Edinburgh and Glasgow
Some of you may belong to the Scottish diaspora, dating from the waves of emigration during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some too might be thinking of visiting Scotland in the near future. With both groups in mind, here are a few observations about the country, and particularly its two major cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow – based on a trip I made to each last month.
To say that these cities are very different is to state the blindingly obvious, yet it is a truth that holds the key to understanding their relationship and their contributions to Scottish history.
Edinburgh is in the east, colder and dryer: it sees itself (and in most respects is) elegant, sophisticated and relatively wealthy. As the historic locus of power and government, it has a long and diverse political heritage which, today, might be about to see Scotland regain its independence. Its cultural past is equally rich: during the hundred years from around 1730 it was one of Europe's major centres of enlightened learning, the scene of seminal research in medicine, natural sciences and law. Literature and art flourished here too: Sir Walter Scott of Ivanhoe fame – whose monument today looms over Princes St (Image 1) – was born here and attended the University. The exalted status achieved during these decades was reflected in the construction of the New Town, one of Europe's first and greatest examples of city planning, now preserved as a World Heritage Centre. (Image 2)
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But Edinburgh hasn't only been the scene of political and cultural endeavour. It has always been a major financial centre, home to many of UK's major banking and insurance corporations. Today, it is of course in the UK's top three tourist attractions: home to Holyrood Palace, the louring Castle, near-by Rosslyn Chapel (of Dan Brown fame), the annual International Festival and the world of Ian Rankin's “Inspector Rebus”, leading the fight for law and order from St Leonard's Police Station (and the local pub!)
Glasgow, in the west, could hardly be more different in many respects. It is wetter and warmer; sectarian where Edinburgh is secular; raw, rough and immediate where Edinburgh tends to be”cooler”, more detached. Glasgow is the larger city, but it is also the poorer – in fact, many of the UK's higher rates of social, economic and medical deprivation are found here. The major cause of these differences lies in a historical coincidence of colonial trade, industry – and a river, the Clyde. With the 18th century rise of economic activity in North America and the Caribbean, Glasgow's port became a major transatlantic trading hub; the main participants – spice, sugar and tobacco traders – are remembered today in the area of the City centre known as Merchants City. In the 19th century the economy (and population) of Glasgow and its hinterland expanded dramatically to the point at which it became one of the world's pre-eminent centres of chemicals, textiles and engineering, most notably shipbuilding. By the end of the 19th century there were nearly 200 yards on the Clyde; now there are none (Image 3). By the end of the 19th century Glasgow was known as “the second city of the British Empire”; with a population of 1.2 million it was the fourth-largest city in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin. Economic prosperity on this scale usually correlates with a spawning of culture and learning: so it was with Glasgow, courtesy of civic pride and individual philanthropy. Though its University (Image 4) dates back to the early 16th century, the 19th century witnessed in particular a burgeoning of art, architecture and design. Charles Rennie MacIntosh was perhaps the most influential name to emerge from Glasgow at this time. (Images 5 &6). Today, Glasgow has virtually no heavy industry to speak of, and its population has declined to around 750,000 and rates of unemployment are high. Still, though, the city retains the type of primal “buzz” you won't find in Edinburgh.
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Differences abound then; but what have the two cities have in common? Well, of course they are both Scottish – and national identity these days is a powerful factor. Then there is the little matter of “sassenachs” - those poor unfortunates from “south of the border”. But, perhaps strongest of all, …...........I found it in a Glaswegian pub called the “Pot Still”: 500 brands of whiskey!