Skip to main content

Paisley (Cultural Contribution)

Volume 617: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2016

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Heather Wheeler.)

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead today’s debate on Paisley’s cultural contribution to the world. I am sorry to disappoint the undoubted millions tuning in from Northern Ireland, but I am most definitely not talking about the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley)—despite his party colleagues alluding to that fact on Twitter earlier this afternoon.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I know that Renfrewshire’s ain, Madam Deputy Speaker—the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing)—was hoping to chair the debate, but is otherwise engaged addressing a haggis, which is as good an excuse as any in this place. I know that she has taken a keen interest in developments in Paisley of late and will no doubt be bending the ears of the rich and powerful at her Burns supper this evening.

However, I am perhaps underselling Paisley’s contribution. As Paisley’s Member of the Scottish Parliament and fellow Buddie, George Adam, is forever telling everyone, Paisley is, in fact, the centre of the known universe. Given that I am forever being compared to Gerard Butler and that he and I were born in Paisley and are proud Buddies, I think that George’s point is well made. I should point out for the uninitiated that a Buddie is what people from Paisley are called.

This debate is a sheer fluke of scheduling, as it just happens to coincide with Paisley’s bid to be named UK city of culture for 2021. I am not an impartial observer, but to my mind Paisley is one the UK’s greatest towns. The Paisley pattern is quite literally famous all over the world and represents the legacy of our one-time place at the centre of the world’s textile industry. Our rich and proud history is second to none, and people should not just take my word for it. Ian Jack, writing in The Guardian said:

“There is probably no more unjustly neglected town in these islands; there is nowhere of comparable size—77,000 people—that has such a rich architectural, industrial and social history and that once mattered so much to the world.”

It is for that reason that I would like to use this opportunity to touch on the town’s positive future, should it be named as the UK city of culture in 2021.

For those unaware of the town, Paisley is the largest town in Scotland, with a population of around 77,000. We are proud to have Paisley Abbey, to accommodate a world-class university in the University of the West of Scotland, and to be home to the St Mirren football club; and we are proud of our industrial heritage, particularly in our heyday with the Paisley mills, which made the town an economic powerhouse.

In so many ways, Paisley well and truly punches above its weight in the impact that it has had on the world. Our cultural strengths are there for the world to see. We are the birthplace of music superstar Paolo Nutini, who earlier this month outlined his backing for Paisley being named UK city of culture and spoke about the “romance of the town” and its importance on his own career. Dr Who duo, David Tennant and Steven Moffat, also hail from the town and regularly come back to Paisley to support local causes, as does Hollywood superstar, Gerard Butler, whose family stay in the Gallowhill area of Paisley, which I am proud to represent.

The list of famous Paisley Buddies that have forged a career in culture, media and sport is almost without end, including such names as: Andrew Neil, John Byrne, Kelly Marie, Gerry Rafferty, Tom Conti, Archie Gemmell, Chris Brookmyre, Alexander Goudie, Owen Coyle, Shereen Nanjiani, Phyllis Logan, Kenneth McKellar, Robert Tannahill, David Hay, John Byrne, Fulton Mackay—[Interruption.] I am pleased now to see the hon. Member for North Antrim in his place.

Order. I rather think that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) should be here for at least five minutes before anyone gives way to him. Come on!

Would my hon. Friend like to congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on wearing the traditional Paisley attire?

My hon. Friend is correct, and he would be right at home at St Mirren Park if he wore that outfit on a Saturday afternoon.

I will in two minutes.

Let me return to my list, which is extensive. Other famous Buddies are Kenneth Gibson MSP—I would be under threat of death if I did not mention him—Paul Lambert, and two of Scotland’s most weel-kent weather forecasters, Heather “the weather” Reid and Sean Batty.

While I am listing famous Buddies, it would be remiss of me not to give a quick mention to those outside the area of culture who have left an indelible mark on the world. From the world of business, there is the Coats family, of Coats threads fame, which once owned one of the UK’s largest businesses. James Coats, and his sons who followed him, built up a business empire supported by vast mills along the River Cart. His son Thomas was particularly philanthropic towards his home town, and funded or donated some of Paisley’s finest buildings. Marion Robertson decided to try and use an oversupply of oranges to her husband James’s greengrocer business to make marmalade. The result was to prove very popular, and the enterprise is still going strong as the company that makes Robertson’s jams.

