringe sales are breaking records. New venues like the pounds 22m Festival Theatre are booming while, outside the official festival, the National Gallery has unveiled Canova's masterpiece, The Three Graces. New Continental- style bars and restaurants are packed.

It has been a good summer for Edinburgh, which has confirmed its position as a thriving European City of Culture. But the "Athens of the North" has not always had it so easy. Five years ago, its leaders were condemned as narrow-minded and complacent. Scotland's capital, starved of investment, was drab and it gained an unenviable reputation as Britain's heroin and Aids capital.

At that time, many tourists ignored Edinburgh and headed to Glasgow which was busy re-inventing itself using "kulchur - pure dead brilliant". Glasgow's 1990 artistic jamboree as Europe's official City of Culture, which followed the successful Garden Festival, helped to re-establish Clydeside as a dynamic centre. Glasgow became, as its promotional material suggested, "Miles Better".

Now, however, the picture has reversed. As Edinburgh celebrates, Glaswegians are anxiously re-examining the legacy of 1990. Recent setbacks such as the failure to secure the new National Gallery of Scottish Art have shaken Glasgow's municipal self-confidence. A rising tide of drugs-related violence - seven men have been murdered on Clydeside this month alone - has revived the city's reputation for grime and crime. Sixty years after Alexander McArthur's novel No Mean City told of the legendary razor gangs, city fathers fear that Glasgow has become a new mean city.

Michael Kelly, who, as Glasgow's Lord Provost, introduced the "Miles Better" campaign in 1983, argues that Glasgow has lost its momentum and the upsurge in violence threatens to destroy its hard-won gains.

"We made great strides in the 1980s," he said. "Using skilful marketing, we helped create an image of Glasgow as a first division European centre like Barcelona or Lyon. People looked at us in a new light and we won new interest and investment. But that hasn't lasted."

Critics of Glasgow's arts-led renaissance, like Mr Kelly, point to statistics which reveal that the can-do spirit and PR glitz, which swept Clydeside in the 1980s have failed to reverse the city's decline. A major study published in May by Strathclyde Regional Council showed that poverty in the city has doubled in the past two decades. A flood of heroin and other drugs like temazepam has made Glasgow the centre of Britain's drugs epidemic.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, has prospered. The Leith district, once a byword for drugs and crime, has been redeveloped and the new pounds 60m Scottish Office opens there next month. Later this year the doors open at a new expanded airport and two new multi-million pound conference centres. All the projects have been sponsored by councillors and observers say that Edinburgh's political establishment has finally begun to create a capital worthy of the name.

Professor Gavin McCrone, who teaches business studies at Edinburgh University, said: "In the past Edinburgh's conservative civic leaders found excuses not to do anything. Since 1990, however, the atmosphere has changed utterly."

Mr McCrone says economic rivalry will ensure the two cities will continually swap places as Scotland's urban leader.

Others, however, are not so sure. Labour's pledge to create a parliament in Edinburgh would prompt other Scottish institutions, such as Labour's headquarters, to move there. The city could then assert its ancient authority and emerge from Glasgow's shadow for more than three weeks a year.

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