This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Next year, Scotland’s largest city will be clad in finery as it celebrates 850 years since its birth and journey from a collection of shanty shacks to a Burgh of the Barony and beyond.

It has been a long journey for Glasgow, from a church set up by St Mungo, to a medieval cathedral town, a university metropolis and then the second city of the British Empire.

Now pre-eminent in population, Glasgow should be the beating heart of Scotland, a counterpoint to Edinburgh’s politician-packed policy-making brain.

Yet there’s going to be an element of the emperor’s new clothes about the celebrations, as underneath the pomp and ceremony there’s an ailing patient in vital need of revitalisation and restitution. 

A new report by the Moffat Centre for the Chamber of Commerce has been issued and it will make grim reading for those charged with letting Glasgow flourish.

Visitor numbers to the city centre are down by 410,000 compared with last year, and the loss of their well-spent pennies is being keenly felt.  

It is something of a historical irony that the 850 celebrations commemorate the moment Glasgow gained the right to hold a market and for the collection of tolls and dues from all the goods entering the town at a time when gold was slipping through the city’s fingers in ever-increasing amounts.

Read more:

UnspunDoes Joe Biden need to stay in presidential race to prevent the next Hitler?

The report’s stark figures show that GDP had fallen 15.1 per cent, employment by 10%, output by 12.9% and gross value added (GVA) by 17% in the past decade.  

Altogether, this equates to around £1 billion in lost revenue to the city’s bars, venues, attractions and traders.  

If the 2014 output of £2.16bn had remained static, Glasgow’s taking should have swelled to £2.88bn last year, based on a Bank of England annualised inflation rate of 3.2% per annum.

However, the 2023 output has in fact significantly reduced in real terms, to £1.88bn. 

This has been reflected in stark statistics. The report identified an 18% downturn in visitation to Glasgow’s shops, facilities, and attractions.  

Fewer people going into the city centre have been borne out by a 30% drop in public transport use, while the pub and bar sector has contracted by 20.5% over the period studied, with a similar reduction in employment.

Glasgow's music scene has also seen a 21.1% contraction, the report found. 

Donald C Macleod, a veteran of Scotland’s live music industry and a member of the task force, said the report made for grim reading but there was a certain “warped satisfaction” in seeing the fears he has so frequently raised laid out in statistics and hard figures.     

He said: “I’m glad the Chamber commissioned the report. Glad in one way, but not glad in another way because I knew that the findings wouldn’t be good.  

“Glasgow is in a sorry state and there’s a certain warped satisfaction in being proven right. But I’m not happy about it.  

“As a proud Glaswegian – and all those sitting on the task force, including the councillors, are proud Glaswegians, and want the best for Glasgow – we want the city to do well. 

“But these are the facts and they have stunned the task force.” 

Get Scotland's top politics newsletter straight to your inbox.

Mr Macleod said that despite everyone wanting to improve the city, there was an “ideological” chasm between business owners and the powers that be about how to do that.

“We need to get our heads together,” he said.  

Chief among the problems was the restriction of ways for people to move around the city centre, specifically the creation of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which he believes has frozen huge numbers of cars out of entering its environs.

Mr Macleod was also scathing about ongoing “massive” regeneration projects such as the ‘Avenues’ scheme running down Sauchiehall Street and the proposed revamp of George Square.  

Sauchiehall Street has faced challenges in recent years (Image: The Herald)
He said that not enough joined-up thinking had been carried out on the impact such grand schemes would have on the pedestrians making their way through building sites and “holes in the ground” where the city’s proud thoroughfares once stood.  

The night-time economy boss, MD of Holdfast Entertainment Group and live music promoters CPL and owner of Glasgow’s iconic The Garage and Cathouse Rock Club, said that city bosses should look to the success of cities such as Manchester, which revitalised their centres without congestion charges and LEZs by taking a step-by-step approach such as putting the integrated transport system in first before beginning regeneration.

He said: “We all need to get round the table and do the very best we can for Glasgow. And ask ourselves – are we doing the best for Glasgow? 

“I’ve not heard a full answer to that,” he said.