THERE’S no way I can avoid raising the issue of Paisley’s bid to be the UK City of Culture for 2021. I know this might upset some friends in Perth, but since the National held its roadshow in Paisley yesterday this seems like the perfect opportunity to highlight Paisley’s bid.

If people think I’m biased … I am. I believe my home town deserves to win. Of course, I would prefer that by 2021, Paisley would be a major town in an independent Scotland but until that happens I will support any project that helps to promote a positive vision of it.

There are a number of reasons why Paisley is a strong contender for the city of culture. Despite neighbouring Scotland’s largest city, Paisley has a strong and thriving cultural sector of its own.

Loading article content

This includes the PACE youth theatre group – the largest in the UK – which has seen the likes of David Tennant and James McAvoy pass through its doors and establish themselves as excellent actors.

Many people will also be aware of Paisley’s musical heritage from folk musicians like Danny Kyle and the Tannahill Weavers to those who have had more chart success like Gerry Rafferty (who even has a street named after him in Paisley) and Paolo Nutini. Paisley even has its own School of Rock and Pop, with their own rehearsal rooms right in the centre of Paisley run by the tireless Tommy McGrory, who also wrote, directed and staged concerts in the Clyde Auditorium about the old Glasgow Apollo.

The charity behind this project also organises packed out concerts in Paisley town hall to raise funds to keep the school of rock going. These concerts have included the likes of Midge Ure, ABC and the Specials.

Paisley is also home to the Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland – more commonly known as Sandy Stoddart. He is one of Scotland’s finest sculptors and has his studio just along the road from my office. His works include statues of Adam Smith and David Hume which stand in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, as well as one of the Reverend John Witherspoon which stands outside the main entrance to the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley.

Witherspoon was the minister of what was Paisley’s Laigh Kirk in his time and is now the Paisley Arts Centre (where I took part in the National’s Q &A session last night). He emigrated to the USA, eventually becoming the president of the College of New Jersey – which later became Princeton University – and was one of the signatories to the United States Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776.

The example of Witherspoon also highlights Paisley’s rich history. 2017 has been designated by Visit Scotland as the year of history, heritage and archaeology and it provides Paisley with a great opportunity to highlight our history as part of the bid for the city of culture.

Paisley has a rich history and, outside of Edinburgh, has the most listed buildings of any town or city in Scotland. From Paisley Abbey, established in 1176 and where William Wallace was educated, to the Coats Memorial Church, there is a rich collection of places of worship within the town. Admittedly, some are struggling to remain open as congregations continue to fall and others have already been converted into other uses – such as the arts centre – however this does not detract from the architectural beauty of these buildings.

There are other outstanding buildings within the town including the town hall, the museum and art galleries and even the central library. Paisley even has its own public observatory – one of only three such observatories in Scotland. Paisley’s resident tour guide, Les Fernie, often calls on those taking part in his tours to stop looking down on Paisley and look up where you can see some amazing and inspiring architecture.

Since it’s only a week or so since Burns Night, it’s also worth mentioning that the first formally constituted Burns Club was established in Paisley in 1805, with Paisley poet Robert Tannahill as the club secretary. Tannahill’s cottage, where he worked on his loom while composing his poetry and songs, is also only a short walk from my constituency office.

Tannahill’s legacy continues to this day with local writers’ groups and even a poetry slam event becoming part of the town’s Sma’ Shot Day (a local festival on the first Saturday in July to celebrate the victory of the weavers over their bosses regarding the payment of the sma’ shot – a small cotton thread which, although unseen, was necessary in holding together garments).

In this quick tour, I’ve not even managed to mention our history of radical politics such as the 1820 Martyrs of Baird, Hardie and Wilson or even the case of the Paisley snail which led to the modern concept of negligence in Scots law.

Even if Paisley is successful and does become the UK City of Culture in 2021, there will still be issues that need addressed. Paisley suffers the same as many post-industrial towns in Scotland. We have one of the highest uses of food banks in Scotland and too many Paisley buddies are either out of work or relying on poor paying, erratic zero hours jobs simply to survive. Only recently the DWP announced 300 job losses, coming on top of losses at Chivas and threats to jobs elsewhere.

Even the magnificent architecture in Paisley is under threat from private developers who seem more interested in land banking than development. However, if the bid does nothing but raise Paisley’s profile in a positive way, highlighting not just our history but also the wide range of cultural activities currently within the town, then that can’t be a bad thing.