Ian Hamilton was a renowned lawyer, but is perhaps better known for something a little less legal. Ian was the mastermind who led the repatriation of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland from that building across the road, much to the authorities’ embarrassment. I note that Perth is trying to use the stone as part of its fledgling bid, but it was Paisley that helped to get the real one back before returning a replica via Arbroath Abbey—allegedly.

Members may not instantly recognise the name May Donoghue, but the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson has had huge repercussions throughout the legal world since the other place along the corridor ruled on it in 1932. May Donoghue had been enjoying an ice cream float in the Wellmeadow café in the town, but when she poured out the remainder of her ginger beer into the glass, a partially decomposed slug fell out. She suffered from shock, and was later treated for gastroenteritis. Having got nowhere with the café owner, she decided to sue the manufacturer, David Stevenson. Her lawyer’s argument centred on the fact that Stevenson had a “duty of care” to the consumer, even without a direct contract, which had not obtained before that landmark ruling. The case is still taught in law schools, and has been quoted at the start of millions of damages actions throughout the world.

Buddies are rightly proud of all those who have made their mark, but Paisley is arguably more famous for the distinctive teardrop pattern that is world renowned. There are competing thoughts about the origins of the Paisley pattern, with some historians even suggesting that it can be traced back to ancient Babylon. However, although shawl production began elsewhere, because of the huge scale of shawl production in Paisley, which started in 1805, the pattern was given the name “paisley”. Paisley’s mills have long closed, but the impact of the paisley pattern can still be seen on catwalks throughout the world, as my tie so stylishly highlights.

I am not wearing a paisley pattern, although it is true that I once chatted up a girl and told her that my great-great-great-grandfather had invented the pattern and that he was a friend of Mr Tartan—but that is not the point. The point is that not everyone is lucky enough to have a town, or a city, named after them, and I am delighted about that.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing our attention to the important issues of raising cultural awareness and the identity of the great towns and cities in this nation of ours. I hope that Ministers will continue to ensure that the whole of our nation is properly represented around the world, and that that includes all the great things that flow from the various towns, but in particular—Paisley.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Perhaps one day, if he perseveres, he will be granted his own debate about his contribution to the world.

Paisley has produced an abundance of actors and actresses of stage and screen. One reason why that has been so, especially over the last quarter of a century, is PACE Youth Theatre. PACE was founded in 1988 by David Wallace, and has now grown to become the largest youth theatre of its kind in the UK, with a current membership of about 2,000. The success and attraction of PACE mean that more than 200 young people are on a waiting list for a place there at any given time throughout the year. As well as putting on shows for thousands, including the perennially sold-out pantomime and shows touring Scotland, PACE delivers up to 34 workshops each year that not only improve on the performance skills of those who attend, but aim to increase confidence and improve communication and self-expression. The list of those who have enrolled in PACE includes James McAvoy, Paulo Nutini, “Game of Thrones” actor Richard Madden, and “Star Wars” actor James McArdle.

I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution.

However, PACE amounts to a lot more than the acting or singing careers that it has helped to kick-start. It is about the lives of all the kids who attend its workshops. Founder David Wallace explained that better than I could when he said:

“We aren’t all about finding the next Annie. If that’s what a member is looking to achieve then that’s great.

However, for me and the team, it’s about providing our members with essential life tools such as self-confidence, team work and motivation and allowing those individuals to create their own pathways geared towards a successful and happy future, whatever that career may be.”

Paisley is lucky to have David and PACE. Long may they continue their fine work.

I cannot let the moment pass without adding one more name to the long list of famous Paisley Buddies. My late father, Jimmy Cowan, was a Paisley Buddy. He played for the mighty Greenock Morton, but he also played 25 times for Scotland, including in two famous victories against the auld enemy at Wembley, one in 1949, when the English forward line was Matthews, Finney, Milburn, Mortensen and Pearson. We won 3-1 that day. My father was a famous Paisley Buddy and a Greenockian; I am happy to be a buddy of Paisley.

The fact that my hon. Friend’s father played for Morton was why I left him out of the list—[Laughter.]

