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Much to be gained by calling off the Red Road big bang

WHERE is Siobhan Sharpe when you need her?

Those familiar with the fictional PR guru from Twenty Twelve, the comedy about the London Olympics, will know that the siren of Soho has a medal-winning way with twaddle. To use one of her own phrases, once ­Siobhan gets bandwidth on something she has maple syrup on her waffle from the get-go. Yes, you know the type.

Some might be wondering where Siobhan will turn up next now that W1A, the affectionate mockumentary about the BBC which was the sequel to Twenty Twelve, has finished. Well, it seems as though she has already started work on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. How else to explain the way organisers have managed to turn a heap of goodwill into an Everest of outrage with their plans to blow up the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony?

It is quite an achievement to upset so many, so quickly. The petition against the plan has upwards of 15,000 signatures. One presumes this was not what organisers had in mind when they pondered how best to unite the city behind the event. If demolishing tower blocks is the organisers' idea of a good time, you might well wonder what else is lurking in their spreadsheets.

Maybe they are lining up a jaunty musical number about Old Firm violence. Springtime for Sectarianism, anyone? Or how about a Busby Berkeley-style routine involving giant, dancing, hypodermic syringes to show that heroin addiction need not be all doom and gloom?

Given the widespread trashing of the Red Road plan, it had been thought that the idea would be launched into the nearest skip. People power would have won the day. But, as it turns out, the people do not know what is good for them. That, at any rate, is one way of interpreting the letter David Grevemberg, the chief executive of Glasgow 2014, sent to The Herald this week.

Mr Grevemberg says the demolition plan reflects an event designed to celebrate Glasgow's "authenticity, passion and ambition". Nothing says ambition, it seems, like blowing something up.

Getting into his rhetorical stride, the Games chief concluded by saying that Glasgow will be depicted as "a brave, confident and great city that is confronting the need for change: a city that has meaningful, revealing, and sometimes challenging things to say and share". How very Siobhan.

If you can stop sniggering for long enough at the PR-speak, it is just about possible to divine what the thinking was behind the Red Road idea. Before pondering what that might be, however, it is worth noting the cack-handedness shown by the organisers in the handling of this matter thus far. By "organisers", take your pick between the Scottish Government, the Labour-run Glasgow City Council and Glasgow 2014.

It does not inspire much confidence that it will be all right on the night in July if the Games partners are behaving beforehand like the Keystone Cops.

The Scottish Government, which is picking up 80% of the bill for the Games (having picked our pockets first), has dashed from the scene of the Red Road crime at a speed that makes Usain Bolt look like a tipsy tortoise.

It was initially claimed that the first the Scottish Government learned of the plan was April 1, the same day as the public. Now it is reported that the First Minister and Shona Robison, the Commonwealth Games Minister, were "informally briefed" on the idea in February.

Given that the plan stayed in force, one presumes they did not informally greet the proposal with the words: "Are you aff your heid?" As for the city council, given some of its decisions in the past, the botched redesign of George Square among them, its judgment can be trusted about as far as one can throw the Duke of Wellington's statue, traffic cone hat and all.

But let us for a moment be charitable and try to see what the organisers were aiming for when it came to blowing the Red Road flats to smithereens.

Many warm words have been spoken about the history of the flats and the sense of community to be found in them. Having never lived in one of them, I cannot testify to the truth of that one way or another. But being a past dweller of council housing built in the 1960s and 1970s I can cheerfully say that demolition was too good for the various shoddily-built, damp-ridden, despair-generating hovels that the council laughingly called homes.

It is with some scepticism, then, that one hears the Red Road flats, six years on the demolition list, being spoken of as a kind of vertical Coronation Street. Why not blow such misguided nostalgia sky high?

One suspects, however, that this is not why the organisers proposed the live-on- television demolition. For them, blowing up the flats is not a way of decrying the past and looking to the future. Instead, it is a whizz-bang idea from creative sorts who would not know social housing from a hole in the ground. They are not honouring the past struggles of those who lived in the flats; they are looking for a TV "moment". Berliners tore down the wall; Glaswegians blew up their tower blocks.

The thinking is that shallow. For that reason, and the difficulties involved in staging such a complex demolition when many other events are going on in the city that day, the idea should be jettisoned.

Some might think it disturbing that, mere months away from the opening ceremony, we are only now learning of the Red Road plan. Yet, from the initial proposal to go for the Games to the latest estimate of the costs (£21 million and counting) so much to do with this event has had to be taken on trust.

Organisers are clearly counting on the London 2012 factor coming into play. For months beforehand, the London Olympics were a magnet for Cassandras. Nothing would be ready on time. No-one would attend. All that money would be wasted. Instead, it was hailed as a huge success. A sure sign that everything would be all right was the Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony. The whirl of colour and spectacle displayed all the "authenticity, passion and ambition" that Glasgow 2014 is after, and it did so by being bold and uncompromising. This was a fanfare for the common man and woman and it was fan-flipping-tastic.

Boyle managed to keep his surprises hidden till the big night. Glasgow has lifted the curtain a little on what it has planned, and not many like what they see. The situation can still be salvaged at the meeting between organisers and objectors next Tuesday.

Calling off the Red Road plan does not need to be a cause of red faces among the organisers. If anything, it would be a sign that, like the Games themselves, they really did belong to Glasgow. After that, though, the teams in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies should be left to get on with it, come what may. They should know by now that they will never have a tougher audience. But get it right and they will never have a more appreciative one, either.

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