I might have known better. Getting into the taxi in Queen Street Station one rainy day I couldn’t help commenting on George Square. Looking a little tidier today, I say, but what’s happening to the statues?
Never mind the statues. The taxi driver is irate at the cost of Glasgow City Council’s proposed refurbishment of the square: “£15million and they’re cutting nearly £50 million from the city budget!” By the time we’re three sides round the square ( £3.60 on the meter) he’s in full flow. “You know what they say about our old Lord Provost Pat Lally – he was never going to get invited to Moscow so he brought Red Square to Glasgow”.
That was just days before council leader Gordon Matheson made his U turn, gave in to public pressure and cancelled the refurbishment plans which would have replaced the red tarmac and maybe even moved the statues elsewhere.
I’m keeping my mouth shut on taxi rides these days. The story rumbles on and no-one is happy with the council’s handling of the project which cost £1m in a pointless design competition. But I’m looking at those statues with new eyes. What are they for?
Designed to give you a crick in the neck
A poll showed that most Save the Square supporters could not name the statues but they wanted to keep them anyway. And I must admit my knee jerk reaction was similar when I first read about the council’s proposals for improving the square. Removing the Victorian statues seemed a kind of vandalism. On my way back to Queen Street I took a closer look.
In the cold evening light they’re a chilly bunch. Poker-faced and pigeon-spattered. A poet here, a general there, a monarch on her high horse. Nothing to catch the eye or stir the heart – none of the passion of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, not a word about the trades union rally that filled the square and brought the tanks out in 1919.
Burns, Watson, Watt, Scott. All male, apart from Queen Victoria, and all worth remembering of course but what do they say about Glasgow, Scotland’s most ebulliently creative city?
This is civic art at its most predictable, a tired old imperial ego-trip. In Buchanan Street we meet Donald Dewar as another human being and smile at George Wyllie’s running clock.
So, though my taxi driver made a good point about the cost at a time of cuts, it’s a pity Glasgow city council failed to make a proper case for clearing the Victorian clutter. They could start with that monstrous Walter Scott column (and Edinburgh should banish the preposterous Dundas towering above St Andrew Square). Give us statues we can look in the eye!
Budapest did not have the same problem – once the Soviet Union crumbled they just shovelled redundant communist icons to a field on the outskirts of the city. It’s a great tourist attraction.
In an ideal world, of course, city councils would have control over their revenue so they could invest in the public realm along with maintaining essential services. But that’s another blog.