Deputy Culture Editor – Theatre
Theatre Editor Blair Cunningham gives a creative look at Glasgow’s past, present, and future as we head into the next decade.
Glasgow, 1920: Smoke and Razors
100 years ago, Glasgow’s streets were thick with the grime and pollution of its industry, and life for most was full of poverty and violence. The “Second City of the Empire” bursts with a million inhabitants – most are crammed into the centre, and most are working class. The city is still recovering from the First World War and Spanish Influenza outbreak that decimated its population. Working conditions and sanitation are horrific; very few make it to 60 years old. Every day, most of the city’s men, and many of its women, walk to work, part of their 50-hour week in the shipyards or textile mills; these are the “lucky ones”.
Post-war recession has left thousands unemployed, a trend that worsens for the next 20 years and leaves Glasgow’s streets soaked in blood. Unemployment leads to violent protests, including the battle of George Square one year earlier; city chambers are fortified and tanks are brought in over panic of a Bolshevik uprising. Trust between mistreated Glaswegian workers and paranoid officials never recovers, the area will be known as “Red Clydeside” for decades and becomes a Labour stronghold until 2015.
It’s not just politics that spills blood on Glasgow’s streets; poverty and division become a breeding ground for gang warfare. Despite the city being almost entirely white, racial/religious divide is still rampant; large numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants have been arriving to work for decades and some of the Scottish Protestants of the city feel threatened. The Bridgeton Billy Boys want to make Irish Catholics in the city feel as unwelcome as possible, and constantly clash with the Catholic Norman Conks. Dozens of similar razor gangs (their preferred weapon) clash with each other and with police, especially in the east end. Similar ethnic/religious gangs slash and stab in industrial cities across the world, from Birmingham to New York. Life is cheap a hundred years ago.
Glasgow, 2020: Hope and Music
The Glasgow of the third millennium is a very different place; there are more artisan coffee houses and hipsters than shipyards and shoe shiners. The smoke of industry has been replaced with the smog of cars and planes. More than ever, it’s a city of culture: more venues than ever, host to Olympic and Commonwealth events, too. Things look brighter, wages are higher, jobs are safer, life is longer.
But some things don’t change much. Some things don’t change at all. The divides are stark when six-figure yuppies brush shoulders with the homeless and substance-addicted. While the west end screams middle-class, the obvious poverty of inner-city slums has been pushed to the suburbs and outer towns, making us complacent. Gang warfare has been stamped down, but too many young people still lose their lives in pointless rivalry and life sentences. Hatred is a pervasive emotion; immigrants from Poland and Pakistan become new targets, while some Protestants and Catholics continue their ancient hatred.
We have come so far, but we’re only half-way there.
Glasgow, 3020: The Weegie Wasteland
In the grim darkness of the future, despair hangs in every breath. The nuclear and climate apocalypses decimated the entire planet, leaving behind deserts and some very sad people indeed. Scotland is no different. Megacity Perth occupies the entire eastern coast ruled by brutal JudgesTM, and the west coast has become anarchistic ganglands. From New Paisley to the northern wastes, motorised gangs like St Mirrder and Partick Thrashers compete for oil and ammunition supplies. Only one man and his scrap-metal-covered-death-wagon can bring order to the wasteland: Bam Brian. While the proletariat fight for scraps, the super-rich have escaped to watch it all from their Musky Martian colonies and laugh at the mess they left.
Well maybe it won’t be that bleak, but it doesn’t look good. If we don’t stop producing CO2, as a society and as individuals human civilisation will experience the greatest catastrophe it has ever faced. Drive less, fly less, stop eating meat, vote for the planet, whatever you can do. What do we really want to see in Glasgow? There are some obvious “utopian” suggestions. Green, free transport, 100% recycling, a guaranteed home for every resident and a livable wage. We’ve got 100 years; can we avoid destruction and build a more civil society?
Never forget the horrors of the past and never take the present for granted and never leave the future for tomorrow.