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People power 108

Posted on March 08, 2014 by

It’s still hard for some people to believe in poverty in Scotland.

You could argue the word has been trampled into meaninglessness by overuse. It’s a constant in news reports these days, which most of us watch on nice TVs in our houses filled with cosy centrally-heated air, shielded from reality with expensive gadgets and convenience food and a million distracting channels of celebrity fluff.


You need only look at the comments section below any online news story on foodbanks or deprivation and you’ll always find at least one comfortable middle-class person saying we have no poverty.

What about those in the developing countries, they’ll piously lecture, who need to trek miles just for water? Our “relative” poverty – having less than your neighbours – is an offence to those who go hungry and thirsty on a regular basis.

But next week, the gap between Glasgow and those benighted TV images of parts of the third world ravaged by famine or war is going to feel just a little bit smaller.

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Taming the savages 65

Posted on February 20, 2014 by

It takes a startling amount of arrogance to try and impose your morality on someone else. We no longer send our privileged white men to the dusty, dirty parts of the globe to educate the natives, to show them how to speak and eat and dress and worship. British toffs don’t hack their way through jungles any more, subduing spear-wielding tribes with Browning machine-guns and renaming their rivers after tubby queens.


The map is no longer Empire pink, and the British zeal for moral crusades has largely faded with it. But in the Telegraph yesterday, the charming David Cameron took us on a nostalgic trip back to glorious, Union-Jack-fluttering Victoriana.

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No-one actually dies 113

Posted on January 22, 2014 by

The headline above comes, with a small twist of artistic licence, from Philip Larkin’s brilliant poem ‘Toads’, and it’s easy to believe it if you should ever find yourself reading the Mail Online website. Those paddling in its perfumed waters would be forgiven for thinking Earth a bright, spangly place full of luscious women and rich men.


There are no heavier concerns in this world than which fad diet to try or whether the latest spray tan products give an even glow. We can read about how the fashion for the ‘scouse brow’ is so over, and then there’s that famous woman who married that famous man. There are popstars and juice bars and babies in mini-Gucci. All is well.

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A day in the life of the future 85

Posted on December 10, 2013 by

Imagine working for a trade union; one which is formidable and respected, one forever being sought by Radio 4. An indomitable body of professionals who never resort to strikes and scuffles, braziers and megaphones, because they’re so heavy with influence and history that they need only tap the right minister on the shoulder to have their voice heard and heeded.

Imagine working for the magnificent British Medical Association.


When I saw the BMA were recruiting in Glasgow a few years ago I was delighted and surprised. My surprise increased when I was sent to a call centre for the interview. Sitting prim and nervous in the reception area, a tacky room with walls that trembled if you brushed against them, I wondered what this cheap and nasty office could possibly have to do with the great and august BMA.

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The insatiable howl of the fat cats 143

Posted on November 14, 2013 by

I never understood why everyone hated Maggie Thatcher. Perhaps I was too young. Born in late 1980 I had no direct experience of the unemployment and closures of that decade, whilst the Poll Tax marchers were simply nuisance crowds who blocked the roads. Stuck on the No 14 on Argyle St, I just ate my Monster Munch and asked mum “Why aren’t we moving?” 


To me, Maggie was just a puppet on Spitting Image with mad eyes. She was funny, clubbing the other ones with her handbag. I never felt the hatred for her that everyone else in Scotland seemed to have. Even now – older and, dare I say it, well educated – I don’t hate her and just felt embarrassed by those morons whooping and jigging in George Square on the day of her funeral.

The rage of the 1980s simply passed me by. Thatcher and CND and the miners’ strike belong in the same distant era as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Young Ones and the Sinclair C5. So these days, you could forgive me for feeling a mite confused, because the 80s are here again. Only this time, there’s a much nastier sting.

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Revolution for lazy people 77

Posted on October 31, 2013 by

Oh, I was irritating when I was 15.


On our way to school, my friends would stop at Ian’s Newsagents and scatter their pocket money on the counter to work out how many fizzy cola bottles and packets of Space Raiders they could get. I’d do the same, but mine would have a copy of The New Statesman thrown in too.

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Sunshine on Maryhill 234

Posted on October 17, 2013 by

The sun rarely shines on the council estates of Maryhill. But on the rare occasions when it does, they emerge, dragging their Argos Value deckchairs behind them.


The high-rise flats do their best to block the light, but they find a spot in the concrete playground where the sun peeks through. They plant their chairs, flap open their Daily Records, crack open their cans and bask in the thin angle of the sunlight.

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London calling 181

Posted on September 21, 2013 by

[We’ve got something special for those of you who can’t make it to the march in Edinburgh today (or are reading en route). Julie McDowall pens the Herald’s brilliant online dating blog, but there’s a lot more to her writing than that.]

There is a groove on my skull. I can run my fingertip along it.

On your first day in a call centre they present you with a headset. You might chuckle when you first wear it, pretending to be Madonna or a helicopter pilot. But the chuckles die at the end of the shift when you lift the metal band and ruffle your hair, feeling the dent on your head.


And it can hurt, so you start to unclamp the contraption between calls and hang it round your neck, but a manager is soon gesturing wildly at you with the ‘hood up’ signal. Get that metal band clamped back onto your head. You may not remove it.

After a few years, a permanent line is engraved on your skull. You are branded.

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