IT’S tough for Glasgow having a neighbour as spectacular as Edinburgh, whose cultural festivals are famed the world over and long ago earned the city a prominent role on the global stage.

Not that Glasgow has been doing too badly of late. Thirty years after it was named the first European City of Culture, it has in recent times hosted the Commonwealth Games and the BBC Six Music Festival as well as lining up alongside Berlin to stage the 2018 European Championships. In the year ahead it, just like global cities including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Rome, will host a number of matches for UEFA’s European Football Championship and will also welcome world leaders to COP 26, a global climate change summit.

Not bad for a city that in 1990 was seen as so scarred by poverty, infirmity and other vestiges of its industrial past that even its own citizens questioned the rationale for choosing it over practically anywhere else as a European cultural capital.

The transformation has not come easy, though. A city does not attract high-profile events in a bubble and major businesses like Barclays, which is currently building a hub on the banks of the Clyde, do not choose to create thousands of jobs in a place without discussion. Everything that has happened to Glasgow in the past three decades has happened because of the considerable effort put in by its political leaders as well as representatives of its and Scotland’s business, sporting and cultural communities. They might have spent a bit of public money attending meetings, making contacts and preparing bids - they might even have spent a lot - but considering what the city has got in return surely we can all agree it has been money well spent?

Well, no. Because faced with evidence of the seemingly profligate spending of Glasgow City Council’s deputy leader David McDonald, representatives of opposition parties have declared themselves up in arms. The problem is that in addition to visiting schools, housing developments and local museums, Mr McDonald went on a number of publicly funded trips this year, with visits to Tokyo, Tallinn and Düsseldorf among them.

Tokyo was to attend the opening of an exhibition of 73 works from Glasgow’s publicly owned Burrell Collection; Tallinn was to rub shoulders with other civic leaders at the Estonian national song festival, an event Mr McDonald had been invited to as a representative of a UNESCO City of Music; and Düsseldorf was to take part in an international summit on social cohesiveness on the invitation of the mayor of Montreal.

Yet despite Glasgow working so hard to earn its emerging status as a global city - and despite the obvious advantages attending such events can bring - these were seen as beyond the pale. Conservative MSP Annie Wells reckoned Glaswegians “will be understandably annoyed that an SNP councillor is spending so much of their money on this truly international class of junketing”; Gary Smith, Scottish secretary of staunch Labour-supporting union the GMB, agreed. “Glasgow council-tax payers will be aghast at this councillor’s excesses,” he fumed. “The city’s infrastructure is decrepit, the streets are dirty and there are budget cuts affecting the elderly and vulnerable.”

Gary Smith does, of course, have a point. Like every other local authority in the country Glasgow City Council has been struggling with budgetary constraints whose effects are plain for all to see. Walk down any street and the filth is astonishing, with the absence of blocked drains, overflowing bins and dog dirt more remarkable than their presence. At the same time, the council is failing so miserably to meet its obligations to house everyone presenting as homeless that it has been placed under review by the Scottish Government, threatened with legal action by homelessness charity Shelter and been made the subject of an inquiry by the Scottish Housing Regulator. The city has its problems, alright, and then some.

Yet damning as those and many other issues are, none of that will be solved by the city turning in on itself. Far from this being the time for Glasgow’s leaders to hunker down and worry solely about how to cope with shrinking budgets, this is precisely the moment the city should be selling itself on the global stage, using the confidence it has gained over the past 30 years to attract the kind of investment that will at least give it the opportunity to thrive.

To suggest that politicians like Mr McDonald should snub invitations to build international links on the basis that all foreign trips are junkets is small minded in the extreme. It does nothing to address the very real issues Glasgow faces, but does plenty to damage the mature, confident, outward-looking image the city has worked so hard to create.

The artist and author Alasdair Gray, whose death at the weekend has left an unimaginable hole in Scotland’s cultural landscape, wrote repeatedly about Glasgow’s magnificence and to a large extent it was him who helped shape our recognition and understanding of that. As he had the character Duncan Thaw say in his masterwork Lanark, unless a city has been used by an artist “not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively”. “Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York,” the character said. “Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films.”

Alasdair Gray’s books and drawings, murals and poems have helped elevate Glasgow into the kind of city its inhabitants are proud to live in and whose visitors feel no strangeness in. Our civic leaders have a duty not just to nurture that legacy but to develop it too.

Sure Glasgow has problems with potholes and cleanliness, homelessness and drug addiction, but Tory politicians and Labour-soaked unions are wrong if they think that public funds should be spent on fixing that and that alone. Glasgow has earned the right to host events and exhibitions that will play a part in its future prosperity, but its leaders have had to work hard for that - and not just in the City Chambers. To suggest otherwise displays a stunning lack of imagination.