Paisley’s rich architectural culture runs through the town, from Paisley Abbey and the town hall down the high street to the museum, Coat’s observatory and Coat’s memorial church, often described as the Baptist cathedral of Europe. One of the town’s not so well known facts is that it has the highest concentration of listed buildings anywhere in Scotland outside Edinburgh, but the jewel in Paisley’s architectural crown is the abbey, which dates back more than 850 years. The building is known as “the Cradle of the Royal House of Stewart”. Marjory Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, was married and later died in the abbey after a riding accident near the Gallowhill area of the town. Her son survived this accident and grew up to become Robert II of Scotland, the first of the Stewart monarchs.

As an Ulster Scot descended from the Stewarts of the lowland of Scotland, it is a real pleasure for me to hear the hon. Gentleman’s speech. Does he feel that there is a golden opportunity for Paisley’s traditions and culture to be twinned alongside the Ulster Scots of Northern Ireland, with their history, their culture and their language?

It is not in my power to grant the hon. Gentleman’s wish, but I note the keen interest of the Democratic Unionist party in tonight’s debate—that is two interventions from DUP Members on a debate about our Scottish town.

Absolutely, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for it.

The abbey is absolutely stunning and when you pay a visit, Mr Deputy Speaker—not if, when—be sure to keep an eye out for the 25-year-old embellishment by the stonemasons who replaced one of the gargoyles on the roofline with a replica of the xenomorph alien from the Alien films. I would hope that the committee looking at the refurbishment of this crumbling edifice could perhaps take a leaf out of the abbey’s book.

Benjamin Disraeli once warned his cabinet that they should “keep an eye on Paisley.” Disraeli might have been speaking about his fear of the guid folk of Paisley, rather than the hon. Member for North Antrim, becoming the source of revolution, but that quote is as true today as it was in the 18th century. Paisley is well known for its radicals. This is marked by a monument in Woodside cemetery which celebrates the 1820 martyrs, Baird, Hardie and Wilson—three of the leaders of the 1820 radical war who were executed for their part in it. That insurrection started largely because of savage cuts in workers’, mainly weavers’, pay and conditions.

Paisley’s radical past is celebrated annually during the “Sma’ Shot Day” festival. The sma’ shot was a cotton thread that bound the shawls together, but the sma’ shot was unseen in the finished garments, so the manufacturers—known locally as “corks”—refused to pay for the thread. The weavers had no choice but to buy the thread themselves, as without it the shawls would fall apart and the weavers would not be paid for their work. A long dispute followed. The Charleston drum, which was beaten through the streets of Paisley to summon the weavers in times of trouble, was beaten to rally the weavers to protest. After a long and hard struggle, the manufacturers backed down and the weavers were paid for the sma’ shot.

Bearing in mind Paisley’s phenomenal political history of responding to economic inequality, does my hon. Friend agree that the current Prime Minister could do with taking the advice of the once Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who said, “keep your eye on Paisley”?

I think my hon. Friend speaks for herself, as she did so very well in the previous debate.

On the first Saturday of July, the beating of the Charleston drum rallies the people of Paisley to a gathering outside the town hall. A procession is held through the streets of Paisley led by the Cork, an effigy of one of the manufacturers defeated by the Paisley weavers, which is then set on fire.

Paisley is fortunate to have two great education institutions in the shape of West College Scotland and the University of the West of Scotland. Both do a fantastic job at providing high quality and inclusive education. UWS is also the home of the internationally acclaimed sculptor, Alexander—or Sandy—Stoddart, who is the Queen’s official sculptor in Scotland. Sandy created the monument to the Rev. John Witherspoon, a Paisley minister who became one of the signatories of the American declaration of independence. The original is positioned at the entrance to the university’s Paisley campus, with an exact replica at Princeton University in the United States where Witherspoon moved to when he became the university’s president. UWS, which was founded in Paisley in 1897, is also playing an important role in creating the cultural superstars of tomorrow through its highly successful school of media, culture and society. The school offers industry-ready degree programmes designed by staff with wide-ranging experience in broadcasting, film, journalism, music, performance and the visual arts.

The guidance that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued in 2014 said that the

“UK City of Culture should be expected to deliver a high quality cultural programme that builds and expands on local strengths and reaches a wide variety of audiences, creating a demonstrable economic impact and catalyst for regeneration as well as contributing to community cohesion and health and wellbeing.”

Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the National Mòd, Gaeldom’s premier event for music and traditional arts, which was held in Paisley. It was an extremely good event. Paisley proved to be a wonderfully hospitable host. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a perfect example of Paisley showing that it is capable of hosting tremendous cultural events in the future?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The economic impact of that event on the town was massive, with a 6:1 return on the council’s investment. I know that the council is hoping to host the event again, hopefully in 2021 to coincide with Paisley being UK city of culture—obviously, we will be the city of culture in 2021.

We have not received updated guidance for those competing to be named UK city of culture. I hope the Minister can advise on when it will be published. Given that the hon. Member for Epping Forest received an unilluminating written response yesterday, I have my doubts. The second part of the guidance, on the need for a wider economic benefit if named UK city of culture, is critical to Paisley.

As I have said, Paisley is a special place. Our built environment matches that of any in the UK and the tenacity of Paisley buddies is second to none. We are a town with a rich history and the chance to have an equally bright future. However, despite all that I have said, Paisley has its challenges, which are deep-rooted in the fabric of the town. Poverty is a blight which afflicts too many. Shamefully, that includes generational poverty. In Renfrewshire, more than one in five of our children are growing up in poverty. In the affluent areas of Renfrewshire, boys are expected to live 16 years longer than those who stay in the poorest parts of Paisley—separated by only a few miles.

Paisley is home to what is statistically Scotland’s most deprived area. Ferguslie Park, an area I represent, topped the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, confirming the generational nature of poverty in parts of Paisley. This is something that Citizens Advice Scotland refers to as poverty breeding poverty. Yet despite this, the community still has a strong sense of pride. One of the area’s most famous sons, John Byrne, sums the area up perfectly:

“Paisley is a remarkable place. I support the bid wholeheartedly. I thank Ferguslie every day of my life for providing me all the information I ever needed about life, it was the best place I have ever been.”

Speaking of sons and daughters of Ferguslie Park, I am sure my hon. Friend will thank me for wheedling this in. Just to prove that people can fight the odds and achieve, one of the daughters of Ferguslie Park is heading up Paisley’s city of culture bid. Does he agree that nobody is better placed than Jean Cameron from Ferguslie Park to win that bid for Paisley?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I could not agree more with her point about her friend—and my friend—Jean.

As policy makers, the thought of kids waking up hungry, going to school hungry and going to bed hungry should motivate us all to ensure that we design more effective policies to prevent any child from living a life of hunger. That is why securing the title of UK city of culture is so important to Paisley. I believe it will generate a transformational change that will provide us with some of the tools to tackle our challenges head-on. For that reason, I believe this title means so much more to the town than those of other competitors bidding for it. Our bid will connect our communities and it will help us to take co-ordinated action against poverty through economic growth and opportunity.

Securing the title will bring around 1 million visitors to Renfrewshire in 2021. It will generate an estimated economic impact of around £50 million across our area. It will create hundreds of new jobs for local people and help grow our economy. It will breed new confidence in the town and make everyone believe that they are part of something special. It will transform Paisley’s image nationally and cement a deeper sense of pride in Paisley. However, more importantly, the lasting legacy of being awarded city of culture is that it will help us tackle poverty in an innovative manner and make it easier for every child and family in Renfrewshire to access cultural activity.

We all have our reasons for wanting to see Paisley named UK city of culture. I was born in Paisley, and lived in the Seedhill area of the town for five years before moving to Renfrew—just north of Paisley—where I still stay. I will always have a deep affection for the town. That goes without saying, and not just because I was born there. Some of the proudest moments of my adult life revolved around representing the town during the 15 years—three serving as club captain—I spent playing for Paisley rugby club. Everywhere we played, I was proud to wear the Paisley crest on my top, although I think at times we could have done a better job in representing the town, as we took a doing quite frequently. The same pride that I felt playing rugby is growing stronger again throughout Paisley. Buddies are proud of their history, and they are proud to be a welcoming place that has opened its arms to people from all over the world, evidenced recently with the arrival of our new neighbours from Syria.

Paisley has a lot to offer the world, but there is far more to come from our famous town. We are a town with our challenges, but if anyone researches our proud history, they will come across countless examples where the people of Paisley rose and overcame these challenges. We believe that winning the title of city of culture will serve as another example of Paisley seizing the opportunity and shaping a new, positive future for the town.

It is a great pleasure to respond to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and I begin by congratulating him on securing this debate on securing the UK 2021 city of culture bid for Paisley. I also congratulate him on, in so doing, uniting the United Kingdom almost like never before and on seeing so many Members representing different parts of Scotland and England and some good Ulster Scots also supporting his bid. This is about the UK capital of culture, and long may the UK capital of culture continue to be. That is enough of that point, but I think it is well mentioned.

