UK: Caledonia's duopoly. (1 of 3)

UK: Caledonia's duopoly. (1 of 3) - There are signs that the old rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh may be receding slightly, writes George Rosie.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There are signs that the old rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh may be receding slightly, writes George Rosie.

Notwithstanding the ancient (and usually good-natured) feud between Edinburgh and Glasgow, there is a large population which seems to regard the two cities as something akin to Buda and Pest, part and parcel of the one conurbation. These duopolitans are the intercity commuters who live in Edinburgh and work in Glasgow (or vice versa).

A small but growing number of duopolitans have homes at either end of the tracks. Usually it is a house in Edinburgh and a pied a terre in Glasgow's fashionable "Merchant City" or out in the west end. They appear to inhabit a new city of the mind: "Glasburgh", perhaps, or "Edingow".

But there is something in what the duopolitans say. One of the attractions of Scotland is having two such different cities a 50-minute train ride apart. Glasgow (population 700,000) is sprawling, exuberant, scruffy, with a handsome 19th century core badly slashed by the M8. It is still surprisingly industrial in its character. Edinburgh (population 450,000) is neat, elegant, well preserved, with an economy dominated by government, the professions, the universities and Charlotte Square (Edinburgh shorthand for the financial sector).

At the last count Glasgow had a workforce of 348,500, while Edinburgh's was 236,500. In both cities the services sector was by far the biggest employer: 253,600 in the case of Glasgow, 184,900 in the case of Edinburgh. And both cities have seen the numbers labouring in their factories dwindle to 63,500 in Glasgow and 33,800 in Edinburgh. At the same time both have seen their financial and insurance sectors experience a real growth.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow seem to be weathering the economic blizzard rather well. Edinburgh financier Angus Grossart, of the merchant bank Noble Grossart, argues that there are a number of reasons for this. "I think the structure of many businesses in Edinburgh and Glasgow is pretty sound. The growth we did get was more organic. We didn't have the over-expansion and overgearing that happened in the South of England, and which left so many people vulnerable. And property values didn't escalate to the same degree."

David Macdonald, chief executive of Glasgow Action (a private/public operation set up to boost the city), agrees with Grossart's analysis. Macdonald contends that the ability of Glasgow's services sector to take up the slack from the shrinking industrial base has startled many analysts. "People tend to forget that Glasgow has always had a large commercial sector," Macdonald says. "You just need to look around you. Who do you think built all these extraordinary 19th century buildings? That's one of the reasons we're selling Glasgow under the slogan 'Europe's most surprising city'. Glasgow's image was always much worse than its reality. Now we're making a brand new reality."

Macdonald explains that Glasgow Action's strategy is based on a report on the city's problems and prospects produced by McKinsey and Company in 1985. "That set out our goals," he says, "the first of which was to concentrate on building up the area bounded to the north by the M8 motorway and to the south by the River Clyde." It seems to have worked. The city centre is booming. The old Merchant City is well stocked with the youngish middle classes.

One of Glasgow Action's more intriguing ploys is to persuade major British and European companies to hold an occasional board meeting in Glasgow. "We have a number of excellent venues," says Macdonald. "The City Chambers is one. So is the boardroom in the Clyde Port Authority down near the Broomielaw. That's really spectacular."

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