The Iron Chancellor
of things past
I am not not-innocent
Tales of the
the nature and application of the new Terrorism Act Discussion
Zine and Comix
As it never
They are like to children
sitting in the marketplace, and speaking one to another, and saying: We
have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have mourned, and you have
(Luke chapter 7)
Tales from the script
Many things are done in
an underhand and unaccountable way in the arts. Not just decision-making,
but the political ideologies which are enforced upon it. At times people
have to go to preposterous lengths to disguise this.
The Scottish Arts Council
(SAC) organised--and presumably paid for--a quiet event for an audience of
'arts managers' in Glasgow on 14/4/99. Grimly called "Facing the Future,"
for some reason this took the form of one lecture by Ian Christie, then
director of the think tank 'Demos'. After an obviously unwanted debate
(chaired by Mrs. Jack McConnell, Labour Party etc.) in which the audience
clearly did not accept what they were told, the final words from Seona
Reid (then Director of the SAC) convey the impression that some form of
transaction had taken place, that "SAC was working to ensure the arts were
incorporated into the range of Government policies--but arts organisations
and artists needed to play their part in making this a reality".
Reality fabrication had
also been the purpose of Christie's talk, "A New Agenda for the Arts" which
was also slyly pushed around the SAC by 'colleagues' who followed the lead
and felt the need to be seen to be urging others towards Christie's big
idea. This is the brainless fraud that there is no need to form an arts
policy distinct from that dictated in London. Christie even offers the
golden promise that if "autonomous Scotland" were to follow the government
line we would be the "envy and fascination" of the rest of the country.
The problem is the Scottish
electorate voted for less dictatorship from London, not more. People want
something different for the future not more of the same old shite. But
there arts policy has remained despite the wheeling in and switching on
of a couple of new appointees.
Tacking on the word 'Scottish'
did not disguise the obvious difficulty with Christie's little talk: that
it is propaganda, that he is working for the government and that he is
bullshitting people. The tone is of an Oxford graduate on the lowest rung
of the Civil service, perhaps in a propaganda department for some colonial
enterprise. His statements such as "policy debate about 'the arts' is one
of the most dispiriting areas of stand-offs and entrenched interests in
our intellectual life", don't make much sense in Scotland--what policy debate?
Christie was employed to
discern the future environment for the arts for the Scottish, Welsh and
English Arts Councils in 1996. So this was money for old rope, ignominiously
flogged yet again in the SAC Annual Report of 1999 which cites Christie's
talk as the sole example of its organisation of arts policy debate. An
example of nihilistic apathy.
Christie even points to
"policy debate" as a key problem, but what he really seems to mean is any
independent thought and free discussion not to the government's liking
and eh...actual culture, art. What is dispiriting is that his Pol Pot equation
aims to exclude first all the arts administrators including all
partnerships with private business and secondly any artist who has
"...the arts establishment
is split on tediously familiar lines. On the one hand, the official arts
world is preoccupied with the economics of cultural policy--subsidy, value
for money, partnership with business and a goal of reaching new mass audiences
('art for all'). Ranged against it are members of an establishment of discontented
artistes - including those who have recently announced that they
were forming an 'alternative arts council' to seek more resources for their
favoured forms of high culture. Arts Council chairman Gerry Robinson confronts
Harold Pinter: it is yet another showdown between the men in grey suits
and the men in black polo necks."
Leaving aside that this
has nothing much to do with Scotland or reality; Christie inferiorises
contemporary discussion on art and arts policy to undermine both arts funders
and artists from any expectation of autonomy of purpose (which for some
is actually the attraction). In fact Christie further engenders the bad
faith that only authentic and open debate could possibly counter.
Although some may close
their minds to it, the administrators know government policy is all a load
of rubbish too. For Christie the work of both artists and administrators
are the problem because "in these debates 'the arts' tend to appear as
a distinct world, disconnected from other [government] policy areas." His
idea is that all cultural policy must align itself to "sectors which
will command funding." Such a polite way of putting it. But we are trying
to get out of this cultural gulag not into it.
Arts administrators need
to be primarliy aware of the debates within the arts so as to be able to
respond. What the government wants has to be counter balanced by what artists
want. Or are we to be forever puppets? Administrators should not be led
into nor encouraged--as they were with this event--to try to influence and
pre-determine debate by political funding exclusions. Their positions are
predicated on an independence from government. Traditionally 'think tanks'
have played a role in poisoning and tainting this independence. How they
fit into power structures must be openly analysed: and bear in mind a conflict
of interest is also a potential conflict of interest.
The carrot and stick (the
arse and the lick) approach is a sadistic pleasure of control for the psychologically
damaged. With the Lottery there is an inordinate surplus of funding available:
some £4.4bn which remains unallocated. That this has been atrociously
handled (and largely embezzled by government) is one reason why distrust
legitimately exists between artists and administrators: the artists
know the criteria which is used to exclude them is politically motivated
and biased towards spurious government endeavours and incoherent and coercive
marketing theories. This is destroying our culture not sustaining it.
Putting every egg in the
basket Christie maintains that cultural policy needs to be first joined
to government policies (the "modernisation of the fabric of the UK" no
less) and then armed with the marketing spin of ever shifting concepts
of 'Audience Development', which I imagine will be provided by think tanks
and consultants ("policy entrepreneurs") thus creating the Catch-22 loop.
This will simplify everything: the "nature of the artistic experience on
offer" is inconsequential. Art has no place except as predetermined sanitised
"forms of arts enterprise which combine civic spirit with entrepreneurial
skills..." We are all welcome to "join up".
The 'evidence' he presents
to justify the idea that everything must follow government policy is one
source: Geoff Mulgan. A Cabinet Office news release of 1/9/00 announced
the appointment of Mulgan as Director of the slightly Orwellian 'Performance
and Innovation Unit' (PIU): "The PIU's aim is to improve the capacity of
Government to address strategic, cross-cutting issues and to promote innovation
in the development and delivery of policy and in the delivery of the Government's
objectives. The Unit reports direct to the Prime Minister through Sir Richard
Wilson." Previously, the report continued, "Mulgan has worked since 1997
as a Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on social policy issues...responsible
for social exclusion, welfare to work, family, urban, voluntary sector
and other issues... He was previously the founder and Director of Demos,
the independent think tank."
Hey Ian, isn't that where
you work? Even a fool would need a bit more than that to take Christie
seriously but all he provides is an obscure concluding phrase that "we
need a Zeldinist Manifesto."1 This
is a reference to Theodore Zeldin a slightly bonkers Oxford academic who
"I see humanity as a family
that has hardly met. I see the meeting of people, bodies, thoughts, emotions
or actions as the start of most change. Each link created by a meeting
is like a filament, which, if they were all visible, would make the world
look as though it is covered with gossamer. Every individual is connected
to others, loosely or closely, by a unique combination of filaments, which
stretch across the frontiers of space and time."2
That's straight out of Private
Eye's 'Pseud's Corner (and I don't like his Open University hair style
either), but the 'gossamer filaments' of Christie and Demos' connections
are certainly in need of investigation. As with Mulgan's book 'Connexity,'
the Amazing Zeldin has found a small niche market with a handful of corporate
PR managers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They use it to justify
'Sustainable Development,' (a propaganda exercise funded by Big Business
and government) as a 'Third Way' distraction from the ecological ravages
of their Global empires. Aan what do you know, Zeldin is along with Christie
and Mulgan, also a core member of Demos.
Christie currently works
for the Cabinet Office with Mulgan. For nine years a Fellow of the Policy
Studies Institute and the Henley Centre: he's a think tanker's think tanker.
He also has his own little organisation 'Green Alliance' (GA). A typical
GA pamphlet, by Christie, argues the political case for sustainable development
as a rationale for the EU. GA organised the second annual Rio Tinto Environmental
and Social Forum, where RTZ company representatives outlined what Rio Tinto
has achieved, described a range of initiatives underway and promised to
continue constructive engagement in the future. Then presumably went back
to dynamiting the rain forest.
GA ran a seminar for William
Hague and his environment spokesman Damian Green, on what line they should
be punting, then went round the country performing with John Prescott and
Micheal Meacher who both spoke at their annual meeting. Not everyone can
make money out of turning politics into a middle-man's melange, not everyone
sees political commitment and belief as such an opportunity for prostitution.3
Think Tanks such as Demos
also pander to the strategies, structures and operating processes of major
corporations which are complicit factors in the reduction in the political
and economic power of nations. A corollary to this is the ever decreasing
ability of governments to meet the needs and expectations of their constituents.
The ulterior motive of 'corporate community engagement' is to pirate money
from government social management infrastructures which will in the long
term eventually abrogates responsibility for social policy to large financial
concerns.4 A great deal of this has been rationalised by think tanks as
part of a 'Third way' approach. As we will see later the people who run
them are becoming adept at obtaining government money through phoney cultural
The Sadistic Statistic
"The Third Way is to my
mind the best label for the new politics that the progressive centre-left
is forging in Britain and beyond."
And what would a new product
be without a label. 'Forging' is an unfortunate choice of words though.
Christie also writes for
Prospect--a small magazine desperately pushing the 'Third Way' which
aspires to the role played by Encounter in the late 50s. In 'Return
to Sociology,' adopting a manner not unlike Senator Joe McCarthy, Christie
blames the "1968 generation" for unspecified crimes against sociology.6
'The influence of continental
theory grew--and generated a huge amount of posturing, barely exaggerated
in Bradbury's lethal portrait of his "history man."'