Paisley has a fascinating history, and I note the excellent work Renfrewshire Council has done in putting this bid together, and there are some exciting plans to revitalise the town and create a new sense of optimism and pride, building on the wonderful history. The heritage, particularly in textiles, is important and global. The Paisley pattern transformed the town into an international textile producer, with tens of thousands of people employed in the thread mills.

The resurgence of the pattern in the 1960s led to the Beatles wearing Paisley print and the creation of Fender’s unique pink Paisley Telecaster guitar, and it is wonderful to see the pattern coming back into fashion again today, as represented by so many Members. That is demonstrated not only by the Member for Paisley himself but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who sits next to me resplendent in his Paisley pattern tie, which brings together the best of the UK, because it is made by Ted Baker, showing Britain coming together. But there is more than history and more than just the Paisley pattern. There are fantastic historical buildings, including the 12th century Paisley abbey and the neoclassical town hall. In fact, the town has one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings anywhere in Scotland.

Support has been given over the past decade to Paisley and across Renfrewshire by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is also supporting the public realm improvements that are taking place in the town. These will turn Paisley’s historic core into a better place to work, live and visit, by converting empty buildings and enhancing the area’s historic townscape. Should the bid be successful, I am sure that that would create a wonderful backdrop to a UK city of culture.

The town already has some important cultural assets. PACE Youth Theatre is one of the largest youth theatres in the UK, and runs workshops to improve young people’s communication skills, confidence and self-expression. The Spree festival of comedy, music and arts is held during the October school holidays each year, with free activities for families to enjoy. This year, one of the most prestigious events in the Scottish musical calendar, the Scottish album of the year awards, were held in Paisley. And of course there is the Paisley Museum, with its superb collection of Paisley shawls as well as other objects and displays relating to Paisley’s history, art, textiles and natural history. The development of the museum is the flagship project in the council’s regeneration programme, which aims to tell the story of Paisley’s history and transform the town over the next decade. It is great that the council is placing culture at the centre of its regeneration plans.

That brings me to the broader point about the role of the UK city of culture. The impact and importance of culture in improving and anchoring the redevelopment of a town is increasingly being recognised. We have seen this across the past cities of culture, including Derry/Londonderry and Liverpool, as well as in Hull. It is estimated that being next year’s city of culture will deliver a £60 million boost to Hull’s local economy in that year alone. The city has seen investments of more than £1 billion since winning the city of culture title in 2013, and thousands of jobs have been created. This is about improving place and about giving a sense of optimism and positivity to a community. It is about strengthening the whole community. We have seen the cultural offer underpin the regeneration of towns and cities across the country from Margate to Newcastle and from Glasgow to Liverpool, and I hope that it will happen in Paisley, too, notwithstanding the result of this competition.

The hon. Gentleman asked some important specific questions, and I can tell him that we will be bringing forward the formal competition for the UK city of culture 2021, along with guidelines for application, early in the new year. I am delighted that there is such a coalition of support for Paisley’s bid, not just from Ulster but from Paolo Nutini and other cultural icons from the town. Ministerial colleagues from the Scotland Office, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, have met representatives of Renfrewshire Council to hear about their vision for Paisley and their bid to be the UK city of culture. This is the third UK city of culture competition and it promises to be incredibly exciting. I am delighted that Phil Redmond has agreed to continue as the chair of the panel for the 2021 competition. He brings a wealth of experience from previous competitions. I am sure that Paisley will engage in the formal process once it starts in the new year.

I wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues at the council and elsewhere well. I hope that the UK city of culture competition can bring our country together and provide the anchor for regeneration and redevelopment, for a sense of community and for a strengthened sense of place. I hope that he will play his part as we take this forward. There is only one thing that I am duty bound to deny him. I cannot give him the answer that he seeks. I cannot announce today that Paisley will win the competition, not least because other towns and cities, including in Scotland, are planning to apply. I look forward to the SNP meetings when those various plans are discussed. I can tell him, however, that it will be an open, fair, free and frank competition with towns and cities from right across the UK applying. In the past, the competition has brought the power to transform cities and towns, and I hope that it can continue to do so. I am really excited to see what the next step in that journey will bring in 2021.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).