Scott statue unfit for future?

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A monument to Sir Walter Scott in the heart of Glasgow is being removed to give architects a “blank canvas” in a competition to design a “new George Square fit for the 21st century”, writes Sandy Neil.

The statue, created by John Greenshields and Alexander Handyside Ritchie in 1837, was Scotland’s first monument to Scott (before his native Edinburgh honoured his genius with its monument in 1846), and stands on a Doric column towering above the square’s other 11 statues, to reflect the high esteem for Scott.

But Glasgow City Council told TheSouthern it cannot guarantee Scott’s statue will return. “We don’t know if it is coming back – it will depend on the winning design in the competition,” a spokesperson told us. “The only thing being left untouched is the Cenotaph: everything else is up for grabs.”

Six finalists out of 35 competitors have been chosen in the £15million project to redevelop George Square ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The statue is due to be removed to an unknown location in February.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, explained the motivation: “The city attracts thousands of tourists and conference delegates every year, who generate millions of pounds for Glasgow’s economy, and we need to invest in our city if we want that to continue. This means it is absolutely essential we choose the very best designer-led team to create a new George Square fit for the 21st century.”

The Selkirk-based author Allan Massie, who writes and lectures about Scott, reacted with a raised eyebrow in the Daily Telegraph: “For my part, I don’t see that there is any difference between a city square fit for the 21st century and one fit for the 20th, or indeed the 19th or an earlier century.

“Is the Commune di Roma, I wonder, scratching its head as its members wonder how to update Piazza Navona to make it fit for the century in which we happen to be living? Perhaps it is; little would surprise me about the activities of city bureaucrats, except an occasional display of good sense.”

Similarly, writing in the Glasgow-based Herald, Professor Sam McKinstry argued, “the removal of the appropriately-large Scott Monument seems an obvious cultural mistake”.

Jason Dyer, chief executive of the Abbotsford Trust, which is staking its new multi-million pound visitor centre and restoration of Abbotsford House on Sir Walter’s future appeal to tourists, said: “It would obviously be disappointing if the statue was not returned as part of the new design. However, should this be the case, we hope Glasgow City Council will find a suitable new home for it elsewhere in the city.

“Scott is one of Scotland’s most famous sons and is still read avidly across the globe. As we get ready to reopen Abbotsford to the public later this year, we’re confident that Scott’s home and his legacy will continue to attract visitors from all over the world to Scotland and we hope that Glasgow City Council will recognise the benefits of an association with this precious tourism asset.”