THERE’S something incongruous about the international political glitz of COP26 coming to Glasgow while the city is strewn with litter, overflowing bins and rats running amok in parks and middens.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a huge honour for the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conferences of the Parties (COP) to be hosted in Glasgow this November.
World leaders, climate experts, campaigners and the global media will descend upon our city and all eyes will be on them to save the planet from being scorched.
Everything is riding on COP26. The last UN climate conference held in Madrid didn’t deliver what many had hoped for and it’s the meeting in Glasgow where stronger plans to curb carbon emissions are needed if we’re going to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
If countries around the world can’t deliver on the 1.5 degrees target from the Paris Agreement of 2015 – and cut global carbon emissions by at least one half by 2030 – the future will be bleak indeed.
The top five emitters of carbon dioxide are China, USA, India, Russia and Japan. China and the United States account for 42% of all global emissions.
It is right and proper that Scotland and Glasgow play their small part in making the Paris Agreement a reality. The responsibility is on all of us.
I can fully understand that Glasgow City Council (GCC) leader Susan Aitken is most excited about COP26. That said, we are the host. The folk putting on the buffet and washing-up the dishes.
With that in mind, might it be an idea for Ms Aitken to turn her attention to a few bread and butter issues within her purview as a local government leader?
Her interview with STV’s Bernard Ponsonby last week revealed a major disconnect with what’s going on in the city.
Mr Ponsonby suggested that the city’s streets were “filthy” to which Ms Aitken gave a bamboozled look of disbelief and insisted that only a “spruce up” was necessary.
A grimy pattern has developed in Glasgow over the last four years.
Under investment in our street cleaning and bin collections; new charges for bulk uplifts of rubbish; more potholes on our roads; the closure of local libraries, community centres and sport facilities; and a one third reduction in free advice sector funding during the height of a world pandemic.
Why have these essential council issues been neglected? Local services are the bricks and mortar that cities are built on; we all rely on local public services.
It’s important to remember that local government funding in Scotland has suffered annual cuts while being unable to raise council tax. COSLA, the representative body for Scottish councils said earlier this year: “Since 2013-14, Scottish Government has seen a 3.1% increase in its revenue funding (real terms) – this is in contrast to a 2.4% reduction for Local Government over the same period.
“A key part of flexibility for councils is to have their democratic right to determine their own council tax rates in their own areas respected. Sadly, the Scottish Government have not listened to us this year, but Scotland’s council leaders have restated their view that councils should have the right to determine the level of council tax for their own areas without facing penalties in future years.”
While local government finances may have been stymied from Holyrood budgets that doesn’t mean the leader of GCC can’t fight for a better deal for Glasgow.
Yet we have seen no ambition on the kind of bread and butter issues that are necessary to make our city a beautiful place to live in or visit as a tourist.
Consider Paris. OK, we didn’t have the wisdom of Baron Haussmann who when renovating the streets of Paris in the 19th century installed a separate untreated water system so that water could gush down the gutters and clean the streets.
The secret of the cleanliness in Paris is also in large part down to an army of cleansing staff with ingenious machines that can wash and vacuum streets clean. Why can’t we have that?
We seem to have a poverty of ambition where anti-Catholic or Irish racism is a monthly occurrence. How can GCC’s leadership take no responsibility for allowing 34 orange marches to take place on the same day later this month? We can tell ourselves that Glasgow is a beautiful, clean city and that Scotland welcomes everyone with a smile. Or we can face up to the fact that the Emperor has no clothes; and start investing in what matters to local communities. A spruce-up won’t wash. We need proper strategic leadership, a vision and cross-party campaign for more public funding for Glasgow.