In Bradbury's novel the
History Man is not Howard Kirk (the character played by Anthony Sher in
the 82 TV adaptation) but an unseen shadowy figure; but you know what he
means. This is after all just more propaganda. The point is to create the
illusion that Marxism achieved a monopoly in the sociology curriculum.
Here again he relies on
reductive, crude characterisations of the left (while ignoring the right--yes
what is right-wing sociology?). The article is a perverse attempt to erase
Marxist and left-wing influences (like the Stalinists air-brushing their
former comrades out of the picture). He cuts the history of sociology at
1961 and starts it again in 1997 with Demos. The unwanted material is then
discarded as he settles down to relentlessly promote his own work and elevate
the role of Demos and allied think tanks and consultancies because of their
closeness to government. He then depicts them as the logical successor
of British Empiricists Lord Young and Peter Willmott, the nice 'establishment'
sociologists. The guys who get funding.
Again there are relentless
puffs for Geoff Mulgan's book (it would have been nice of Christie to mention
that Mulgan helps 'advise' Prospect). Eventually we are guided towards
Anthony Giddens the chief salesman (i.e. Tony Blair hired him) of the Third
Way. Giddens resembles an old sold-out version of Howard Kirk: he was a
Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Leicester from 1961-70. He has
never left the Academy and--having climbed the greasy pole at Cambridge
from Lecturer, Reader to Professor of Sociology--is now the director of
the London School of Economics and Political Science. Once a Marxist sociologist
he now advocates that socialism is dead. It's the old "The God That Failed"
routine where his mistakes, his failings and sell-outs are
attributed and projected onto a failed 'Left'.
Giddens' ideas such as the
'responsible risk taker' grew out of conversations with Mulgan. Together
they concocted ill-thought-out concepts for social experimentation on the
poor as if they were a bunch of lab rats. What they derived was 'embedded'
in the Government's Social Exclusion Unit. Now with the Performance and
Innovation Unit there is the development of a desperate propaganda aspect
to Mulgan's activities, and as ever it is blowing back in his face.
In 1998 at the direction
of the Government, an 'on-line think tank' called Nexus initiated
(within 'on-side' academic circles) a series of debates on the Third way,
involving Anthony Giddens; David Marquand, Principal of Mansfield College,
Oxford (also Demos); Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the
LSE; and the Directors of the Institute for Public Policy Research and
the Fabian Society. The whole sad little gang: but no academic backing
was given to the practical meaning or legitimacy of the Third Way.
Nexus was held up as providing
a "tested model of how intellectuals, academics, social entrepreneurs and
policy experts would assist the development of the public policy of centre-left
governments". It soon deteriorated to extinction. One more confirmation
of the vacuum in Third Way thinking, and the inability of its proponents
to apply its ideas to concrete social realities. 7
But not everyone can make
money out of the discussion of poverty. As Christie accidentally admits:
"The reform of local government and the welfare state is creating a large
demand for information about the preferences of the consumers of public
services."8 One of the most blatant
hypocritical examples of this 'internal market' being the ERSC/government
funded Research Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE). In its
second year in '99 they managed to spend £764,000 on themselves,
only producing a couple of books and reports which are overwhelmingly influenced
by the work of the Director, John Hills who writes with Geoff Mulgan. The
whole point of CASE seems to be to report to Mulgan and tell him what he
An accurate picture would
be against the national interest old bean
Central to the gang's ideas
is the portrayal of both 'Old Left' and 'New Right' as coherent, monotheist
political ideologies, this is a convenient myth--but a misleading form of
product differentiation. Whether elaborated by Blair, Giddens, Mulgan or
Christie, the Third Way is always in search of meaning, presenting concepts
awaiting precise definition. But does political expediency actually need
or desire intellectual and moral justification? If the Third Way remains
a fuzzy undefined concept, there can be no political accountability.
Which is handy because there
is no political accountability. The establishment position can't really
account for its complicity in the suppression and repression which was
targeted at the left in those years Christie wants to so conveniently avoid--none
of it is in the history books or the official accounts, most of the relevant
information is a secret we are told. The prevailing illusion is that this
only happened during the 'Cold War' and that everything now is open. This
has gone on so long that a great deal of that suppression and covert compliance
with government (and the market ideology) has become internalised and institutionalised
within what is passed off as intellectual culture. This is a major problem.
A fundamental cultural insecurity.
In the Thatcher years and
before, many independent journalists took the influence of think tanks
to be a malignant and covert right-wing influence in politics. They realised
certain organisations were providing doubtful research to reinforce government/intelligence
service's propaganda. Overall this was rarely acknowledged in academia
and the papers and TV who were themselves manipulated. In some cases contrary
evidence was vociferously kept out of debate by those within institutions
who were connected and/or sympathetic in recruiting and training within
academia. Paul Wilkinson up in St. Andrews University immediately comes
to mind; and he is still providing a service to the budgets of MI5 with
his sinister input into loathsome legislation such as the recent 'Terrorism
These previous Marxists:
Giddens, Mulgan, Demos, despise political activism because they--the 'policy
entrepreneurs' as they call themselves--want to dictate policy: why else
would they do what they do if they didn't. The 'Third Way' mirrors their
own personal sell-outs and biddable political conscience. Put it this way
'Policy entrepreneurs' could easily become Cockney rhyming slang for 'agent-provocateurs'.
As we shall see below, they have found a place as agents of influence,
joining up with what Anthony Verrier called the 'permanent government.'
Happy ever after in the
'Those of us who have observed
the resistible rise of the Blairites inside the Labour Party are not in
the least surprised by the [the decision to exempt Formula One from the
tobacco sponsorship ban]. We expected nothing else from people who routinely
broke the rules of their own party, lied about their own actions, smeared
fellow Party members, abused Party funds to pursue factional advantage,
rigged votes, repeatedly revised policy without consulting any of the Party's
democratic organs, and ensured a steady flow of jobs and patronage to those
loyal and useful to the leadership. Their attitude to the rules that apply
to ordinary people is like Leona Helmsley's towards taxes: they're "for
Yes times have been good
for Demos, it has increased its staff and moved to new offices in Waterloo
(let's hope that's ironic) sharing with the MI6 connected Foreign Policy
Centre, among others10. Tom Bentley
(a former advisor to David Blunkett on education) is now the Director with
Beth Egan (advisor to Gordon Brown) as Deputy Director. They still maintain
that they are independent from government.
Their web site promotes
links to several right-wing think tanks and war mongering arms of the cold
war including: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, The RAND Corporation,
The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Hudson Institute
(founded by Herman Khan the model for Kubrick's Dr Strangelove), The Heritage
Foundation, The Centre for Policy Studies, The Institute of Economic Affairs,
The Aspen Institute, The Adam Smith Institute and so on...
Demos trustees bring together
mind benders Sir Douglas Hague (former adviser to Margaret Thatcher), Jan
Hall (Chief Executive of the advertising agency Gold Greenlees Trott),
Martin Jacques (Co-founder of Demos, former editor of Marxism Today,
the curiously anti-socialist journal) and Julia Middleton (Chief Executive
of Common Purpose).
Geoff Mulgan now chairs
the Advisory Council alongside Martin Taylor, who just happens to be a
steering group member of the Bilderberg group (a notoriously secretive
elite gathering). After his disastrous time at Barclays Bank, Taylor received
a £2.5 million payoff (in addition his shares would be worth £3.2
million). A leading member of Labour's taskforce on welfare reform, he
is one of the party's prominent supporters in the City. The millionaire
immediately targeted the poorest people in the UK with a focus on 'welfare
dependency'. Taylor argued that in order to reduce the growing number of
workless households, both partners in an unemployed childless couple should
have to make themselves available for work. People who get a thrill out
of punishing the helpless need help themselves.
Ian Christie is still on
the Advisory Council which also has: Matthew D'Ancona (Deputy Editor, The
Sunday Telegraph), Terry Leahy (Chief Executive, Tesco plc), Mark Leonard
(Director, Foreign Policy Centre), David Marquand (Principal, Mansfield
College, Oxford), Anita Roddick (Body Shop plc) and the curiously named
'Perri 6' who is researching into us all being taken over by robots. He
has also done extensive research into mind-altering drugs.
It is amazing just how far
the Demos team have 'moved on' from their days 'upholding' Marxism to embrace
the ideology of the right, any old post-modern cobblers, big business and
the shadowy connianvances of think tanks. Demos has spawned all manner
of parasitical children.
Take the example of Common
Purpose (CP). This was started by Demos trustee Julia Middleton. It has
been around for sometime but gained a great deal of funding with the advent
of New Labour and its service towards business elites. Initially money
was put in by David Bell, the Chairman of the Financial Times (and
the Millennium Bridge Trust). CP is another strange organisation, a kind
of secret society for careerists.
