ON THE occasion of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Dunfermline’s status was downgraded to that of a city. We can only hope that, for the occasion of her next jubilee five years from now, the Queen sees fit to reinstate our status as a town.

Of course, I took pleasure in seeing the end of centuries of petty town rivalry with Kirkcaldy as Dunfermline took its place as the Kingdom of Fife’s undisputed principal metropolis. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Being a town is fundamental to Dunfermline’s identity: The Auld Grey Toun.

Dunfermline is still small enough to have a sense of community. Its inhabitants share relatively similar lived experiences: visiting the same parks, shopping in the same outlets, playing sports in the same venues, seeing shows in the same theatres, socialising in the same pubs – an egalitarian ideal impossible to envisage in stratified cities where citizens are hived off into their own zones dictated according to social class.

Crucially, the issues faced by Dunfermline are those of a town. Existential questions around the role of a town’s high street in the digital age were made all the more urgent in Dunfermline when flagship retailers went bust during the pandemic. The lack of quality jobs for young people is a problem that post-industrial mill towns across the UK, including Dunfermline, know only too well. 

Similarly, the lack of a local university further forces young people to cast aside ties to their community in order to better their life chances. Regional inequality and the value of physical proximity to opportunity is an issue completely ignored amongst metropolitan political circles in Scotland, yet is omnipresent in towns like Dunfermline.

A quintessential town predicament is that of the commute. Too many metropolitan elites believe that discussions around the future of commuting must begin and end with the creation of more bike lanes in city centres and encouraging employers to roll out more cycle-to-work schemes. Whereas this may seem an ingenious panacea to those in cities living 15 minutes from their place of work, the prospect of a 50-mile bike ride to Glasgow does not appeal to the people of Dunfermline in the same way.

Indeed, the elation of being awarded city status was later punctured that same day by news that the newly-nationalised rail service, ScotRail, would be slashing their services by a third, with seismic implications for anyone trying to get from Dunfermline to Edinburgh and elsewhere for business or pleasure.

Dunfermline is a town and can look out into the world as a proud town – a city is something different from a town; something cold, something anonymous, something mechanised. Not something inherently better.

Dunfermline has enough cultural and historical standing that it does not need to behave like someone in the throes of a midlife crisis, determined to prove something to the world by means of a flashy title. Dunfermline never took notice of its official status before and it shouldn’t start now.

It is in Dunfermline that Andrew Carnegie drew his first breath and lived his formative years. It’s home to Scotland’s principal royal mausoleum, the spectacular abbey of Dunfermline – the chosen resting place of Scotland’s greatest monarch, King David I, as well as national hero Robert the Bruce.

Dunfermline boasts magnificent parks, great theatres and music venues, beautiful golf courses, historic castles and the world’s most delicious steak bridies.

Dunfermline is not a lesser place for not being a city. People who grew up here are who they are today because they come from a town. Its inhabitants choose to live here, raise families here, because it is a town.

Dunfermline has made its mark on the world, not despite being a town, but because it has the vibrancy, the community and the character that only a town can possess.

Carnegie’s words are as true today as the day he said them: “Fortunate, indeed, the child who first sees light in that romantic town.”

Rodaidh McLaughlin,
(Full address has been supplied)