Glasgow - a city that struggles and fights
Last May I was in Glasgow (Scotland) to see two exhibitions in the city centre where some of my photos were displayed. I was happy to return to a place I love. Glasgow, well, it’s not a city I’d recommend foreigners to fly to on purpose. There are other cities in Britain I usually suggest to my country fellows in Italy: York, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Bath, Edinburgh, and all the countryside in England, Wales and Scotland. Of course I don’t suggest London because it doesn’t need any recommendation.
Glasgow is - aesthetically speaking - a very pretty town, a classical British Empire style city with its large squares where unfailing Queen Victoria says to the passers-by: repent! Big Victorian buildings and the ever present old warehouses of wealthy merchants from the 18th century. This is all very British to me, those fascinating features are so typical in many other big cities all over the Kingdom.
So why is Glasgow different to my eyes?
Because it is a city that struggles and fights. For this it has all my understanding and sympathy.
Every time I go there I see the Glaswegian spirit in the eyes and personality of its people.
I noticed that last month too.
It was my first visit after the start of the pandemic. It was very sad to find the city in a poorer condition. I felt it had been hit hard, very hard, by the economic crisis due to the management of the last 2 and a half years. I could feel the struggle of its residents, along with their pride and strength, but still I was surrounded by so many homeless people and closed down shops. Definitely more than on my last visit.
That was shocking and I felt sad for the Glaswegians who have been clearly left behind, without any help by those who are appointed to take into account the interests of the residents.
Before setting off to Glasgow I was excited to go back and find again all the craft shops I used to love. I remembered the joy of seeing windows in the city centre showcasing mannequins wearing kilts, shops run by locals selling wonderful scarves, pullovers, ties, blankets made of different Scottish wool. Before that I thought only one type of wool existed, but when I was in those shops I realised the wide range of it. I used to pop in and out of these shops, it was such a joy to be surrounded by their colours and soft texture, and the assistants were clearly proud of their products. I would have bought at least half of the items in each single shop! Tradition and craftsmanship have always been so fascinating and important to me, in them we could see our roots, our history, how we have become who we are. And the Scottish traditional wool products are to me a display of the Scottish rich past and present.
So now you can understand my excitement when I got on the train to Glasgow and - right after that - my sadness in witnessing such a tremendous fall.
I was walking along Sauchiehall Street along a myriad of closed down shops and venues, homeless people of any age and gender, and a great sense of desperation. I am still gutted at the way those people have been forgotten.
I spoke with some Glaswegians while I was there and they confirmed what I witnessed. Their city has been hit hard and hasn’t recovered yet from the management of the pandemic, the burning and the loss of the iconic world renowned School of Art in June 2018 (the building is still covered by scaffoldings and the fire is still unknown), along with the high rents the owners of the shops ask. Apparently many of those owners live far away from Glasgow and don’t care about the damages their behaviour has been causing to the population and to the city.
Sadly it is something we keep seeing in other cities in the UK, in Italy and in other parts of the world.
As a striking contrast - but also as a consequence of this tremendous behaviour - on Buchanan Street, the main shopping road in the city centre - there are none of the traditional craftsman shops I used to love and was expecting to see again. Now it’s all Rolex, Zara, Diesel, the Body Shop, Urban Outfitters, L'Occitane, H&M, so basically you can be in Madrid, Milan, Budapest and you won’t see the difference. If I come to Glasgow I’d like to help local producers and go back home with Scottish products, not a Zara dress I can buy anywhere in the world or online.
In 2001 people of all ages and nationalities were demonstrating against the damages of capitalist globalisation. Do you remember? Seattle, London, Québec City, Australia, Genoa, Goteborg. They warned about all this, but many times their voices got suppressed by authorities and the mainstream media, their bodies beaten and tortured by police and secret services.
Capitalist globalisation has also created new forms of poverty and worker exploitation.
Take Venice, for example, a city I love and know very well. In the past 2 decades it has witnessed a surge in shops selling fake items: fake carnival masks made in China and fake glass items made in Romania. This has had a strong impact on the real Murano glass workers, who carry on a long and fascinating art, and has supported worker exploitation in foreign countries.
What can we do?
We should stop buying these fake things and shop locally as much as possible.
I bought some lovely items in the small Visit Scotland shop on Buchanan Street. They sell local produce. Among the others, I got a wonderful handmade tartan pin badge in the shape of a thistle, the Scottish emblem. Thinking I might wear it on my next Burns night (It is a commemoration of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns' birthday every year on 25 January).
So far I have told you about the struggle of this city, but how about the fight I suggested earlier on in my post?
Glaswegians are a fighting people and I had the confirmation again last month speaking with some of them. I could feel their spirit is down but hasn't crashed as they are willing to fight for themselves and their city.
Last May I could witness protests raising awareness about the skyrocketing poverty, against the War in Ukraine and oil refineries.
The closed down shops and many walls of the city were literally covered by posters and spray writings by the protest group Just Stop Oil, who - earlier this year - blocked the entrance to a series of oil facilities across the UK.
These are some spray writings I have seen:
Scotland gets nothing from oil.
Oil is stealing our livelihood.
1 in 4 people suffer fuel poverty in Scotland.
The demonstrations of the Just Stop Oil group come as energy bills skyrocketed in the UK following a rise in the price cap, sparking a cost of living crisis for millions of households.
Their website reads:
“FOSSIL FUELS ARE KILLING US.
FOSSIL FUELS CAUSE WAR.
NO MORE NEW OIL & GAS PROJECTS.
Just Stop Oil is a coalition of groups working together to ensure the Government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production.”
I am not saying they’re right or wrong, I am describing what struck me most of what I saw.
Walls and windows were also covered by many writings saying: I demand the right to work. I demand the right to take part in society.
I am posting this today, because right now in Glasgow city centre there are some picket lines of the Enough is Enough movement against the cost of living crisis. (The photo is taken from the Twitter account of Enough is Enough Glasgow).
I have always been fascinated by the subtle importance of graffiti writings, therefore, as a street photographer, I love to take photos of them. They really show us so much about what locals think and how they feel. In this case, once again, they show their struggle and opposition against their continuous oppression carried out by a harsh system.
Sadly I have seen a massive number of homeless people and others who have been demanding the right to work and the right to take part in society.
Joe and the BBC in 2021 reported that “according to the government's own figures, there are more than 2,200 food banks in the UK, while there are around 1,300 McDonald's restaurants.” https://www.joe.co.uk/news/iceland-boss-points-out-uk-has-more-food-banks-than-mcdonalds-branches-290481
“The provision of food parcels and food aid has grown significantly in Scotland and the rest of the UK in the last ten years.” https://www.understandingglasgow.com/indicators/poverty/food_banks
Let me be clear: I enjoyed the city with its terrific graffiti, nice pubs and art galleries, I was happy to have a walk again along the river Clyde and I had fun taking photos of the Duke and his cones (The equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington with its 2 or 4 traffic cones on top is the iconic emblem of the city).
I am not saying you shouldn’t visit Glasgow, this post is my proof of love to the city and its people. I just can’t keep thinking about those who don’t care about it and think only of their own profit. I think of all the homeless people and the increasingly high number of those who live in poverty.
Do we really like this system that excludes and crashes its own citizens?
Do we really like this system that doesn't allow locals to rent a shop and sell their products?
Do we really like to see big chains predating the whole market at the expenses of local producers that have to succumb?
How in the world can a so-called democratic state leave its citizens behind?
“It’s a really bad situation that people have to decide whether they can feed themselves, feed their children or put the heating on. It’s a case of having to budget or having to go without.”
Richard, 49, at the food bank in Elim Church, Glasgow