Again the board has some
mysterious figures presiding including Lord Dahrendorf, the chairman of
the right-wing Ditchley Foundation and Prof. Laurence Martin of the like-minded
Royal Institute of International Affairs. It could well be a note paper
job, but CP is composed of representatives of big business (mostly Labour
party donors) including multi-nationals, the police, the MOD, banks and
their associates, eyes down for a Full House:
Gillian Ashmore (Cabinet
Office), Sir Jeremy Beecham (Association of Metropolitan Authorities),
David Bell (Financial Times), Dr Andrew Bird (Zeneca), Dr Kevin Bond (Yorkshire
Water), Jeremy Hall (Dean Clough Ltd), Richard Hatfield (Ministry of Defence),
John Lee (Halifax plc), Ruth MacKenzie (ex-Scottish Opera), Vincent McGinlay
(Marks & Spencer plc), Baroness Genista McIntosh (Royal National Theatre),
Tim Melville-Ross (Institute of Directors), Sir Alastair Morton (Shadow
Strategic Railway Authority and British Railways Board), Sir Herman Ouseley
(Commission for Racial Equality), Janet Paraskeva (National Lottery Charities
Board), Graham Prentice (Nestlé UK Ltd), John Rivers (Rolls-Royce
plc), Gerry Robinson (Arts Council of England), Richard Sambrook (BBC),
Barry Shaw (Cleveland Constabulary), Jan Shawe (Prudential Corporation
plc), Vivien Stern (The International Centre for Prison Studies), Peter
Stoddart (Nissan UK Ltd), Paul Whitehouse (Sussex Police), Ken Williams
(Norfolk Constabulary), Ruth Wishart (Freelance Journalist).
Their list of corporate
sponsors is impressive and they say they have offices in every UK city.
Put politely CP tries to promote 'corporate community engagement', the
synergy between big business and well... it's a bit like the asbestos factory
owner's daughter handing out religious tracts to the workers coughing at
the factory gates. Relationships between corporate CP funders such as BAe,
Royal Ordinance and GEC Marconi and say the work of CP trustee David Grayson
of the national Disability Council are ignored however. The idea is to
accentuate the positive.
The real value of CP must
be measured by its closeness to power--access to which is what is on offer.
The board has only one member who is openly employed by government, Gillian
Ashmore, her record speaks for itself:
"Gillian Ashmore is currently
on secondment from the Department of Transport to the British Railways
Board working on railway privatisation. She joined the Civil Service in
1971 and has worked variously in the Departments of the Environment, Transport,
Employment and Trade and Industry. On the Transport side, she has worked
mainly in the public transport field. In the latter two Departments she
was Deputy Director of the Enterprise and Deregulation Unit. Mrs. Ashmore
has also been a non-executive director of P & O European Transport."
Incredibly with a line up
like that the CP constitution has the cheek to say the organisation:
"is diverse and non-aligned.
It draws on the widest possible variety of sectors, areas, and social groups
and recognises only peer level and geographical boundaries as common factors
to each group. It is always independent, always balanced and owes no historical
or other allegiance to any other organisation. Common Purpose works for
the benefit of society as a whole..."12
What a pack of lies. CP
creates the illusion that it is for ordinary people, but it is not only
run by an elite, its projects cater exclusively for an elite: "the rising
generation of decision makers" as they say in their web site. This also
states that: "We are looking for applicants who are decision-makers in
their city, towns or area", and that "participants are over 30 and already
hold a position of considerable responsibility". They say their long-term
aim is "educating the next generation of leaders in each city or town".
On this basis it is a fraudulent organisation.
Funded by big business and
public bodies (everyone from Arms companies, Banks to curiously the Scottish
Arts Council--probably through Ruth Wishart's connection) they operate for
their benefit while their constitution lies that they seek "the advancement
of education for the public benefit... to educate men and women from a
broad range of geographical, political, ethnic, institutional, social and
We have mourned and you
have not wept
With Trustees such as Gerry
Robinson, the ex-Coca Cola salesman who is now chairman of the Arts Council
of England and Janet Paraskeva, the director of the National Lotteries
Charities Board (the 'independent organisation' which distributes National
Lottery money supposedly to charities and community groups')13
CP has specialised in channelling money away from genuine charitable causes.
Demos is also partially funded directly via the Arts Council/Lottery 'New
The illusion of independence
from funders and government was abandoned with CP's biggest project, 'Citizen's
Connection'. Tony Blair's old flat mate Lord Falconer's New Millennium
Experience Company (NMEC) said that: "Camelot, NMEC and Common Purpose
But the legal position of
the Camelot Group plc is that as the operator of the UK National Lottery
it is supposed to be "not responsible for the allocation of funds raised".
Except when it is.
The NMEC was (is?) an extraordinary
concoction. According to their press release the 'NMEC is a non-Departmental
Public Body and a company, independent from government with one shareholder,
Lord Falconer'. This makes it an Anstalt a finacial vehicle more commonly
associated with Swiss Bank accounts and money laundering. The 'off-shore
account' was pioneered by the Mafia: their Lotteries ('the numbers racket')
were deemed illegal because of the evidence that they preyed upon the poor--the
National Lottery magically does the reverse.
NMEC is funded by the National
Lottery via the Millennium Commission (who tried to be independent from
government but were threatened with a judicial review). NMEC ran the Dome
and a National Programme of events across the UK. It is misleading to gather
all this up as the problem with 'the Dome'. For instance, Labour MP Robert
Marshall-Andrews tabled a Commons question on numerous secret contracts
worth some £450 million--awarded by the NMEC, 'a company with no direct
lines of information or accountability'.
But with millions pouring
down the drain (well into a few people's pockets) an attempted diamond
heist and daily financial craziness at the Dome, no one really noticed
anything unusual when Camelot, whoever runs Common Purpose and Lord Falconer
gave £2 million to Common Purpose to run a web site which links to
the governments' sites, which is all Citizen's Connection is.
Amusingly an exactly similar
organisation to 'Citizen's Connection' already existed with Lord Young's
School for Social Entrepreneurs, which is funded by HSBC, the National
Lottery and a peculiar 'charity' the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust,
run by the wife of the former chairman of the SAC, Magnus Linklater.
People have to pay to join
up for any CP programme, so who is this money going to? Just about all
of CP projects are extensions of PR exercises run by big companies, such
as the 'Your Turn' project, which was directly run by BT's PR consultants,
so effectively these are being underwritten. Yet--even while CP got millions
for their web site--'Your Turn' was specifically given additional
funding by the National Lottery Charities Board, which as we have seen
with CP board member, Janet Paraskeva has a conflict of interest, which
she regards as a common purpose and her turn for some money.
"We now live in a world
in which fantasy and reality are hard if not impossible to distinguish.
Information is the raw material of both fact and fantasy, and has been
so industrialised that its origins are rarely visible. Now it can be manufactured,
twisted, multiplied and disseminated almost without limit. Assisted by
the power of computing, it can be created as if from nothing: tailor made
to cognitive needs, put together as pastiche or copy. It needs only minimal
reference points. The links between it and an objective reality--the claim
of positivism and enlightenment--are ever more tenuous. As a result for
the receiver there are few grounds for judgement, apart from received authority
or limited experience."15
This con artist's confession
was written by Geoff Mulgan a few years ago, when he was em...a lefty Sociology
lecturer in Sheffield University. You can just smell the post-modernism:
confusing fantasy with reality, providing text by the yard. There was only
one place for the young Geoff to go: Think Tank Land--the Thought Police--the
place where the government pay you to fuck with people's minds. From there
Geoff's 'limited experience' (and how he limits others), and his strange
fantasies became confused with reality, in first the Social Exclusion Unit,
then enforcing these policies in the Performance & Innovation Unit.
Mulgan's desk is where all this bureaucracy begins which we see filtering
into arts policy (Ian Christie's work) and the administration of the poor.
The type of post-modernist
theory expressed by entrepreneurial proponents of the Third Way such as
Mulgan, has its roots in the work of Martin Jacques, the founder of Demos
who recruited Mulgan.
Jaques pushed the importance
of interpreting ideology as no more than the job of gaining the consent
of the dominant class. The relations of production, exploitation and the
desire for power, impunity and privilege at the heart of the system were
overlooked. The market (and its effects) as a structured system of relationships
and values escaped their critique. This delineated only free relations
of 'exchange' between individuals in the market as consumers.
The early 80s attack of
the new conservatives and monetarists on social democratic capitalism together
with the collapse of the soviet system gave the market and its values a
new prominence for Jacques. Together with the sociologist Stuart Hall they
produced political critiques--particularly in the journal 'New Times'--of
the new right and are associated with coining the phrase 'Thatcherism'.
Critics believe these overestimated its ideological and political coherence
and its success in reforming the machinery of state and in capturing public
"Because Thatcherism had
a 'project', it was concluded that the left needed one too. This, it was
argued meant a long and difficult reform of the left on the 'hard road
to renewal'. But the results of this in 'New Times' and 'post-fordism'
involved the jettisoning of many of the critical analyses of left thought."16
So with the pseudo-sociology
of the 'policy entrepreneur', with this wilful ignorance in exchange for
money, we have a social thought which has moved far away from examining
the actual conditions of the society in which we live:
"...at a time of widespread
disenchantment or retreat on the intellectual left when theory itself had
abandoned the ground of oppositional critique and assumed the role of a
legitimising discourse with every motive for dissimulating its own material
interests and conditions of emergence. In which case we would do better
to drop all the glitzy self-promoting talk of 'post-modernism', 'New Times'
etc., talk whose sole function--whether wittingly or not--is to offer an
escape-route or convenient alibi for thinkers with a large (if unacknowledged)
stake in the 'cultural logic of late capitalism.'"17
It is impossible now with
Demos--employed by New Labour in much the same capacity as the Thatcher
government employed the Adam Smith Institute and the IEA--to believe that
they are unwitting. The connections and services to organisations such
as the Bilderberg, Ditchley, Royal Institute for International Affairs
etc. represents their connivance with elite gatherings of business interests
unfettered by the democratic process. They are part of the laissez passer
in the laissez faire.18
Its no go the Demos Man...
