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  1. Politics
3 July 2000

Glasgow’s smile just gets broader

New Statesman Scotland - Edinburgh's snobbery has grown worse since the parliament came to

By Tom Brown

Surreptitiously, a term of disparagement has crept into the Scottish vocabulary: “Weejies”. If you are a “Weejie”, you are someone of a lesser tribe – to be scorned but watched; as brashly comic as Billy Connolly yet as unpredictable as Mike Tyson.

“Weejie” is short for Glaswegian, a native of “the dear, green place” now known as “Weejieland”, where you will never hear the term used. Unless by some doolally who is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ . . .

The source of origin is Edinburgh, which explains the disdain. The view from Scotland’s political capital to what was once its commercial and industrial capital is not simply east-to-west; it has always been down-the-nose. Significantly, “Weejie” has become widely used only since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

Those of us who wanted the parliament to be sited anywhere but Edinburgh (what is wrong with a peripatetic parliament in a small country such as Scotland in the electronic age?) knew it would increase Auld Reekie’s self-satisfied air.

The trouble with Edinburghers is that they believe it is their God-given right to have the gravy on the Scotch pie.

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As a Fifer, I should be neutral, but anyone who has lived and worked in both will tell you the slogan of the Nineties Glasgow renaissance, “Glasgow Smiles Better”, is more than a mere motto.

Any journalist who has ever tried to get a vox pop or to knock on a door for background chat knows the difference between “Come in, dae ye want a look at his deid body?” of the bereaved Glasgow, and the buttoned-up, tight-corseted, fur-coat-and-nae-drawers snobbery of Edinburgh.

Glasgow pokes fun at pretension, hence: “In Edinburgh, a table and chairs on the pavement is a Continental cafe. In Glasgow, it’s a warrant sale.”

In Edinburgh, it’s the dismissive “You’ll have had your tea”. In Glasgow, it’s “You will hae yer tea” with the unspoken menace of mortal affront if you don’t.

In one of the darker periods of my life, we moved into a top flat in the capital – in Glasgow, it would have been “up a wally close”; in Edinburgh, it was a tiled stairway in a refined area. We made the mistake of knocking on the other doors to introduce ourselves. The occupants were panic-stricken at such a show of neighbourliness.

For the next three years, the only way we knew we had neighbours was when a card mysteriously appeared on our doorknob in the middle of the night telling us “It is your turn to clean the stairs”.

Giving Edinburghers the near-monopoly on our new form of government was bound to increase their snootiness. The inflow of businesses seeking to be near the power base has been mind-boggling.

The best thing that happened in the Scottish Parliament’s first year was decamping to Glasgow in May to allow the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh to be used by its rightful owners, the Church of Scotland.

MSPs lightened up noticeably, became more matey and outward-looking. They were free of Edinburgh-ness and had left behind the capital’s closed-clique Civil-Service-law-finance Establishment, which still thinks it runs Scotland.

The MSPs also found themselves in a city that, after decades of decline, is once again brimming with confidence and new-found joie de vivre, Jimmy.

The latest Glasgow Economic Monitor declares: “Not since a brief period in the late 1940s has Glasgow enjoyed the kind of economic renaissance it is currently experiencing.”

After the loss of its industrial base, Glasgow has belatedly embraced the “new economy”. Unemployment is at a 20-year low with new jobs in banking, insurance, telecoms, utilities, retail, entertainment, media and business services.

All this means that more disposable income is being spent by a younger, better-paid workforce, so there has been an explosion of shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, hotels and “entertainment clusters”.

Successive reports by business consultants have recognised Glasgow as a mecca for shopping weekends and tourism: “the most important outside London in the UK shopping super league” with an annual retail spend of £2.5bn a year; its hotels are the busiest in Britain; commercial investment in the city centre is running ahead of anywhere else; and it is ranked number two in the UK behind London as a location for corporations to invest or recruit.

Perhaps more surprising in view of its “hard man” reputation, a quality-of-life survey of 218 major cities ranked it 55 in the world and second in the UK – behind London and above Edinburgh.

Scotland’s Establishment may still be entrenched in Edinburgh. But Glasgow is the place to do business and have fun.

Weejie, is it? See you, Jimmy? Put all that in your Auld Reekie and smoke it!