TAKING shelter from the flying branches and horizontal rain, even I had to admit some storm warnings ought to be heeded. Then again, Glasgow takes pride in its ability to walk on, come what may. Sure, Liverpool got there first in adopting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone as an anthem of hope, but Glasgow has full borrowing rights.

Glasgow School of Art knows what it is like to have its dreams tossed and blown not once, but twice, in its case by fire. Having received much public sympathy and subsidy after the 2014 blaze, it now finds itself in the eye of a gathering storm over the second fire in June this year.

Grossly unfair or a long time coming? Either way, it is happening.

A sticky week for the institution began after The Herald on Sunday published an interview with Muriel Gray, the chairwoman of the board. Giving her first, in-depth interview on the subject to arts correspondent Phil Miller, Ms Gray acknowledged the mounting demands for answers about the latest fire. “People are asking why are you so quiet? We are waiting to be told the real details so we can tell the public the real facts.”

Questions linger

By the time she appeared on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, defiance had tipped into exasperation. That the school would be rebuilt was “not up for debate any more”. Calling the second fire “an interruption”, she insisted: “The board of governors are completely unanimous about this is and it is not up for discussion.”

That will be that, then. Move along now, nothing to see or debate here. Hang on, though. Some £30 million in public money, private donations and charity cash flowed GSA’s way after the first fire. Local residents put out of their homes for months have every right to feel disgruntled that it has happened again, ditto the businesses that suffered and those, such as the Centre for Contemporary Arts, yet to reopen. At one point, the CCA was told it faced "indefinite closure". Imagine being one of the creative businesses reliant on the premises of the CCA for survival, or one of the many people the centre employs, 32 in the cafe alone.

Then there is the wider city, a place where obscene poverty sits alongside obvious wealth. If two fires had happened in the same community centre in the East End within a few years of each other, how long would it have taken to rebuild, assuming the authorities said yes? How long before pompous speeches rang out about living with the consequences of your actions?

But really, how vulgar to talk about money and suchlike. Do we not remember the outpouring of support that followed the first fire? From architects and politicians, to celebrities and the man and woman in the street, there was a rush to proclaim that GSA simply had to be rebuilt. We heard about its majesty, its global status. Brad Pitt loved it. All true. Even those of us who had not been through its doors, largely because the place hardly shouted “welcome”, could see the value. If goodwill was cash, GSA could have been rebuilt five times over with enough left over for a fish supper, or a cheeky sea bass and chorizo, on the way home.

What is surprising is not that people are impatient for answers, but that it should have taken so long for concerns to be raised. Like the soaring costs and long delays in the building of the Scottish Parliament, the recent history of GSA is an example of Village Scotland, or in this case Village Glasgow, at its most blinkered. For a place that prides itself on its egalitarian outlook, there is a distinct whiff of Upstairs Downstairs about this city at times. In Upstairs Glasgow lives academia, the media, business, and the higher ranks of the public sector. Downstairs is where you will find everyone else. The indecent haste with which it was assumed GSA could simply pick up where it left off after the second fire came straight from Upstairs Glasgow.

In her GMS interview, Ms Gray was clear what had to be done. “We can either sit in a corner in a foetal position and weep … or you can just face up to the reality and go ‘Right, set back again, we’re just going to come back and do this brilliantly.”

One admires her spirit. There is a lot about Ms Gray to applaud. She has been a great champion of the school, a doughty ambassador for the city. But there is a way between purgatory and Pollyanna when it comes to the art school. Yes it should be rebuilt, but things cannot be the same as they were before, starting with the governance.

As The Herald has reported, Roger Bilcliffe, writer, gallery owner and Mackintosh expert, will tell a Holyrood committee today that GSA is “unfit” to be a custodian of the building, which should be treated as a “world class work of art” and protected accordingly.

Mr Billcliffe is right, but his view is at odds with GSA’s idea that the building must be a working school of art as, we are told constantly, Mackintosh intended. In Mackintosh’s day, however, students did not work with flammable gases and foam, which is how the 2014 fire started. Part of the reason for the current public unease is a feeling that many questions remain about that first fire, not least how a localised blaze turned into a conflagration so quickly.

Two things have been absent since that awful night in June this year, and they are connected. First, there has been no apology from anyone. No one to say sorry that the city was going through this upheaval again. Second, the cause of the fire remains unknown. Was it an accident, deliberate, preventable? If we do not know, why should GSA, or anyone, say sorry? Only when the cause is clear will we know if there is a need for an apology or public inquiry.

Until then, the Scottish Parliament is right to look into the matter as far as it can, and one hopes it will be inviting GSA and Glasgow City Council to appear. No-one knows how much the rebuild will cost or how long it will take. “We are entirely trusting that this is not going to cost any public money at all,” Ms Gray has said. In any case, there is cash left over from the 2014 fundraising. What a pity the fund of goodwill is not in similarly fine fettle.