Just a stone’s throw away from the pomp and ceremony of the Commonwealth Games opening in the East End of Glasgow this week, working class communities are furious.
East End resident Helen McCourt told Socialist Worker, “The Commonwealth Games means nothing to me—it’s just a waste of money.
“They’re taking the piss out of the people of Glasgow.”
Helen is one of a group of parents and carers who have been campaigning against the impact of the games and for the provision of a day centre for the learning disabled.
The Accord Centre stood for 20 years serving the East End of Glasgow. But then city planners decided it had to be bulldozed to make way for a car park for buses for the 11-day event.
Helen said, “Over 120 people were put out. Glasgow City Council told us we’d be getting a new building but there has been nothing. They said there was £250,000 for it but now it’s gone—what’s happened to it?”
Helen said the centre “meant everything” to her daughter Laura. “All her pals were around her there, it was her life, her freedom and it gave her independence. Now they are all split up from each other, they’re confused.”
When Glasgow 2014 was announced in 2007, Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon proclaimed, “This will bring a host of benefits to Glasgow and Scotland, including everything from regeneration, job creation, inward investment and just a huge pride in being Scottish.”
People have endured years of disruption in the name of this “regeneration” but they have seen precious little in return. Thousands of jobs may have been created, but many are low paid and most won’t last longer than a month.
Transport workers have had to threaten strikes to get extra pay for extra work and changes to normal shifts from a million extra passenger journeys. Bosses at Glasgow Life, a council-owned company that runs the city’s public museums and sports venues, took out a court injunction to stop their workers striking on Monday of this week.
Locals have been promised a “legacy” of new and better facilities being made available to them after the games. But Helen said, “There is no legacy for the learning disabled in the East End—the council and the games organisers don’t care.”
Instead the reality for East End residents has been eight-foot perimeter fences built surrounding their homes for the “safety” of the athletes competing.
New four-lane roads slice through residential areas, and routes connecting venues are being spruced up. But these new tarmac corridors have had little if any impact on the poverty running alongside them.
The Dalmarnock area has effectively been bulldozed. Hundreds of homes were demolished to make way for the athletes’ village and other venues. Former residents have been promised new homes and other facilities but people are no longer convinced by the smooth words from the men in suits.
Councillors in the city’s Labour-run administration have faced opposition every step of the way. Campaigners against cuts in services have drawn comparisons between the bloated budget for the games and dwindling local amenities.
Helen questioned the spending priorities saying, “The money would be better spent on teaching people how to live healthier, tackling drug use or poverty. It’s as if we don’t matter. What person in the east can afford a ticket for the games?”
The story of these big sporting events is now familiar.
Billions of pounds of public money is used to subsidise huge corporations and force people out of their homes to make way for some gigantic white elephant.
The total cost of Glasgow 2014 is £560 million and counting. That’s more than the £500 million 20-year bribe that Tory prime minister David Cameron recently promised to “regenerate” Glasgow in the run-up to the independence referendum.
That Glasgow’s East End is in dire need of investment is not in dispute. The economic realities speak volumes—chronic unemployment, poor housing and one of the lowest male life expectancies in Europe at just 63 years.
Since the 1970s tens of thousands of jobs have gone to be replaced by low-paid jobs in retail parks. One of them is called Parkhead Forge to emphasise the area’s lost industrial past.
Decades of Labour representation did not protect the area from the economic pain. In return, Shettleston returned an Scottish National Party MSP for the first time in the last Scottish parliamentary election in 2011.
The area has become a key battleground between the two parties. Every opportunity is used to score points. So there has been a row over the money for the Accord centre between the Labour council and the SNP Scottish government and both control spending for the Commonwealth Games.
First minister Alex Salmond promised he was “committed to ensuring that the Games Legacy includes recognition of the needs of people with a learning disability”.
But over two years later people are still waiting. Helen is furious with them both. “The SNP and Labour are using our kids as a political football. They need to get their finger out, they won’t get away with it.
“They say there’s no money for our centre but we see new flowers around the East End, street ornaments with the mascot and new stadiums.”
The Glasgow City Council contract for flowers alone is worth £200,000. The years of neglect of the East End and her recent experience have built a particular bitterness for the Labour Party for Helen.
She said, “That lot need to be booted out, you’re getting poorer every time you vote for them.”
The Accord Centre is only one example. Services have been slashed across the city while public money is poured into private coffers. Meanwhile the council tells everyone to “get your games face on” and do their bit to make the event a success. But who for?
It certainly isn’t the disabled people having to do without their community centre, nor the users of countless others across the city who have suffered the council’s axe.
As Helen asks, “Who’s getting the wealth? It’s certainly not the common.”