The SAC may still promote
the mad logic that we will gain independence by abdicating it: but you
will only hear this sort of thing from people who are paid to say it or
who want to be: paid by government as part of the exercise of control,
not public service. However you define Scottish culture it is dangerously
destructive to see it as a process of enforcing a diseased mentality contracted
from a Downing Street 'policy entrepreneur'.
This is ignored, but Scottish
culture is self-determined here in Scotland and it will always seek freedom.
Part of actually realising that freedom will be a redress of balance, an
acknowledgement of the areas of culture which are ignored and suppressed,
deemed 'too political,' because they challenge the assumptions of the power
structure which presently has control of the financial resources. The present
power structure maintains class hierarchies whereby selected members of
the middle class once suitably 'educated' into appreciating and administering
'high culture', then become eradicators of certain forms of culture, denigrating
the nascent and indigenous culture.
Everyone's had enough of
it. It simply doesn't work.
Many of those in our areas
of higher education, mainstream media, those administrating culture and
the majority of artists will have to make themselves aware about what really
happened in Scottish culture in the last 20 years because there is no real
record. The level of cultural debate is atrociously non-existent--the example
the SAC set with Ian Christie is a disgrace, really quite repulsive. It
puts us back to the position of intellectual openness of Czechoslovakia
in the 1960s--instead of tanks rolling in it is think tanks. It makes no
difference to me if I am considered a dissident for saying so.
Where are arts and cultural
policy analysed intelligently? Why was Ian Christie paid to perpetuate
this stage managed fraud by the two Stepford Wives of the SAC and Glasgow
Centralised devolution for
all is now on offer across the country. A national network of Commisars.
But the fact is that the Arts Council are losing the support of even their
own committee members. Those with any integrity are blackmailed or put
into corners, doubling up on their jobs, shortening their lives with the
stress of competing in this phoney market place. The internal market becomes
internalised market values--pretend partnerships where the mentor becomes
the tormentor. There will never be a shortage of money for government stooges
like Ian Christie and his like, those who advocate that we maintain in
ignorance of the relevance of our own culture. I'd love to sell my soul
myself, but they think I'm the Devil.
1. Zeldin is studying 'Happiness'
at the moment in Oxford.
2. (Quoted from Zeldin's
'An Intimate History of Humanity' from a review by Sean McWilliams)
GA together with the Fabian Society and the Royal Institute for International
Affairs published Peter Hain's 'The End of Foreign Policy.' Mulgan and
Christie are also involved in Green Futures magazine.
4. A New Model for "Corporate
Philanthropy" by Ron Burke, General Manager, Global Corporate Relations,
National Australia Bank, First published Family Matters, No. 51 Spring/Summer
1998 sets out Zeldin's influence.
5. Quoted from http://www.prospect.org/print-friendly/print/V10/45/klein-r.html
6. Prospect, January 1999
Prospect is modelled on the American prospect founded by Daniel Bell in
the USA. The Prospect editor, David Goodhart is an ardent admirer. Laughably
it presents Demos, (Mulgan, Martin Jaques) as the opponents of the government.
7. Geoff Andrews 'Technocrats
or Intellectuals?' http://www.signsofthetimes.org.uk/pamphlet1/techno.html
Third Way Debate Summary
can be found at http://www.netnexus.org/library/papers/3way.html. Their
own figures say that it got 140 postings by 45 people.
8. Quote from Christie Prospect
9. http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/casepdfs/casereports/CASEreport6.pdf. See also
the Bob Holman interview in this issue. "CASE subsumes the former LSE Welfare
State program" with additional support coming from "the Suntory and Toyota
International Centres for economics and Related Disciplines, including
for the Centre's Toyota Research Officer."
10. Together with the Foriegn
Policy Centre, Demos shares its address: The Mezzanine, Elizabeth House,
39 York Road, London SE1 7NQ, with a number of organisations which grew
out of it or are government fronts or who are funded to run Mulgan's Social
Exclusion policies: The Family Education Trust, 'TS2k', CIVITAS (a former
IEA venture), the Community Action Network (funded by BNFL and Coca Cola
and the Home Office, a revolting cocktail), the Carnegie Young People Initiative,
Timebank, UNLTD, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs and the Policy
Network. These organisations mostly form a stable of volunteer organisations
who provide individuals to (domestic and foreign) NGOs under the same roof
as an MI6 front and Mulgan and Taylor's operation for the Cabinet Office.
Barclays also sponsored Common Purpose's Alchemist Awards to various friends
including the Founders of Jubilee 2000 which aims to ask the banks to abandon
third world debts.
13. Which recently shiftily
changed its name to the 'Community Fund'. Monopoly anyone?
16. Greg Philo & David
Miller, Cultural Compliance , Glasgow Media Group Glasgow June 1998. I
would also recommend their 'Market Killing', pictured opposite.
17. C. Norris Reclaiming
the Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism, London Lawrence
& Wishart. Quoted from the above.
18. Mulgan gave a briefing
to the Ditchley Foundation in Florence on 19-21 November 1999 on the 'Third
Way.' The Director of Communications of the Council on Foreign Relations
was also in attendance together with various 'diplomats' and Sir Samuel
Brittan Principal economics commentator, The Financial Times.
The Iron Chancellor
New Labour leaders think of themselves as pragmatists though they don't
use the word: within Labour Party discourse it is contaminated by its
association with Harold Wilson. 'We are interested in whatever works',
says Tony Blair, 'We are beyond ideology'. And a tiny sliver
of the British left wonders if Blair knows that 'beyond ideology'
was one of the key slogans in the CIA's psychological warfare efforts
to prevent socialism in Europe after WW2.
In the 1950s the appeal of the theory behind 'beyond ideology'
was obvious. Europe had been wrecked by the war; the US was producing
about half the world's GDP in 1950. How wonderful the East Coast
of the US must have seemed to the streams of Labour politicians taking
the American government-funded trips across the Atlantic then! And everywhere
they went they heard the same message: it is the end of ideology. Capitalism - American
production methods - had cracked it. Redistribution - fuddy-duddy
old socialism - would not be necessary to solve the problems of the
world. No more class struggle. No more conflict. A rising tide floats
all the boats.
Now we are being governed by another group of America fans. Some of them,
Blair and Brown for example, have been on the US freebie and bought the
story - no-one more enthusiastically than Gordon Brown who has been
visiting nice, white, civilised New England - home of Yale and Harvard - since
he was in opposition. He had his honeymoon there in a cottage at Nantucket.
It is one of the clichés of the age that New Labour are the masters
of spin. Gordon Brown is rarely mentioned in the tales of spin doctors.
The self-styled 'iron chancellor', restoring prudence to the
finances of the country, Brown is presented as above that petty political
stuff. But if anyone can claim to be the master of spin it is Brown. For
despite a decade of first espousing and then implementing the age-old
economic policies of the banking world at home, and more recently striding
the world stage as the advocate of the virtues of American-style capitalism
(aka globalisation), Brown is still perceived by many as somehow a more
left-wing figure than Blair.
This perception is extremely odd for Brown's career in opposition
as Shadow Chancellor was a long courtship of multi-national capital and,
advised by figures from the City, the ditching of 'old Labour'
national economy and manufacturing-oriented, policies.
Of course Brown wouldn't see it this way. He would see his intellectual
trajectory since the late 1980s as simply facing up to the reality of
the power of the markets and the impotence of the nation state before
them. And if asked for an example Brown, I'm sure, would quote the
event which really got Labour elected in 1997 - Black Wednesday, the
ERM fiasco of 1992 which destroyed the Conservative Party's claim
to be the party of economic competence.
But Brown learned the wrong lesson from those events. What being forced
out of the ERM showed was that it was impossible to sustain an overvalued
currency. Nothing new here; the only difference between this and other
sterling crises before it was the scale of speculative onslaught and the
speed with which events unfolded. No matter: like John Smith, Brown drew
the conclusion that to get elected Labour had to do the bidding of multi-national
capital - 'the markets'.
By the time Labour took office Brown and Blair had promised to toe the
conservative (and Conservative) line on economic policy: no income tax
rises, no increased public spending, no attempts to use government to
direct the economy; and no renationalisation. They had learned the mantra:
private good, public bad.
Taking office in 1997, there was only one tool left in the new Chancellor's
hands but it was the critical one: the control of interest rates. Interest
rates influence the domestic economy directly - think of Mrs Thatcher's
great recession of 1980-83 caused by high interest rates - and via
their impact on the exchange rate: high pound, imports cost less; exports
cost more. This last, essential lever, was duly surrendered to the Bank
of England on Brown's first day in office. He couldn't wait
to show willing. And so - absurdly, incredibly - Labour set out,
like Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s, to run the British economy with
neither an interest rate policy nor an exchange rate policy: these would
be left to the Bank of England who would use interest rates solely to
control inflation. Cue an over-valued pound and another wave of manufacturing
Brown was carefully shepherded into the views he now holds. In the decade
before becoming Chancellor, his personal office was managed by Sue Nye
, the wife of Gavyn Davies, a partner in the US multi-national bank, Goldman
Sachs. The late John Smith, when Labour leader, took him to the heart
of the globalising lobby, the secretive Bilderberg group. Unknown to his
party, his colleagues, or his biographer, Andy McSmith, John Smith had
been on the Bilderberg inner circle, the steering committee. It was thus
not surprising that when Brown, qua Shadow Chancellor, chose someone to
give him economic advice he picked Ed Balls, leader writer at The Economist,
the leading British advocate of globalisation. (Two writers at The
Economist are the so-called rapporteurs - i.e. minute-takers - for
Bilderberg.) It was Balls who arranged meetings with government economists
in America in 1993 when Brown and Blair visited the Democrats.
