Party pieces: Glasgow

BRITAIN A guide to the seat of the Lib Dems' forthcoming conference. By Simon Calder
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The Independent Travel
Roy Jenkins could have told them it was a bad idea to hold a conference here. As the one-time MP for Hillhead (SDP; remember them?) discovered, Scotland's largest city is a rich seam for political tourism. But the trail is almost relentlessly red, with occasional branches into fiery nationalism.

The Clyde cuts a socialist swathe through the city. From the beginnings of the co-operative movement at Robert Owen's workers' paradise upstream at New Lanark, the river and the idealogues gather momentum en route to the communist shipyard workers of Govan. Halfway between the two extremes lies Glasgow Green (no eco-political significance intended in this wedge of parkland), dominated by the redbrick of the People's Palace museum.

If delegates care to stay until Thursday, they will see the new exhibition due to open on the top floor. Banners, from the first flutterings of trade unionism to the flags of the anti-poll tax campaign, are set against capitalist visions of the city. A merchant's bath - with eight silver taps, including one for activating a primitive Jacuzzi arrangement - is contrasted with a photograph of a squalid tenement lavatory in the 1930s. "Baths for all" could be a Liberal Democrat slogan. Any policy, indeed, might serve to lift the party's profile in the museum. At present it consists of a single copy of the Lib Dem logo.

The corporation logo is much more visible. The motto, Let Glasgow Flourish, is most evident in the clamour of art and culture that echoes around the city. All museums and galleries are free, a policy that survived Thatcherism and is now helping to draw tourists in record numbers. Few are from the Lib Dem heartlands of England. Most of the people vying for bedspace with delegates are from the Continent, here to see the best of the 1990 European Capital of Culture: the cool lines and ancient relics of the Burrell Collection - and modernist miracles at the Mackintosh house.

The residence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh was removed from its original location to face the main entrance to the University. The designer's home is now a gallery, where Glasgow's contribution to Art Nouveau is distilled. Mackintosh's ability to infuse form and functionality with inspiration has been copied greedily all over the city, even down to the lean, leaded glasswork framing the Wimpy Bar in the Sauchiehall Centre.

Accommodation

Whether you stay in the pounds 9-a-night youth hostel or at One Devonshire Gardens (pounds 150 single), you can be sure that the conference location is hard to reach. The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre is the horrid red corrugation tangled up among the sliproads of the Clyde Expressway on the north side of the river.

Getting around

Given the party's commitment to public transport, delegates should travel by Strathclyde bus or on the dinky little underground. Both forms of transport are painted a shocking Lib Dem orange.

Eating and drinking

Glasgow is not famed for its culinary pleasures, but The Ubiquitous Chip in Ashton Lane is trying to improve the diner's prospects. Ignore the false modesty embodied in the name; a main course averages pounds 15. Directly opposite, the Grosvenor Cafe is a splendidly proletarian place, where the tablecloths are tartan plastic and the bill is unlikely to exceed pounds 6.

If those afternoon debates start wearing you down, wander along Sauchiehall Street to the Willow Tea Room, a Charles Rennie Mackintosh-executed Room de Luxe (its official title). The austere high-backed silver chairs and swirling mirrors here create an other-worldly effect.

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