Friday, July 25, 2008

Glasgow East - just have to mention it!

'Catastrophe for Labour as SNP triumphs in Glasgow East · Nationalists overturn 13,500 majority in heartland.'
That was how the Guardian reported the results of the Glasgow East by-election today. And in a blog called The Scottish Home, even though I'm usually writing about textiles and gardens and things like that, I just have to say something about it before I go back to the latest novel - called the Physic Garden - which is progressing nicely at about 30,000 words.
I've said it before on this blog, and I'll say it again. I love Glasgow. It's my favourite city in the world. Its people are surely among the most friendly, bright, irreverent, inventive and creative in existence. But the city's east end has extreme problems of poverty and deprivation that all these many years of a Labour government have done little to address. The fact that this poverty sits cheek by jowl with the newly gentrified Merchant City, where £1000 handbags and designer chic are commonplace, doesn't really help.
I'm no political economist, but I remember attending a conference a few years ago and hearing somebody speak about how he had taken photographs of some of those sixties tower blocks in Glasgow with heat detecting cameras in an effort to assess why the buildings were so disastrous for the residents - full of damp and bronchitis-inducing black mould. Asthma was endemic among the children. Clothes were ruined. The residents themselves were always being blamed for this. They were boiling kettles, breathing, that kind of thing. (I kid you not!) He said 'we looked at the pictures and wondered what all those little blocks of insulation were. Then we suddenly realised that they were curtains in the windows. We had taken the pictures at night. The drawn curtains were providing infinitely better insulation for each of the flats than the walls!'
Over the past few weeks, the English press have sent representatives north to trash Glasgow's east end. And they've made a pretty good job of it. A.A. Gill (gonnae stick to cookery pal?) in the Sunday Times produced a predictably glib piece of non analysis. None of it has gone unnoticed. The East End has serious problems but it is by no means as wholly bleak a dystopia as was painted. And this from guys who live in London for God's sake. A wee biblical quote comes to mind: 'And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?' Away and consider a few beams, eh?
All of which amounts, I suppose, to a lot of votes for the SNP. As a lifelong and instinctive Labour party supporter myself, I voted for them (the SNP that is) in the Scottish parliament and will probably vote for them in a general election too unless Labour stops marching us relentlessly backwards towards 1984 and lecturing us about how we don't really understand them.
I started watching the election results programme last night but when Labour demanded a recount at about 1.30 I decided that enough was enough and went to bed. Still I put on the radio only to realise that Radio Scotland stops broadcasting around midnight and switches to Five Live which is the general UK news programme. I drifted off to sleep only to wake up in the early hours when the results were being announced. We got a wee chat with a professor from Strathclyde University, and then suddenly we were off on the Obama trail. No more analysis or comment from Scotland. And it's that sort of thing, folks, that really gets your goat when you live north of the border. That and the relentlessly London centred news. Wall to wall Boris when it was the London mayoral elections. SATS disasters which we don't have in Scotland. (We don't have the dreaded SATS up here but we do have assessments in reading, writing and maths, pupils are tested "when ready" and there's no big deal made of it. It's marked internally. The results are private. Teachers do their job. It works. )
And don't get me started on the new weather maps which condense the whole of this huge country into a distorted squidge at the top end of the screen. And as somebody pointed out recently on a comment programme, Glasgow has had a knife problem for years, but it's only when it starts happening in London that the politicians suddenly start focussing their hand wringing on it.
So food and fuel prices may have a lot to do with the election result as Labour would like to believe. But a general dissatisfaction with Westminster, coupled with the perception that the SNP have done pretty well so far is surely an even bigger factor.
Enough politics for one day. I'm away back to my textiles and my book.

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