'Whatever works' say New Labour; but it's a lie. They are
not interested in anything happening on mainland Europe. If they were
they would be studying Holland, Denmark, Sweden for social policies; virtually
any of the EU countries for how to run a railway; France for its health
care system; Germany for how to be a middle ranking power without much
of an army or intelligence service; Portugal, Ireland, Italy or Spain
for how to get EU money without implementing its more ridiculous legislation.
None of this is happening. 'Whatever works' actually means 'whatever
the Americans are doing'. Matthew d'Ancona in the Sunday
Telegraph reported on January 14: '[Brown's] preoccupation
with best practice across the Atlantic is all-consuming: one Cabinet minister
told me that 'the only sure way to get Gordon to listen to a policy
idea is to produce an American who believes in it.'
Brown looks at the vast, mineral-rich, largely empty continent of America
and sees things we should copy here on this over-crowded island. He apparently
doesn't see the 3 million in jail, the 25,000 gunshot deaths every
year, the hundreds of thousands living on the streets, the most obnoxious
foreign policy since Joseph Stalin and the most corrupt political system
since Britain in the days of the 'rotten boroughs' in the 18th
Most of all Gordon Brown is naive. He believes that the multinational
drug companies are just itching to sell their products at cost price to
the Third World. He believes that the West's bankers are willing
to write off the debts owed them by the Third World. He believes that
the British bankers feel duty bound to invest in the infrastructure of
None of these beliefs are true. And in pursuing them Brown looks foolish.
He has had it easy so far but the American recession just beginning will
create unemployment over here as the multinationals start cutting-back.
We may then discover if Gordon Brown is to be remembered as anything more
than the last dribble of Thatcherism down the leg of British politics.
Remembrances of things past
The hum of super 8mm and
16mm projectors, the bodies and places that populate their images have
become ghosts of a nostalgic past, a paradise lost, associated with the
birth of photography, photograms and the flickering light burning through
last century's celluloid. The baby in the Lumiere Brothers' Le Petit
Gout de Bebe was the blueprint for all our home movie memories to follow
and the leaves rustling in the wind behind the baby which so fascinated
Melies would fascinate all potential filmmakers thereafter.
Super 8mm and 16mm have
for some time been released of their function, reduced in the broadcast
media and advertising world to a marketable and usable style quality where
scratches and dust are acceptable as long as they are artificially created
and suitably sanitised. Video has now replaced super 8mm in the creation
of home movies and popular travelogues. Kodak has now brought onto the
market super 8mm negative, not for the reason of making several copies
from a master negative--the super 8mm enthusiasts dream--but in order to
transfer direct onto video for home editing on the computer.
Super 8mm home movies are
now in the public domain, their time honoured function is up and they now
are material for artists, TV and music companies to exploit. The developments
in video, new media and digital technology now liberate traditional forms
from their functionality and industry-orientated constraints.
For many of us super 8mm
was the first step in representing the moving image, its versatility and
simplicity captured the imagination of many art students, experimental
and independent filmmakers and film groups. With the advent of television
and mass media in the 1960s and 70s artists discovered anew (after the
experimentation of the 20s and 30s) the plasticity and possibilities of
film. Then in the 80s, 16mm film was relieved of its educational and 'light
industrial' function, helping it achieve its fully 'liberated position'
as a creative art form. But now the post-production processes are disappearing,
16mm editing tables gather dust in workshops, television studios and schools
and 16mm labs are closing down. The creation and post-production process
that began with the birth of cinema itself, marking the beginning of experimental
film history in the 20s and 30s has been undergoing a gradual change. Cutting
of film is rapidly becoming a thing of the past as celluloid is now transcribed
and digitised, becoming numbered data interchangeable with sound and text
that ultimately influences the editing process. 16mm film is a dinosaur
in its last death throws, on the verge of extinction and obsolescence,
the specificity of its medium threatened.
So why is there so much
film work present in galleries and museums?
Those who continue with
super 8 and 16mm film will be the experimental and independent filmmakers
who see themselves within a specific historical lineage and artists who
are always re-inventing new ways of seeing. Abel Gance brought us multi-screen
projection too early, too ahead of its time. Out of the birth of cinema
grew an experimental form of cinema. The birth of video also temporarily
gave us new forms of experimentation with the medium. It is these high
points of experimentation which are being rediscovered and reconsidered
today. Those who choose to work with 16mm film will persist with Steenbecks
at home: self-sufficient filmmakers who retain control over their material,
those who want to continue to work with the tactile nature of film and
with those who want to continue to sculpt in time.
Filmmaking that exists on
the margins retains a kind of constant marginality, a stability on the
edge. It finds itself a position of opposition and learns how to operate
from this position of survival. This nucleus of activity sometimes moves
closer to and sometimes farther away from the activity of its parallel
universe and at times the paths of players from each side cross over into
the other camp. The border-line between what constitutes art and what constitutes
film is being broken down partly due to the prevalence of video/moving
image present in gallery spaces.
With these thoughts in mind
I would like to discuss four exhibitions I have seen this year. The first:
an exhibition where an artist working with film has made inroads into the
gallery system and art world. The other three are filmmakers associated
with more marginal and experimental practices showing their work in gallery
In spring of this year Tacita
Dean presented seven film installations in her solo exhibition at the Tate
Gallery in London. All of the them had their own sound-proofed spaces and
all worked with a straight forward, classical frontal projection. In six
of the spaces a loop system was set up for continuous viewing. Dean's installations
are minimal in the way they intervene with the space. The film is projected
onto a wall, at times filling the full wall, at times occupying a centre
space. The spectator can either stand or sit according to whether a bench
is available. The arrangement of these varying viewing spaces where one
can pass from one film into another make the spectator the interactive
component in a medium that does not normally lend itself to interruption,
repetition or spectator control. As well as making us aware of the gallery
context, this passing from one space into another helps us relate one film
to another, giving us an enhanced understanding of the artist's approach.
Dean's images are well composed and considered, with their own sense of
pace and rhythm. Her images and subject matter paired down to a minimum
giving the work clarity and simplicity. Her approach is akin to that of
documentary in the treatment and research into her subject matter but unlike
most documentaries is devoid of commentary, voice-over or text. The images
speak for themselves.
The documentary genre is
becoming increasingly popular as it crosses over into fine art territory
with artists producing experimental documentaries and approaching documentary
in unconventional ways. Galleries and museums appear to be willing to accommodate
such work because it deals with recognisable subject matter that is accessible
and understandable for the viewer while still retaining a bold artist's
Matthias Müller is
a well-known filmmaker on the independent/experimental film scene. His
work is toured internationally by the Goethe Institute. Müller's former
work borrowed from, analyses and deconstructs Hollywood narrative structures.
It is beautifully shot and well constructed. In Home Stories, an early
film work, Müller, sampled scenes from typical melodramas. Varying
scenes from films showing women entering and leaving rooms, switching on
and off lamps, anxiety, fear and apprehension on their faces were edited
together, exposing and in so doing, deconstructing the repetitive formula
of Hollywood narrative structures.
Müller's most recent
film Vacancy was shown at an exhibition at the Royal College of
Art in London playing amongst the ruins, organised by the students
of the RCA curating course. Vacany was filmed in Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer
& Lucio Costa's utopian city built from scratch in 1961, the year of
Müller's birth. Mixing his own images of the city with found footage
and archive material, he unearths a strong poetic portrait of the hopes
and subsequent demise of a utopian dream and the ruination and degradation
of a modern utopia. Historical images of the pristine city dissolve into
shots of a crumbling contemporary Brasilia. Present day footage is treated
in such a way that the distinction between what is archive footage from
the 60s and what is contemporary footage is totally blurred. A voice over
accompanies us through these strange and beautifully composed cityscapes
with texts from Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett, David Wojnarowicz and Müller
himself. The film moves into documentary territory then pulls out as Müller's
subjective poetic vision begins to refer not only to the past and present
of a utopian city but to his own life.
This is the first time I
have seen Müller's work in a gallery. This film would seem to have
been chosen for its suitability to the theme of the exhibition, (other
works in this show included Martha Rosler's How do we know what home
looks like shot in Le Corbusier's L'Unité d'Habitation at
Firminy-Vert and Sarah Morris' film Midtown shot in New York).
But Vacancy works well in a gallery space and it is easy to imagine these
images in other larger spaces where the spectator can physically engage
with the projected images of Brasilia past and present. The spectators'
physical presence becomes an architectural component and human reference
in Müller's filmic representation of this modern city.
Yann Beauvais has been making
experimental films since the 1970s. He is co-founder of Lightcone Distribution
Co-operative in Paris (distribution and archive of experimental film) and
programmer of Scratch Projection, a weekly screening of experimental
cinema in Paris. At C.R.E.D.A.C. Centre d'Art contemporain d'Ivry just
outside Paris. Beauvais presented a complex and compelling film installation
titled 'Des Rives'. Typically French in its play on words, des rives
meaning river banks and dérives meaning to wander in the city
with no particular aim or reason.
Des Rives comprised of two
screens set at a 120° angle making the spectator the third point in
a three dimensional virtual space. Like a large fan opened out, moving
images of New York passed horizontally across vertical strips creating
a surface pattern like windscreen wipers moving back and forward across
the screen. The panoramic scenes and tracking shots of New York, the layering
of images and the slow-moving zoom kept the viewers gaze in motion and
unstable, constantly shifting between construction, analysis and collapse.
