So the statues in Glasgow’s George Square are to go, at least temporarily. No bad thing. Nearly all of them are monuments to Britain’s 19th century imperial power. Maybe they could all be consigned to one of those ‘You’re Not Famous Any More’ parks you find in former Soviet bloc countries where all the unwanted statues of Marx, Lenin and Stalin are dumped.
And while they’re at it, what about getting rid of the name as well? What did George III (or any of them, numbers I to VI) ever do for Glasgow?
But what I want to know is why there are no statues to Glasgow’s rebels and working class heroes. (Okay, there’s one of Burns but he was an Ayrshire man.)
For example, why is there nothing to commemorate that famous day in 1919 when the tanks were called out to quell the huge demonstration, red flag and all, in the Square. Willie Gallacher’s bandaged head (courtesy of a police truncheon) would surely make a great subject for a statue. Or what about Thomas Muir, the 18th century radical, transported for his support of democratic reform? His smashed face (courtesy of a Royal Navy cannonball) would make for another interesting pose.
The most glaring omission is the lack of any memorial to John MacLean. I’ll forgive you if you say, ‘John who?’ History was my favourite subject at school and I studied it at university but in 17 years of a Glasgow education, there wasn’t a single mention of MacLean in any of my lessons or lectures. Soviet Russia appointed him co-President. Scotland buried his memory.
There is of course a statue in Glasgow commemorating the revolutionary ‘La Pasionaria’ from the Spanish Civil War. But that’s an easy one. All the good guys supported the Republic. But MacLean’s too awkward, too near home.
He was too much of a nationalist for the socialists; too much of a socialist for the nationalists. For all the rest, he was just a dangerous revolutionary.
For Glasgow’s City Fathers nowadays, he’s just an embarrassing throwback to the Red Clydeside heritage they would dearly like to expunge from the collective memory.
No, it’s all about globalisation these days, making Glasgow an attractive proposition for international entrepreneurs. They make Hollywood zombie movies in the city now, not ships or engines.
The vision of Council Leader Gordon Matheson is to restore George Square as a “Grande Place.” He doesn’t mean this in the Glaswegian sense of “Aye, it’s a grand place, yon George Square” but rather in the continental “Une Grande Place”. Aren’t there enough “Places” in France, Gordon? Doesn’t Italy do piazzas better?
Glasgow residents, beware councillors with design ideas! Recall the modernist monstrosity that was proposed in Aberdeen to replace its historic Union Terrace Gardens.
George Square - how about St Mungo Square instead? - certainly needs a makeover and pedestrianising. But leave big open spaces to the likes of Moscow. Municipal centres in Scotland and England have their own distinctive style and charm. Trafalgar Square, for example, looked pretty cluttered with statues and monuments the last time I visited.
There’s nothing wrong with statues in Glasgow’s main square but they should ones that are more reflective of what the city is about than those currently there.
However, if there ever was a chance of a statue to John MacLean, that great defender and educator of the Glasgow working class, I wouldn’t want it located in the Square. No, I’d put somewhere by the Clyde, as a proud reminder of the city’s working class radicalism in an area now given over to sports venues, museums and conference centres.
But that’s just a fantasy. The reality is that when they dig up that tarmac in George Square as part of the ‘redevelopment’, they’ll be removing the only thing that’s red about Glasgow these days.