I found myself in Glasgow city centre on Saturday afternoon, for the first time in many weeks, and as I walked from Buchanan Street towards the Merchant City two things struck me.

The first is the beauty and grandeur of the new Queen Street station, which is near completion. Not even the rain could dampen the glisten of this stunning glass, marble and steel structure, contemporary architecture of the calibre we often admire in Berlin, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

The new station completely transforms the look and feel of this part of town. What a shame, then, about the second thing I couldn’t help noticing: how drab and disappointing George Square remains.

Granted, the grim sight of loyalist protesters wrapped in Union flags “protecting” the statues and Cenotaph didn’t help. But even without their divisive presence the city’s historic square is a let-down, visually, socially and culturally, a frustrating waste of urban space that could and should be far better utilised.

Where other European squares create buzz and atmosphere with year-round arts, culture, food and shopping attracting locals and visitors, George Square is dreary and uninspiring: a few trees, some benches and a clutch of dull, predictable 19th-century statues – “great” men and Queen Victoria – that few feel any kinship with. The only part of the square that has any real purpose and meaning is the Cenotaph.

The idea that George Square is in serious need of a makeover is nothing new, of course, and there have been various false dawns and broken promises over the years, not least the outrageous fiasco of 2013 – remember that? – which wasted huge amounts of public money and goodwill alike. But the two defining events of 2020 - coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests - offer Glasgow the best opportunity in a generation to finally get this right and transform George Square into the vibrant civic centre Glaswegians deserve.

Let’s start with the pandemic, which will continue to damage the economic and social pull of town and city centres. As lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted we will grasp a new reality – fewer shops, restaurants, bars and cultural attractions than before, with those that do re-open unable to work at full capacity for now. Answers to the sort of questions around attracting people to city centres that were already stumping businesses, planners and local authorities even before coronavirus hit have become all the more pressing.

That’s where a proper revamp of George Square comes in, a key step forward in boosting Glasgow’s economy and cultural capital in the wake of the pandemic. What should the square contain? That would be for citizens to decide, but here’s a few quick ideas that presume an eventual end to social distancing: an ampitheatre for live music, theatre and comedy, proper seating, pop-up pods for community groups, a food and craft market, arts and exhibition space, murals, a garden and children’s play area.

As for the fate of the statues, again, it would be for the people to decide whether they still have a place in this new urban realm. Not that we would want to forget our past, of course. But surely we can find new and more creative ways to confront, commemorate and celebrate it, taking in voices that were previously ignored – women, ethnic minorities, working class people, gay people, the disabled – reflecting the diversity of our city as it is now.

Rather than an expensive international competition for designs – let’s learn from 2013 – a three-month public consultation could be held, and a panel of local architects, planners, artists, businesspeople and community groups convened to create perhaps three different plans, which would then be voted on by the people of Glasgow. Granted, such an ambitious revamp wouldn’t be easy to fund in the difficult years ahead, but with a crucial economic and cultural return at stake, it should be prioritised. Surely a mixture of public, private and philanthropic funding could be sourced?

Glasgow City Council has already started the conversation that could make all this happen, by bringing forward the pedestrianisation of George Square and suspending a third of city centre parking bays to make room for walkers and cyclists.

I would urge council leader Susan Aitken and her team to think bigger. A commitment to redesign George Square would offer an exciting, positive and inclusive focus for Glaswegians in the tough months ahead. The end result could be what Glasgow has been crying out for for a generation: a proud and modern civic centrepiece that is worthy of our great city, a place that excites, entertains, and educates, that makes us feel part of something bigger. We’ve never needed it more.

All columnists are free to express their opinions. They don’t necessarily represent the view of The Herald.