Glasgow citizens stop city from taking traffic cone off statue's head

For 30 years, Glasgow's Duke of Wellington monument has worn a traffic cone on its head. But when the city tried to de-cone the duke, locals leapt into action.

Ruth Mitchell/Press Association/AP
The Duke of Wellington monument in Glasgow, Scotland, complete with traffic-cone hat, stands outside the Gallery of Modern Art this week. The Glasgow city council backed down on plans to raise the plinth to dissuade locals from putting traffic cones on the statue's head, after thousands of cone supporters protested the effort to remove an 'iconic' part of the city's heritage.

"Whose cone?" yelled the young man with the microphone.

"Our cone!" the crowd called back in response.

It was a cold, midweek evening in Glasgow, but a couple of hundred people turned up for an unusual protest – against a city council plan to end the long-standing tradition of putting a traffic cone on the head of a statue of the Duke of Wellington that stands outside the city’s museum of modern art.

The traffic cone, sometimes orange, sometimes yellow, has been a feature of Glaswegian life ever since a drunken reveler, bollard in hand, scaled Copenhagen, the Duke’s trusty horse, thirty years ago. Since then, the cone has been a mostly permanent fixture – though the city takes the cone down some 100 times each year, it is always quickly replaced – and has featured in everything from paintings and postcards to songs and films set in Scotland’s largest city.

Earlier this week the Glasgow city council declared that, as part of a proposed refurbishment, the statue's plinth would be raised to over 6 feet in an effort to "deter all but the most determined of vandals," and put to an end to what it called a "depressing" image of Glasgow.

The backlash was swift. A Facebook campaign had thousands of "likes" within hours of setting up, with users in Wellington, New Zealand, and Belgium (site of the Duke’s most famous victory, at Waterloo, after which the statue was erected, in 1844), logging on to register their disapproval at the council’s decision. The Wellington Cone even got its own Twitter account.

Faced with demonstrators waving "save the cone" placards and shouting "yes we cone," the Glasgow city council performed a move that a military man like the Duke would have been familiar with: the tactical withdrawal. The planned changes to the plinth have been abandoned.

"It is a great victory for the people of Glasgow. There was next to no cone-sultation on this issue," said one demonstrator, Glasgow university student Michael Gray. "The cone-cil backed down."

For many the cone – and the campaign to save it – symbolizes the character of a city with a reputation for black humor and iconoclasm.

"There is no apathy in Glasgow," former Glasgow Lord Provost Michael Kelly wrote in the Scotsman. "I am proud to be part of a city whose people take action to ensure that the city’s image reflects how they see themselves."

Still, not everyone agrees. Glasgow "likes to think of itself as a place where art thrives," said writer Alan Taylor. "In making it impossible to crown Wellington with a cone (the city) had a chance to show it cared about history, that art matters. Instead, it has done the opposite and kowtowed to the baying crowd."

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