Second to what?

Garcia, B. (2004) “Second to what? Glasgow’s Cultural Role in Scotland, the UK and beyond” presented in: Second Cities Symposium, Andrew Hook Centre for American Studies, University of Glasgow (Glasgow, 30 April – 1 May, 2004) [powerpoint slides]

Traditionally known as the ‘Second City of the British Empire’, Glasgow’s history as a world leading industrial centre, subsequent depressed post-industrial economy and currently growing cultural hub at a UK and European level is one that poses many questions about the value of the term ‘second city’. Since 1999, with the advent of devolution and the official designation of Edinburgh as capital of Scotland, Glasgow may resent its status as ‘second city’ more than ever before. This paper enquires about the meaning of this term when applied to Glasgow’s case. Is Glasgow second to Edinburgh, to London, to what? What is Glasgow’s role at a Scottish, UK, European and/or world level?

This paper reviews the evolution of cultural representations of Glasgow in the media, through tourist promotions and in government discourses over the last twenty years. A comparison is made between the way the city is represented at a local, Scottish national, UK wide and international level. This revision starts with the announcement of Glasgow’s title as 1990 European City of Culture in 1986. At the time, Glasgow was undergoing a major urban regeneration process very much inspired by the experience of US cities such as Baltimore, Minneapolis and Denver. The revision ends with a reflection on the current position of Glasgow as a leading cultural centre in Scotland and its potential to increase its presence and influence at a UK an European level. The paper considers the changing representation of traditional arts institutions in Glasgow – these comprise most Scottish national cultural organisations including Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the Scottish National Orchestra, the internationally renowned Glasgow School of Art and the Citizens Theatre among others. This is compared with the representation of emerging institutions and practices in what has been defined as the cultural or creative industries, including design, fashion, music and film. Finally, the paper studies the representation of other distinctive aspects of the city that contribute to or question the use of the term ‘second city’. These include references to Glasgow’s value as a shopping destination (the second largest in the UK after London West End, according to Greater Glasgow Tourist Board) and a conference centre (the fastest growing conference destination in Europe, according to the Union of International Associations).

The review of these representations reveal a remarkable change in the media and tourist discourses of traditionally termed ‘second cities’. While up to the 1990s it was common to identify countries and/or nations with their major capitals almost exclusively (UK = London; Scotland = Edinburgh), Glasgow’s experience shows a radical departure from this trend. This is notably marked with its nomination as ‘European City of Culture’ after an uninterrupted succession of capital and major cities such as Athens, Florence, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. After Glasgow, other ‘second cities’ have occupied the spaces traditionally reserved to first cities. This has been the case of Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain and Manchester and Liverpool in the UK, among many others.

The paper concludes with a brief remark about the need to develop a broader enquiry into the value of keeping the term ‘second city’. In a globalising world, where the traditional boundaries associated to nation-states are dissolving and being replaced by the ever-growing role and influence of individual cities and regions, what changes need to occur to really understand the current role of cities? What new measures and terminology do we need to compare them and categorize them according to the emerging trends?