Lewis Macdonald:
City of Culture Bids (Paisley and Dundee)

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
27 September 2017

Often in this place, we have to agree to differ—after all, that is the essence of parliamentary debate.

Taking issue is an essential part of a modern democracy, and we Scots have excelled at it over many generations.

Sometimes, however, we have to agree to agree, because there is no issue between us—as is clearly the case when it comes to supporting the bids that we have been discussing today.

Bids for recognition as centres of cultural life are, by definition, competitive, and the race between Paisley and Perth to challenge for the title of UK city of culture in 2021 was no different.

We have heard today all the qualities that make Paisley’s bid so strong, as it goes forward to the final stage with unanimous support from the Parliament and enthusiastic backing from across Scotland.

Likewise, the city of Dundee has attracted broad support for its bid to be European capital of culture in 2023, and it goes forward with a fair and, indeed, strong wind behind it.

The award goes back over 30 years, to when Melina Mercouri in Greece and Jack Lang in France came up with the idea of recognising individual cities as cultural capitals—not of individual countries, but of Europe as a whole.

Over that time, the title of capital of culture, like that of UK city of culture, has stimulated artistic creativity and economic growth in a series of cities, great and small.

As Bill Bowman mentioned, Glasgow and Liverpool are the only previous British holders of the European title, and their years as European capital of culture were memorable and significant in the regeneration and reinvention of both those great cities, as Joan McAlpine and others have reminded us.

Dundee now has the chance to join that august company, and is clearly well placed to do so.

The celebration of contemporary arts and repertory theatre, the V&A museum of design and the redevelopment of the waterfront all contribute already to the cultural life of the city and the country, and there is clearly more to come.

At the same time—as my colleague Jenny Marra reminded us in supporting the city’s bid to be UK city of culture four years ago—Dundee also has too many communities in which cultural life and access to health, jobs and hope for the future are still in too-short supply.

The city is well placed to be creative, but it is also well placed to turn cultural opportunity into economic and social benefit and so to make the most of the title, if it is awarded to it, in 2023.

That would build on the transformation over the past 30 years, which Graeme Dey highlighted.

The capital of culture is a European Union competition, but the competition for 2023 is to represent Britain in Europe, which is an interesting and momentous challenge. The successful candidate will be chosen by a panel of 12 judges, 10 of whom are from other European countries, but the cities or regions that are competing with Dundee for the title are all from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is because EU member states take it in turn to put forward candidates to be recognised as the capital of culture and, for the 2023 competition, that honour will fall on the United Kingdom and on Hungary. Therefore, as with the UK city of culture competition, Dundee has to win its bid in competition with other cities and centres from around these islands. The difference is that the judges come from across the EU.

The judging panel will shortlist bids in the next few weeks and make a final decision next year. Getting through the first stage will depend on the quality of the cities’ submissions, and eventual success will depend on which one is best able to work up its submission into a really convincing proposal. We have heard about the sheer range and variety of cultural strengths of Dundee—I think that we will hear more on that from the minister in a moment—which will help in the task, as will the crucial involvement of so many Dundonians in developing the bid, as Mary Fee mentioned.

As a member for North East Scotland, I often reflect, as Graeme Dey did, on the relationship between the two cities that I am fortunate enough to represent. Although they are in a single parliamentary region, Aberdeen and Dundee are regional centres in their own rights.

Part of what makes a city region is the strength of cultural identity and how much there is in common, and is seen to be in common, between town and country and between a city and its region.

People in Insch and Inverurie take pride in the name and reputation of Aberdeen, while Dundee attracts the same loyalty from people in Kirriemuir and beyond.

As the cabinet secretary said, that regional solidarity is a critical strength of Dundee’s bid for 2023.

Of course, Aberdeen and Dundee compete mightily in all manner of fields, from academic research to sporting prowess, and both cities aspired to the title of UK city of culture in 2017.

Just as Dundee has used that experience as a springboard to bid to be European capital of culture in 2023, so Aberdeen has taken the first steps towards a bid to be UK city of culture in 2025.

My friend and former colleague Frank Doran, who came from Dundee to represent Aberdeen at Westminster 30 years ago, has always described competition between our two great north-east cities as a source of creative tension.

The on-going bids for cultural recognition prove that he is right about that. After all, creative tension is what the process is all about.

We are demonstrating to people across Scotland, Britain and Europe that Paisley and Dundee have so many strengths and attributes that the cities can carry forward to the international stage.

Those attributes add to the excellence that they have to offer and make the bids—which represent us all—so strong. Paisley and Dundee are standard bearers for all of Scotland in the competitions, and they have the full support of members around the chamber, as we have heard today, and of all concerned.

We look forward to many more opportunities for Scotland’s great cities and towns to fly the flag as UK cities of culture and European capitals of culture in the years ahead.

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