At times our eyes would focus upon one cut-up New York urban landscape
before shifting to another urban scene, the foreground becoming the background
and vice versa. The image has no centre, no sides, we are neither guided
by a linear narrative or chronological editing. As the films repeat themselves
through the use of a loop system we begin to recognise and familiarise
ourselves with a taxi, a street scene, a corner but never enough to fully
identify with it.
The sound accompanying the
installation created by Thomas Köner is not intended to make the images
more realistic but to make the space more real. Köner states that
it is impossible for sound and image to interact totally because they assume
different dimensions. This collaboration created a merging of two different
audiences, the experimental film one and the electronic music one. Historically
these two fields have much-in-common and it was inspiring to witness their
coming together and fusing on equal terms. Beauvais' film installation
in a gallery context brought together in a positive way the three different
strands of film, art and music and the intertwining of their past histories
and present developments.
At the Centre National de
la Photographie in Paris were the filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle
Huillet, a formidable couple working with 35mm. They have been active since
the 60's and were part of the initial energy and vibrancy of the Nouvelle
Vague. Refusing to participate in the Algerian war, Straub was treated
as a deserter and facing imprisonment in France left for Germany. Current
debate in the French press on the use of torture during the Algerian war
has revealed Jean-Marie Straub's political position at that time, which
was to have a negative effect on his cinema career in France.
The films of Straub and
Huillet are rigorous and their continuing vision is exceptional. They fit
into no camp, their work is difficult and unique, it demands time, attention,
patience and a new way of thinking of cinema, their work is totally unconventional.
They challenge and upset cinema, their engagement with it is artistic and
political. There is an economy in the organisation of audio and visual
space, each scene is rigorously constructed and articulated, each event
leaves the spectator free to interpret, to make his/her own decisions.
Their films never leave you indifferent. For this very reason, Straub &
Huillet are often at their screenings to discuss their work afterwards.
Showing their films at the CNP was problematic for two reasons. Ink jet
prints of film stills, texts and diagrams occupying the gallery spaces
were a superfluous and unnecessary attempt to justify their presence. No
justification was needed. Secondly their films, although shown in a cinema-like
space with adequate projection and seating facilities lacked the collective
cinema experience of being in an audience where the possibility of dialogue
afterwards would add to that experience. (This situation did take place
over a weekend where screenings were programmed). Art galleries diffuse
collective experience emphasising instead our individual responses.
Yann Beauvais and Straub
& Huillet's work is a cinema of resistance, a political engagement,
a combat. The question of film and cinema is for them an integral part
of the work itself. Tacita Dean's uses film as a painter uses paint and
Matthias Müller's recent work is fittingly elegiac in spirit.
As we rush headlong into
the techno-scientific world of industrial and post-industrial capitalism
with its meticulous programming and fabrication of beautiful images perhaps
there is a need to re-position ourselves before we take the giant leap
A favourite request from
students about my last novel is that I explain how I could write from the
perspective of a man who was blind, if I had never been blind myself. I
tell them the more difficult task, given I have never been imprisoned,
is to convey the central character's past experience of 11 years' confinement.
In the novel the prisoner committed the crimes of which he had been convicted
and had no particular sense of injustice. If he had been wrongly convicted
and imprisoned the novel would have altered significantly. Had the character
been "set-up" for murder by the police and with the collusion of other
authorities then the experience would have been overwhelming.
How do people cope with
that? Not only the victims and their families but the families of the people
murdered. This is the situation faced by who knows how many people. The
notoriety of certain miscarriages of justice can lead to an association
with the place the event occurred; the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four;
the Tottenham Three, the Winchester Three, Cardiff Three, Gloucester Three.
In any such miscarriage there is the crucial issue of the identity of the
true killers. If wrongfully convicted and imprisoned men finally are cleared
and released from prison what chance is there of the real murderers ever
being found? Why in many cases are the police, prosecution service and
Home Office authorities content to allow the real criminals to walk free?
With adequate investigation many of these blatant miscarriages of justice
cannot help but reveal additional truths.
The recent release of the
M25 Three with the disclaimer by the judicial authority that this "was
not a finding of innocence, far from it" is reminiscent of the acquittal
of the Winchester Three back in 1990 when Lord Denning "stated publicly
that [the three men] were released on a legal technicality and implied
that they were in fact guilty." Later on Lord Denning withdrew the comment.1
This has yet to occur in the case of the M25 Three. Until then, if the
three men are not-innocent will any attempt be made to discover the actual
killer, whoever is not not-innocent but not not-guilty? It so happens that
the three men now released from prison are black and, according to one
eye-witness, at least two of the three guilty parties were white.
In so many of these cases
of racist violence there seems to be a need on the part of the authorities
to deny the very possibility of racist motivation. Because of that crimes
are said not to be crimes and criminals escape, murderers are free to seek
out more victims. A murder itself becomes not a murder, perhaps it was
manslaughter, drug and/or alcohol-fuelled, perhaps a robbery gone wrong.
Perhaps no third party was involved at all, you never know, maybe it was
an unusual form of suicide, or freak accident. One case from October 1997
was that of Lakhvinder Reel "who disappeared for almost a week before his
drowned body was found in the River Thames." His death "was quickly described
as accidental by local police." Later evidence reveals that the young man
"and his friends had been attacked by racists shortly before his disappearance."
The last time "he was seen alive" was when he "and his friends ran off
in different directions."
In this context also2
are the deaths of Harold McGowan and six months later his nephew Jason.
Both were found hanged. Earlier Harold had been "pursued around Telford,
abused, taunted and threatened by members of a racist gang that has been
linked to Combat 18." His family was not satisfied by the outcome of the
police investigation and his nephew Jason began making his own investigations.
Eventually he "began to receive death threats." Eventually he too was found
hanged. Eventually the police also gave a verdict of suicide, given that
"the railings were so low [Jason] would have had to kneel to kill himself."
It seems extraordinary that
the police can try to get away with making a judgement so devoid of ordinary
common sense. But what leads them to try such a thing in the first place?
The McGowan family "lodged a complaint with the Police Complaints Authority...claiming
that West Mercia police failed to investigate his death adequately because
of racism and that they treated the family poorly." The family argued that
the police "made an assumption of suicide and failed to investigate the
possibility of murder, losing valuable forensic evidence [and] their doubts
are supported by [the] independent pathologist" who conducted a post-mortem
examination of Jason's body. Following a campaign by the McGowan family,
supported by the National Civil Rights Movement, "the head of Scotland
Yard's race and violent crimes task force [has] led a new investigation."
He has stated publicly that "that the deaths made him 'uneasy, worried
In November 1999 the inquest
was held into the death of Lakhvinder Reel and the jury returned "an open
verdict based on a lack of evidence, [which] not only contradicted police
claims of an accidental death but also upheld the claims of [his] family
and friends on the 'seriously flawed' original police investigation." The
London Metropolitan police refused 'to allow a Police Complaints Authority
report in evidence which also condemned the first police investigation.'4
In view of their catalogue of shame in relation to racist violation it
is surprising the police are allowed to get away with this sort of move.
However, given that individual policemen occasionally get away with murder
too much surprise only indicates naivety.
There is also the issue
of cash compensation, damages and liability. So long as the judicial authorities
deny their innocence the victims of injustice will have an uphill struggle
to receive any financial compensation. What do people in the situation
of the so-called M25 Three do to establish their right to adequate compensation?
Do they have to deny their guilt?
If they are required to
demonstrate their innocence must they conduct their own investigation into
the crime, establish their whereabouts at the time, and whatever else it
takes to rule themselves out of the equation? Of course conducting their
own criminal investigation would be consistent with what happens to many
black people in crimes where they or their families are the victims of
racist violence. This is what happen in campaigns such as that of the Stephen
One member of the M25 three,
Raphael Rowe already has been awarded compensation but for another claim.
It was settled a month before the ruling by the European Court of Human
Rights that he "and Michael Davis had been denied a fair trial because
the prosecution had withheld important evidence under public interest immunity
(pii) rules."5 The "undisclosed damages" were
against the Prison Service "in compensation for a brutal assault by prison
officers in 1993...after being repeatedly kicked and punched...and called
a 'murdering black bastard.'" The violence took place in Wormwood Scrubs,
now notorious for its "systematic abuse, frequent racial abuse and intimidation
of inmates." "The Inspector of Prisons published a report which condemned
the...'evil' and 'rotten' prison" and prison officers have now been charged
with "racist abuse and assaulting inmates." Even the female lawyer acting
on behalf of some of the prisoners has been harassed by prison officers
while engaged in her work inside the prison.
Almost without exception
in cases where compensation is paid to victims of police violence liability
is never admitted. Between 1986 and 1997 £20 million was paid out
by the public on behalf of the Metropolitan Police "in compensation and
costs." But the overall 'cost of injustice' to the tax-payer is really
colossal. When Winston Silcott, one of the original Tottenham Three, was
awarded £50,000 in an "out of court settlement...for his wrongful
conviction for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock" another £500,000
went towards legal costs. In addition to that policemen involved in wrongdoing
and unlawful activities may "retire on medical grounds to avoid allegations
of corruption and malpractice: between 1995-96 more than 70% of Metropolitan
police officers under investigation, or facing disciplinary charges, retired
on medical grounds...[costing] some £330 million a year."
Winston Silcott's "conviction
was quashed" when electrostatic document analysis "tests on his 'admissions'
interview had established that pages had been rewritten and that officers,
notably Detective Chief Superintendent Melvin, had lied when describing
the notes of the interview as 'contemporaenous.'"6
DCS Melvin was "one of the most senior operational police officers in Britain's
largest force during the biggest investigation it has ever carried out..."7
Later on he and colleague "Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle were found
not guilty...of charges involving conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
What must it be like for
the families of the dead who have to come to terms with the fact that the
real killers are walking free and nobody is doing anything about it? This
horrible sense of wrong and injustice came to the fore in a quite sad manner
when the family of Keith Blakelock sued Winston Silcott. But after the
shocking campaign of vilification and its ill-concealed racism, conducted
against Mr Silcott by sections of the media it was hardly surprising that
people would refuse to accept the possibility that he could be other than
It is sometimes forgotten
that the tragic events at Broadwater Farm derived from the death of a black
woman, Cynthia Jarret, and the treatment meted out to her family. It began
because her son had the cheek to drive a flash car. The police stopped
the young man in his BMW. Although they soon discovered that "car and occupant
were in order" they managed to find a minor discrepancy that allowed them
to arrest him, and they did so, "for theft of a motor vehicle." And while
he was locked up they took his keys and used them to enter the family home
in search of any kind of evidence that they might use against him, and
in the process were responsible for the death of his mother. According
to her daughter Patricia, one of the policemen knocked against Cynthia
Jarret, causing her to fall, and from that she suffered a fatal heart attack.
Nobody knows how many miscarriages
of justice continue to blight the judicial systems of the United Kingdom.
Racism is so often at the root but elitism and class prejudice are the
primary factors. The three can come together blatantly, as in the attacks
on Irish people in such infamous miscarriages as the Guildford Four, the
Birmingham Six and the Maguire Family. We know that "the number of life
prisoners in England and Wales exceeded 4000...at the end of 1998" which
is more than "the combined total for the remainder of western Europe."9
But how many of these people are serving life sentences for crimes they
did not commit?
Three of the four men who
"served more than eighteen years in prison on the basis of a confession
forged by the police" for the murder of Carl Bridgdewater, a 13 year old
schoolboy, were released finally in February 1997. The fourth man died
in prison back in 1981. "DC John Perkins who...helped fabricate the evidence...was
allegedly involved in at least twenty other cases in which he fabricated
evidence," including that of George Lewis who eventually "was awarded £200,000
damages after serving five years in prison as a result of being racially
abused, threatened with a syringe and beaten by police who eventually fabricated
Is anyone campaigning on
behalf of these other cases? How many cover-ups continue in operation?
How do the victims, their families and friends sustain these long campaigns
for justice? How about the families of the dead? Who campaigns on their
behalf? How do they all cope? Are there any legal remedies at all? This
is good old Britain. What about trying for an Appeal. One campaign did
succeed in taking such a miscarriage to a Court of Appeal. That was in
1996 when it was accepted that Police had threatened witnesses, tampered
with and fabricated statements, encouraged witnesses to perjure themselves
and that officers had lied at the trial [and] at least two officers...
had lied at the Court of Appeal. The court also said that... one of only
two prosecution eyewitnesses, could not be believed or relied upon. They
said that vital statements... were not disclosed to the defence. They said
the Police behaviour in this case was reprehensible... and so on. But at
the end of "eight weeks deliberation of all the above new evidence and
much more for the defence, the Court of Appeal decided that the convictions
were safe."11 This example belongs to the
case of Gary Mills and Tony Poole, two young Gloucester men. Or at least
they were young when they were first imprisoned.
How long do people have
to be incarcerated before the State authorities will confess to their innocence?
Gary Mills and Tony Poole are white working class men who have been locked
up since 1989 for the murder of Hensley Wiltshire and have no release date.
As is the case for people serving life sentences in British Prisons, if
they were guilty they would by now have been released on parole. They continue
in prison only because they refuse to give in to the authorities, they
refuse to deny their innocence. They cannot and will not apply for parole,
how can they, not for a crime they did not commit.
Unfortunately for Gary Mills,
Tony Poole and their families, their innocence is another's guilt. Evidence
here suggests that to find the identity of the killers any investigating
officers need not look beyond the ranks of their own colleagues. It appears
Hensley Wiltshire died in a police cell, following a brutal and cowardly
attack by Gloucester police officers. The unpalatable truth here is simply
one more indictment of the criminal justice system, yet another 'black
death in custody,' one more 'unlawful killing", abetted by the shocking
neglectful behaviour of staff at the Casualty department of a Birmingham
Some elements of authority
are attempting to move on from the bad old days of the criminalisation
of black people. Some elements are not moving on at all, some fight a rearguard
action, other authorities are simply marking time. As recently as 1995
Paul Condon saw it appropriate to claim, using applied statistics, that
"80% of all street robberies in London are carried out by black men."12
This was at the height of the Lawrence Family Campaign, and Paul Condon
was the head of the investigation into Stephen's murder.
It is surely only a matter
of time until Gary Mills and Tony Poole are released from prison. Will
a proper investigation then be launched into the last hours of the man
they were convicted of murdering? What sort of justice could be offered
the family of Hensley Wiltshire? If the police are guilty of the murder
of this young black man will they be prosecuted? Or will the judge deny
their non-guilt, charging them with not-innocence in the act of releasing
them from prison, another shabby attempt to keep the lid on a can of worms.
1. Quote taken from Statewatch
Number 4 1991.
2. Statewatch Vol.
10 no 1, 2000.
3. Statewatch Vol.
10 nos 1 and 2, 2000. See CARF, Race and Class and other publications
where strange suicides or accidental deaths of black people are discussed.
4. See Statewatch
Vol. 8 no 1, 1998, and Vol. 9 no 6, 1999.
5. Statewatch Vol.
10 no 1 Jan-Feb 2000.
6. Statewatch Vol.
2 no 1 Jan-Feb 1992.
7. The Independent on
8. Statewatch Vol.
4 no 5 Sept - Oct 1994.
9. Statewatch Vol.
9 nos 3, 4 May-August 1999, quoting from the report entitled "Prisoners'
views of the lifer system" by the Prison Reform Trust.
10. The Guardian
21, 24 Feb. 1997, quoted in Statewatch vol. 7 no 1 1997, Vol. 8
no 2 1998.
11. See "Regina v Mills
& Poole", for further information; this is an examination of the case
produced by the families and friends of Gary Mills and Tony Poole who formed
the Set Up For Life campaign following the jailing of the two men; all
these years later the campaign for continues, and can be contacted c/o
PO BOX 4739, Birmingham B11 1LG.
12. See Statewatch
Vol. 5 no. 4 1995.
of the Great Unwashed
Auld Pishy was sitting on
the wall outside the Health Centre. He was crying because he had no money
left to buy cider and fags. He wiped his nose on the back of his hand,
then wiped the back of his hand on his breeks.
A bus moved by, and Pishy
saw a wee girl looking at him as it slowed for the lights. She was about
three or four, and had her mouth open, trying to bite the glass. Pishy
tried to smile, but the effort went into a sob which caught his breath
and started him coughing. He leaned forward, trying to get a proper cough
going so he could fetch up some of the rattly catarrh. When he had finished
hacking he wiped his eyes, looked up, and the bus was gone.
He spat the result of the
cough into the patch of grass behind the wall. When he turned his head,
there was a pair of legs in view, and he didn't know who they belonged
It's yourself Pishy, said
Pishy looked up. The sun
behind the figure made it hard for him to make out the facial features,
but the voice told him it was Mambo.
Ah Mambo, you're out and
about already, said Pishy, and Mambo gathered his coat about his arse and
shuffled forward to sit beside Pishy on the wall.
Is it the flu on you again
? asked Mambo.
It's not the flu this time,
said Pishy, I was just in there seeing your man and he says I'm done for.
You're done for ? said Mambo.
Aye, I'm done for now he
told me. If it's not the cancer it'll be the arthritis, or maybe it'll
be the sciatica or the rheumatoids that's burrowing into me every fibre.
So they got the tests back
then ? said Mambo, and Pishy tried to remember when he had last met Mambo,
what he'd already told him.
Sure enough they done the
tests and came back to me and says you'll be needing more of them, so they
sent me up the town and put wires and all that on me, a whole day I was
up there. They had to get the students and them in to have a look cos they
says they never saw the likes of it. It's a miracle I've still the power
of sight and common sense as well.
Is that what they told you
? said Mambo as Pishy turned to fire another gob into the pale green grass.
They did, and even with
the results they've got now they're telling me there's none conclusive
or that, the fellas down in London will have to be taking a look as well
to make sure before they break the news to me.
So they must have an idea
I think they know more than
they tell, but it's the sorting out of all the things that's causing them
the difficulty there. Too many ailments in the one body, it's hard to tease
them apart if you like.
So that's why you're crying
there, said Mambo.
Who said I was crying ?
said Pishy, staring up at his larger friend.
I was watching you there
before I came across the road. You're an awful man Pishy, an awful man
right enough for wearing your heart on the old sleeve.
It's a bit of the hayfever,
nothing more, replied Pishy.
Are you sure it's not just
cos you've no cash there to buy fags and booze and that ? asked Mambo,
and Pishy looked up again, tried to be stern, but the smile was upon him
before he knew it and Mambo took the packet of Mayfair from his pocket
and flipped open the lid.
Here now, have a fag and
we'll talk about it all.
