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An Englishman in Glasgow

Scotland's largest city inspires fierce patriotism from an expatriate. TRAVEL: SCOTLAND

By Christopher AndreaeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / June 12, 1990


CONTRARY to a song associated with Scotland's largest city, I can't claim that ``I belong to Glasgow.'' The fact that I live here is beside the point. The point is - I'm English. But even as a mere Englishman here, I have found that this city has a way of exciting one's sense of partisan loyalty. Overhearing a lady in a York caf'e advising a tourist to visit Edinburgh say: ``No point in going to Glasgow - there's nothing to see,'' my indignation was instant. I interrupted and enumerated ten or twelve pressing reasons for going.

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One pressing reason this year is that Glasgow is undergoing its most serious self-promotion campaign yet, 1990 being the year in which the title ``European City of Culture'' crowns its proud urban brow. It is overwhelming itself with cultural events.

Yet there are those in Glasgow who are uncertain about the city's influx of Yuppies (for which read, more or less, ``The English''). Murmurings are heard occasionally about the opening of coffee-shops where you can purchase croissants or cr^epes. Whatever is happening to working-class Glasgow? And sardonic mutterings are made now and then about warehouses being transformed into expensively smart apartments with alarm systems for people with ties and BMWs.

Dockland turns touristy

And there must be more than a few older Glaswegians who eye, bemused, the tourists who stroll along Clyde-side cobbled walkways as if this once fiercely industrialized dockland, this world center for ship-building, has become the Brighton promenade.

Former riveters and welders now make much better money (well, one or two of them do) as comedians or actors (mainly in England or America) or as artists of no mean international repute. Others - since Glasgow, for all its determination to pull itself up by its bootstraps, still has very high unemployment - make nothing at all. But the assumption of the busy fresh-imagemakers of Glasgow is that any influx of tourism or business - even if it's ``from the South'' - can't be bad for any of the city's inhabitants.

However ferociously anti-Thatcher, anti-Conservative, anti-affluent-Southeast-England the people of Glasgow may be, they know on which side bread is buttered, and justify a vigorous love-affair with all forms of private enterprise by calling themselves ``pragmatic socialists.'' This means that, for sheer vigor and vitality, for energy and change, for rebuilding and renovating, Glasgow is a notably stimulating place to live in or visit. Is it likely to lose its special identity? I doubt it.

Glasgow's image, however, isn't safe even with some Scots. Just a couple of weeks ago my wife and I were dining at an inn by a loch when we were stunned by a talk-snippet from another table. A Japanese visitor had just mentioned some experience he'd had when in Glasgow. ``But Jo,'' expostulated his Scottish host, a gentleman of positive opinions, ``you know very well Glasgow isn't in Scotland!''

That gentleman was either from Edinburgh or was a ``teuchter'' - a disparaging Lowlander term for Highlander, the antithetical equivalent of the term ``Sassenach,'' which is what Highlanders call Lowlanders, and all Scots call the English. Glasgow, ironically, though perceived by such biased, mock-humorous detractors as so full of Lowlanders that it scarcely counts as Scottish at all, is substantially populated by Scots descended from Highlanders who came here for work in earlier centuries.