THE former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famously declared: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

With the UK General Election now concluded, the political system will be switching gear, and we’ll soon see how much poetry remains in the new Prime Minister’s prose.

New research released this week by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce shone a spotlight on one issue from the campaign: local economic performance and enhanced devolution to local government.

The report highlighted just how much the economy of Glasgow city centre is struggling, with 410,000 fewer visitors in May this year relative to the same month in 2023. Put into stark terms, it claims that retail sales alone were down 12.3% in April 2024.

Fundamental rethink of approach to supporting businesses is overdue

The issues that Glasgow faces are not unique – some are longstanding, and many are multifaceted. But there is an urgency to the current situation.

Sitting at the heart of the broader Glasgow city region, the challenges that the city centre faces affect the whole region. The city centre should be the engine of the city-region economy – providing a focus for the creation of economic opportunity across the region.

The Scottish Labour Party made the degree of devolution within Scotland an issue during the General Election campaign, pledging to “… push power out of Holyrood and into the regions of Scotland to empower communities and better support regional economic growth … [and] allow for the creation of regional mayors”.

Scottish growth does matter and greater focus is needed

The idea of further devolution within Scotland is not new, nor is it an idea belonging to the Scottish Labour Party, or an issue of uniquely Scottish concern. But it is one that Scotland has yet to embrace despite having the powers to do so.

Given the challenges that local economies across Scotland face, perhaps it is worth at least considering whether greater local autonomy and devolution could be part of the solution.

I am sceptical that simply creating directly elected mayors – sidestepping a tedious social media focus on whether to call them provosts or not – will transform the economic and social situation, in the same way that I don’t think that devolving tax powers will axiomatically improve accountability.

Yet, it is hard to read about, and witness first-hand, the challenges facing Glasgow and not think that things would be no worse – and in at least some dimensions clearly better – if someone took direct ownership of them. A person who has asked for, and received, a direct mandate for their vision and who is equipped with the powers necessary to progress it.

It clearly matters who that person is, and what skills and abilities they bring to the job. And the role has to be designed to attract new and capable individuals to step forward, which means giving them the power to effect change.

Reset of relationship between Holyrood and Westminster essential

There are examples across the UK where we’ve seen this model succeed. Whether you agree or otherwise with their politics and priorities, directly elected mayors in Manchester and the West Midlands have given a new impetus to their economies and provided a focal point for both criticism and praise.

They have also used these positions to argue directly for new and additional powers to realise their local vision. This has been grounded in a clear articulation of what they’ve done with the powers that they have, and what more they could do with the additional powers they seek.

Yet the political system in Scotland has seemed strangely uninterested in progressing a similar approach.

What happens in the world’s biggest economy affects our prosperity too

Perhaps it is an idea whose time has finally come. Or, perhaps, like many difficult issues requiring our politicians to take on entrenched interests, it provides a better perennial campaign pledge than it does project to deliver.

Stuart McIntyre is a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde