BENJAMIN Disraeli once said: “Keep your eye on Paisley.” How wise he was. In his day, Parliament was terrified that this hot-bed of radicalism, this rowdy populace of vocal, literate working folk, could spark a revolution whose flames would reach as far as Westminster. In the end, that did not happen, but the sentiment still holds good. This week we are all keeping our eye on Paisley, because it could be on the brink of a revolution of entirely another sort.

On the eve of tomorrow’s announcement of UK City of Culture 2021, you sense the anticipation among those who know what this title represents. Other contenders – Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea – are similarly on tenterhooks. Each has good credentials, and ample reason for wanting the prize. All have a proud history, and a lively community spirit, yet are blighted by unemployment and misery. At the moment none of them is likely to feature on a world traveller’s bucket list.

Is it mere chauvinism to think Paisley’s bid is the best? That this once prodigiously productive town is most deserving of a chance to restore its fortunes? Maybe. But those of us who champion it were cheered when Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, endorsed its application. “I hope it wins,” he said, impressed by the team’s commitment and confidence, and the involvement already of Paisley, and of Renfrewshire and Glasgow in its plans for renewal.

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MacGregor is Glasgow-born, yet a man of his discernment would never offer public support simply because of sentimental attachment. And nor do any of us. Our high and justified hopes lie in knowing what Paisley once was, and what it now is – and what it could become. In previous centuries it was a thriving centre of commerce, founded originally around weaving. Today it is, if not exactly a ghost town, one that is haunted by its past. It has been dogged by misfortune, with reminders of former greatness and current ails visible from every street corner.

Paisley probably has more elegant and historic buildings per square mile than all other Scottish towns save Edinburgh and Glasgow, yet to the inhabitants of its ill-starred housing scheme, Ferguslie Park, its former prosperity must seem as distant as the ice age. In the 1990s, the town’s fluctuating economy took an irremediable nose-dive, business and industries pulling out as if they’d heard rumours of advancing armies. Ferguslie Park has the dubious distinction of being the worst area of deprivation, and associated ills, in Scotland. Artist John Byrne, a former resident, loved growing up there, and recalls it with affection. It was by no means all bad. But it tells its own story that A&E staff head into the Royal Alexandra Hospital for a weekend shift wearing metaphorical flak jackets; so too that many of the professional classes who hail from here admit this with a self-deprecating grimace.

Plenty of upbeat initiatives are going on, but they require determination and vision. Even since its downturn, Paisley has raised world-class artists, musicians, writers, and movers and shakers. Today, it has a vibrant cultural community, excellent art gallery, a good museum with potential, and a history stretching beyond the Kingdom of Strathclyde that underpins everything it does. Without the enormous financial and inspirational boost of winning the title of UK City of Culture, however, there is only so long those determined to make it thrive can struggle on. At present, in an economic climate that drains the spirit, there are more reasons to give up than to persevere.

That is why, should Paisley not win tomorrow, Holyrood must intervene. Using the bold ideas in team Paisley’s bid, it should crown it Scottish City of Culture, and give it the resources to turn its fate around. In offering a blueprint of renaissance, of how to use a place’s natural assets and strengths – many of which are its people – it could set an example of regeneration for others to follow. Already the Government has given £10m towards the bid, a sign of belief in its worth. That it will have to dig deeper to support these plans if it loses goes without saying. But the reverberations, the impact, and the long-term humanitarian, cultural and economic boost will repay the cost, countless times over, to the benefit of the entire nation.

It could of course be argued that civilisation began in Paisley. Kenneth Clark, who wrote the influential book and TV series of that name, was the great-great-grandson of mill owner James Clark, who invented the wooden bobbin. The result of his brainwave was untold wealth that his descendants enjoy to this day. While Kenneth was a grafter, his feckless father quickly gave up working for the family firm to become one of the “idle rich”. Clark remarked that while “many people were richer, there can have been few who were idler”. Thankfully it is a word unknown to those pressing Paisley’s bid for future success. Civilisation, on the other hand, is at the very front of their minds.