When my father was working in the Chief Constable’s Office in the old City of Glasgow Police Headquarters in St Andrew’s Square, he invited his younger brother – 17 years my father’s junior – for lunch in the police canteen one Friday. My uncle ordered fish and chips.
A senior police officer at a neighbouring table called out, “Cancel that! Son, never order fish on a Friday.”
Well, that became something of a family joke. But you know, it’s not funny. It’s pitiful. That little vignette tells you really all you need to know about West of Scotland sectarian intransigence. It’s a package – The Old Firm, the polis, the masons.
When Glasgow Rangers won the league last week, without losing a single game, the club applied to the government for permission to invite 10,000 fans to Ibrox to celebrate, on four successive nights. The request was turned down, on the grounds that it would have been a violation of Covid restrictions. Glasgow remains on Level 3. Result – the fans descended upon George Square en masse. The scene turned ugly. Three police officers were injured. There were twenty arrests.
There has been much debate in the newspapers about this incident. It’s the government’s fault. They should have seen it coming and granted the fans leave to enter Ibrox. Lesser of two evils. It’s Rangers Football Club’s fault. They ought to keep their fans under control. And of course it’s the polis’s fault. It always is. They didn’t plan sufficiently for a riot. Either they were too tolerant, or they were too aggressive in their approach. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to have been the fans’ fault. Boys will be boys. It is what it is. Everybody knows that football fans, Rangers fans especially, are “boisterous”. Vis-à-vis the individual’s civic responsibility, in Glasgow, expectation is low. Can football fans honestly be expected to wear face coverings and socially distance?
I drove into Glasgow yesterday from the east via the M80. There is a 50 mph speed limit from about seven miles out from the city centre, and after the M80 merges with the M8, because there are roadworks and two lanes are closed, this has been reduced to 40 mph. Nobody pays the slightest attention. Well, I do. Some people find my adherence to the speed limit rather quaint. But then, they haven’t spent a career in major trauma. There I was, cruising along at 40 mph in my Volvo, Audis and BMWs whooshing and flashing past me on both sides.
It’s a cultural thing. You stick to the limit because Health & Safety is a grand integral of each individual’s contribution to the security of the environment. The aviation industry understood this decades ago. “The right stuff” is the wrong stuff. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. Every sortie should be founded on meticulous preparation. This is as true on the road as in the air. But the road is becoming an increasingly hostile environment. Speed kills. When you come to a sudden halt, all that kinetic energy just rips you apart. And remember, the kinetic energy is not proportional to your velocity, but to the square of your velocity.
It was even worse on the way home. There was torrential rain. The Audis and BMWs were undeterred. Whoosh whoosh.
Then there’s Glasgow’s litter culture. Frankly, the place is a tip. It’s the same issue – a failure to take personal responsibility. There is no sense of ownership. The detritus is somebody else’s problem. Glasgow is like a man who is down on his luck, who has suffered too many setbacks and has lost hope, and who, ceasing to take an interest in his appearance, becomes shabby and unwashed. He has lost all self-esteem. Even so, if you chance to see somebody throw half a kebab away in the gutter of Sauchiehall Street, I would strongly advise you not to remonstrate. He will look at you askance, and take offence. You are liable to get a smack on the mouth.
I wonder what the great and the good of Planet Earth will make of it all when they descend upon us for COP26, if they ever do. I think they will regard Glasgow as a wondrous natural phenomenon and a force of nature. They will hallow Glasgow much as the literati revere Douglas Stewart’s 2020 Booker Prize winning novel Shuggie Bain. There will be admiration, but it will be admiration from afar, the fascination of an anthropologist discovering and observing a remote Amazonian tribe, without going native. They might find the rage of the Old Firm, the roar of a football crowd which in its visceral intensity is quite different from a rugby or an athletics crowd, absorbing and even intoxicating. But the agony of it all won’t touch them. They will merely say, “Extraordinary!” And then fly home.