19 Feb 2014
Finding out that the team that brought us The Scheme, Scotland's own version of Benefits Street, had decided its next topic was to be one of Glasgow's prime city centre streets didn't exactly fill me with hope and joy.
Sauchiehall Street has been through some tough times over the past five years, buffeted by the collapse of so many high street retailers in the recession and partly closed to traffic for months after a fire right in the middle of the section that is now devoted to bars, clubs and restaurants.
Just before Christmas, businesses on the stretch of the street from Rose Street to Charing Cross voted for a Business Improvement District, Glasgow's first, to pool resources and to deliver a business plan for investment. They are just at the beginning of a new stage in Sauchiehall Street's long and colourful history, so letting The Scheme team loose wasn't appealing.
As I sat down on Monday evening to watch the first episode of the three-part series The Street on BBC1, I was pretty much geared up for a gritty insight into the far fringes of city life reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices alike. I wasn't disappointed, but not exactly in the way I had expected.
We had the usual rather familiar process of character selection. There was Nick, the Malcolm Tucker of the take away world, struggling expletively with the perennial challenge of training up a young novice in a small business with no room for carrying passengers. And there was Jim, cheerfully battling to bring the Savoy Centre into line with modern retail practice, including a difficult baptism into Sunday opening, and apparently ruining his health along the way.
But it was Melo, the busker, 15 years in Glasgow, earning his living every day playing music well into the night, that brought into sharp focus a feature of our city we cannot ignore or even pass off lightly. For plainly on camera with a shocking, blatant lack of shame, we were shown that racism is alive and dispiritingly well in Glasgow.
Accused of living off the state, which the programme makers made clear he was not, even if that mattered, and violently attacked for the colour of his skin, his experience is one that we don't like to associate with our city. That Melo seemed fundamentally unsurprised by what we witnessed on film rather reinforced his point that he suffered assaults like that regularly.
I write as a representative of the business community in Glasgow. We pitch day in day out to bring business, investment and talent to the city. We welcome here thousands of students from overseas and bring skilled workers from all over the world to work in our businesses. To succeed as an economy we must have the ability to appeal to every country and to every culture, and racism is an obstacle to a successful economy, to a thriving city.
I had expected to despair at a programme over its emphasising the rough underside of Glasgow. I had not expected to be reminded of something so much more important. Racism should have no place in our city.