BREXAPOCALYPSE rained down another burning bolt from the skies on Wednesday. And one particularly fiery chunk landed right on Dundee waterfront.

A terse letter from the European Commission said UK cities would no longer be able to compete for the title of European Capital of Culture (formerly the European City of Culture). They said it “would not be possible … following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union”.

Dundee – along with Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and a joint bid by Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane – was one of the contenders. This blow follows Dundee’s strenuous 2013 efforts to secure UK City of Culture, when Hull pipped it to the 2017 award.

If the European Commission is implacable and the ruling stands, it will be quite a dunt for Dundee. I have the city’s cultural qualities fresh in my memory. Last week we gigged in the painstakingly restored and beautifully resonant Tivoli theatre – which has well over a century of variety posters on its walls, and three ornate balconies to play to.

I managed to catch one of Dundee Contemporary Arts’ stunning video art displays – Kelly Richardson’s The Weather Makers, where future visions are digitally blended with existing landscapes. In the gallery’s bookshop, I found a beautiful appreciation of Dundee’s late and mighty bard Michael Marra, by the novelist James Robertson.

In the hour before performance, I stood behind the construction fence and gazed at the new V&A, its black slats and dizzying angles even more impressive in the rainy dark. The Malmaison sits across from it, looking like a block that’s been dropped in from the Upper West Side in New York. By the time the Capital of Culture competition judges would have made their city visit, they would have encountered quite an urban spectacle.

A recent article in the Scottish foreign affairs online magazine Cable demonstrates how diligent the Dundee bid has been. Those behind it liased closely with recent awardees such as Galway in Ireland and Aarhus in Denmark. They used Dundee’s title as a Unesco City of Design to ensure international networks knew they were bidding. And they highlighted their existing assets (including two fitba clubs and major creative institutions).

Anyone would say Dundee was in with a very good chance of the designation. And now… ooft.

The tremors were evident beforehand. The European Parliament and Council tightened up the rules in September, making it clear that only EU member states, members of the European Economic Area, and prospective members of EU were eligible for the award. And in their letter to the UK Government, the Commissioners cited Westminster’s own December 2016 guidance to cities tendering for the award. The official website made applicants aware that “the title may be subject to the outcome of exit negotiations which could have a bearing on the UK’s participation”.

All this adroit Euro-manoeuvring can’t be a surprise. The dreaded “experts” have been warning us for years: the EU has no interest in making Brexit a painless and cost-free affair for the UK. Self-described “reluctant Brexiteers”, such as the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson, can fulminate about needing to “protect a sense of European cohesion, irrespective of EU membership”.

Maybe down the line, yes, when some workable new structures between Britain and Europe begin to operate (though who knows if we’ll ever get there). But the clumsy jingoism and blimpish prejudice erupting from various Brexit negotiators have evidently taken their short-term toll.

Blustering leavers should note the origins of these award. It was set up in 1985, by Melina Mercouri, Greece’s minister of culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang – in the early years of Jacques Delors and his vision for a “social Europe”. Their aim was to “bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values”.

Brexit, no matter the hemming and hawing, bares its arse to all that.

For the indy-minded, let alone the 62 per cent of remain-voting Scots – never mind a Scottish Government mandated to subject the “material changes” of Brexit to a democratic test – this is all particularly painful.

It’s one more sign of the way Brexit is disconnecting us from our European prospects and our European heritage. One hopes that Nicola Sturgeon’s advisers are gathering these instances like pearls, to string through urgent narratives that might motivate us to get out of this mess. Yet it’s worth remembering – and drawing from experience in our own backyard – both the benefits and the disputes that this kind of award brings. It has become quite explicitly a trigger for cities to embark on a form of local regeneration that fits a certain ideal of European citizenship.

That ideal, to be blunt, is upwardly mobile, bourgeois and cosmopolitan. Cities boost their cultural treasures to attract the higher-end of tourist trade, whether internal to the country or across the continent.

Indeed, the very idea of a single market, comprised of shared EU regulations, supports the “capital of culture” notion perfectly.

Wherever the tourist footfall lands, business and investment might also follow after, with enterprises looking for hinterland, lifestyle and recreation. (Dundee is also a world leader in areas such as bioscience, and was no doubt aiming for the award to be a talent attractor.)

Yet anyone with any memories of Glasgow’s 1990 designation as European City of Culture remembers two opposing currents. One was the vision driven by then lord provost Pat Lally of a “Glasgow Miles Better”, where the promotion of culture led the transformation of the city as a whole.

In an era where Europe was unifying, a Glasgow that could be home to Pavarotti, the Bolshoi Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic and Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata was announcing its (and by proxy Scotland’s) connection to the Euro mainstream. At the same time, there were T-shirts being sold in the Barras district with the slogan “There’s no much Pavarotti for the poverati”.

The protest and cultural group Workers City sprang up. Uncomfortably for Lally, it was led by some of Glasgow’s greatest artists, including James Kelman, Peter Mullen, Alasdair Gray (see all the books at

They straightforwardly called out the City of Culture award as “everything to do with big business and money: to pull in investment for inner-city developments which, in the obsessive drive to make the centre of the city attractive to tourists, can only work to the further disadvantage of the people in the poverty ghettoes on the outskirts”.

This was no parochial protest. The anarchists and libertarian socialists behind Workers City also arranged for Noam Chomsky (even then, the world’s most famous intellectual) to visit Govan that year, attending the Self-Determination and Power conference.

At the time, I’ll be honest, I was strung entirely between these two visions. I enjoyed playing to 200,000 people on Glasgow Green at the spectacular Big Day concert, but I was also enraptured by the artistry, philosophy and defiance of the Workers City crew.

Of course, the Dundee bids – indeed, any of these city bids – make great play of “engaging their local communities”. Yet if you read through the Workers City documents, you are reminded that excluded and dispossessed communities may not want to be “engaged”. At least, not on the terms offered, that is, as happy members of a precarious service economy that turns proud citizens into performing seals. (Darren McGarvey’s chapters in Poverty Safari, his brilliant reflections on class and deprivation today, could easily – and sadly – fit right into any of these 1990s volumes.)

So how should cities connect and resonate across the continent of Europe? Perhaps there is something shallow about the Capital of Culture model these days, whereby regeneration can often mean gentrification, making cities amenable to neo-liberal schemes.

In Europe, “rebel cities” – such as Barcelona, Naples and Zagreb – are trying to build a “culture of activism” that links lifestyle to economy in new ways.

How should, for example, a Glasgow under SNP and Scottish Greens control respond to its own culture city legacy, and our current and urgent circumstances?

The slow-motion car-crash of Brexit raises so many questions, and makes so many demands of us. I feel sorry for the Dundee bid team. But how we use culture to drive prosperity – which, after all, literally means “a state of hopefulness” – is not, these days, a simple question.