Pishy took out a smoke,
let it wobble between his lips as Mambo located his lighter.
The two friends took a couple
of puffs each, looked up the road, then down the road, stood up, and started
walking towards The Gate. The town clock struck eleven as they reached
So you can't ask her for
a tap. Not even a tenner ? said Mambo.
That's right enough said
Pishy, she won't talk at all, not to me anyroad. And for all I tried to
help the fucker.
Steady now Pishy, that's
your beloved there.
I'm not talking about her.
The cat. That's the fella caused all the bother in the first place. It's
not like I've ever mistreated the thing or grudged it space. I never stopped
her having them things, just so long as they're not coming in the bed at
night or making a noise I don't much care what they're about.
Was it the expense then
Expense of the cat ? I wouldn't
know about that. It gets the same to eat as me, maybe a bit more. That's
not a bother anyroad, you're as well cooking for three as two I suppose.
No, no, it's that carry-on with the rubber band. The cat was out of sorts.
Not that I noticed right enough, but she came to me like that last week,
she says, Monty's got a problem, I says what's that then, she says I don't
know but he's been eating the ends off the curtains and hawking up balls
of hair and that. Sure, that's normal for them fellas I says, they're doing
that all the time, it's good for them.
That's well known right
enough, said Mambo as he beckoned Liz set them up again. We had that one,
that Tabby, God rest her, used to leave them behind the back door there,
wee balls of wet thread. She thought it was skinned mice and made me clean
That's right, that's the
things. Hairballs. Standard issue for the cats. But no, she says, it's
not right. He's pining for something. Pining ? I says to her, pining ?
What would the cat be pining for. He's in a fine house and he gets the
regular grub. That's as much as the likes of him can hope for, what business
has a cat pining for more than that ? So anyroad, it was always going to
be my fault, I should have known it from the start, and it's when the spare
belt for the hoover arrived, that's the start of it all.
That wouldn't be cleaning
up the hairy balls then, not when they're wet.
No, the box it came in.
It's a big fucking box like that for a wee strip of rubber. There was two
of them right enough, but you don't need a box that size for a couple of
belts. Anyway, I gets the thing out the cupboard, takes it into the front
room, takes the end off it, sets about it, that's fine. Five minute job.
I was hardly started and she's in shouting the odds, screaming about Monty
eating the band. The belts was there. One in the machine, the other still
in the plastic. What bands are you on about ? I says, and it turns out
the bastard made off with the rubber band that was about the box, just
a big long thin sort of a laccy band. She saw him in the kitchen, he had
it at the door and was eating the thing down, hacking and retching and
all that but eating it down anyway. Then she made a bid to grab him but
he panicked and went up on the drainer. By the time I gets in he's gone
away up the stairs, so it was half an hour we were upstairs there, her
clicking her fingers and making likes of chicken noises and all that. I
says, will you stop with that clicking and clucking you're just scaring
the fucker and she starts up then cause I called it a fucker and the two
of us were slanging it out there up in the bedroom. Eventually I came like
that I says fuck this, I'm off and she's on then about the money and that's
for the leccy, and I was all set to go in town and pay the thing anyway,
but I'll tell you now Mambo, by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs
I came like that I says see that twenty, you're right enough it was for
leccy burned, and every intention I had to pay it too, but now with your
gob and your panic and your nipping I says, I'm away down there now to
buy drink and fags and I'll not be back till it's spent.
Was that the Wednesday then
? asked Mambo
That was the Wednesday right
enough. That stramash in the Bolthole. Even if I have to apologise another
ten times I'll still know in myself that it would never ever have happened
if it wasn't for that bastard cat making off with a laccy band, the greedy
So she heard what happened
then ? said Mambo as the new pints arrived.
In the Bolthole ? Jesus
no, least not that she says anyway. It was when I got back that same night,
I went to the bog and got sorted out, put a cloth on the lump and that,
but when I gets down the stairs there she is, she was just in from the
shift at the school, so I came like that I says sorry love, about that
carry-on and all that, and she's sort of frowning and not talking and that
but I knew it was alright. Pension the morra, that'll be first thing I'll
be down there pay that leccy and that's my beer money for the weekend gone,
but it's no bother and I'm a fool and I'm sorry. So she's sitting there,
still not talking but it was that way you know it's going to be alright,
the worst's over. It was that millionaire show on, your lass from Wales
was just one away from the quarter million when it happened.
Pishy stopped to draw from
his pint. Mambo crashed the last two fags.
She was calling for the
fifty-fifty so she was, she already used up the other two lives there so
she did. So, what's your man Al Gore's wife called, is it Flipper or Tipper
? That was it. Then the door squeaks open and in he comes there, Monty,
as bold as you like, strides right across the carpet. Fair enough, I'd
a bead in me for sure but I knew the peepers wasn't lying. There was the
laccy band hanging out the back end of him, trailing along the carpet it
was. She was looking down as well, but I don't know if she noticed right
away. It was the best thing at the time, that's what I was thinking anyway,
this is the answer to the whole thing, if I can save her Monty from further
pain and maybe stop him pining at the same time, so I goes off the seat
like that, down on the hunkers, right up behind the thing as fast as I
could and got a grab on the end of the band.
You must've been awful fast
Like a flash it was, I'm
down there and I grabs the end of the band, it's looped round my finger
like that, and I yanks at it. So the fella gets some fright and he's up
like that, up in the air, straight up like he was blown by a force underneath
of him, and twisting his body too, like towards the telly. It's like that
way when you see an accident coming, it goes slow motion, but I was sure
I had the thing, it was a good grip there behind the crooked finger. I
was only trying to do it for his own good as well, get the thing out of
him and be done with it. But when he lands he's off towards the door, past
me again, but I'm forward on the deck with the band under my hand, couldn't
let it go even if I wanted, and I did want to what with the noise coming
out of him then. I had to twist to get back upright and he's making a terrible
noise altogether, even with him almost out the door and the band a good
five feet long there. Jean's screaming like it's her getting the treatment
the cat's getting, he's got the ears flat and the teeth out and the spit
flying so I came like that, I was a bit panicked myself right enough in
case he came at me cos he looked awful serious and that, I says fuck ye
then and lets go of the band and he's lying on his back there with the
legs akimbo and I swear you could see the eyes focussing on this laccy
band heading back for him but it's too late and it's a noise then I never
heard the likes of, worse than any banshee it was.
Right on his fellas too
that would've been.
Must've been. You pinged
him ! that's what she shouts then, you pinged him ! and she was up and
off after him but it was too late, he was away out the door and off into
the kitchen, out the flap. You could hear it still swinging when we got
So the laccy band never
came out then ?
No no, he was away with
it. It was the Friday I found it down by the path there, all chewed up
and bits of stuff along it, but it was still in the one piece. But he's
still not come back either, so she's still not talking.
Aye, he'll be having a think
about it all before he comes back.
'Kin right. I went out there
on the Sunday, late on it was too, must've been over midnight, putting
the bins out for the morning, and it was when I was coming back in right
enough, it wasn't even a noise or that. Clear night, the stars was out
grand, but I could feel the eyes you know, like burning into the side of
the face there, and I turns just at the back door and looks back and there
he is, I could see the silhouette against the gable next door there, it
was him alright, just the outline of his head and shoulders. He must've
been standing on that divider him next door put up. Looking over the wall
he was, looking at me, and it was the shivers right enough cos he just
stayed there watching. Thanks be to God I couldn't make out the eyes on
him, but the shape went down, just like you'd think he was getting lowered
by some other creature, the shape went down and the tops of the ears went
away. It was him though, no doubts about it. He was checking. Checking
Mambo finished the last
of his lager, Pishy his cider. Mambo slapped his pockets, drew out half
a dozen coppers, then dropped them into the collection tin chained to the
bar. The sound of the clattering coppers drew a smile from Liz. Mambo moved
Liz darling, you couldn't
see me right for a half-bottle till the morning ?
Liz puckered and shook her
You boys are well stretched
as it is, she said, the best I can do you is a two-litre of White Madness.
They left, Mambo with the
cider under his overcoat.
Have you any fags in the
house ? asked Mambo.
Pishy shook his head.
Right then. That's it. There's
only one course left open to us.
Pishy stopped and looked
up at his pal.
We'll have to find Monty,
get you back in the good books. It's no use a man having no fags and no
booze and creeping about the town crying and feeling sorry for his lot.
Mambo strode on, and Pishy
Jean got home from her shift
at the school later than usual. She'd got one of the girls in the office
to make photocopies of Monty, then made some posters saying 'Lost. Monty.
Reward' It was a bad picture, a bit blurry, but it was the last hope. She'd
put one in the Post Office, one in the supermarket and one in the charity
Coming up the path, she
knew something was wrong. The front door was ajar, and there were wee chunks
of tuna all along the garden fence. She dumped the shopping at the step
and went inside.
They were in the good room.
Mambo was snoring, flat out, the empty plastic bottle beside him. Her man
was asleep in his chair. The air stank of rolled-up fags made out of old
cigarette butts. The Weakest Link was almost at the end, and the volume
was near enough full.
She went back to the front
door to get the shopping. She would have to plank the purse before he woke
up. He would be after money for fags and cider. There'd be no peace otherwise.
She took out a tenner, then hid the purse in the cupboard behind the porridge.
They would go out again, she would get to watch her programmes in peace.
She made coffee, then put the two cups on a tray with a plate of cheese
As she was carrying the
tray though, Monty walked out from the good room, curling his tail, rubbing
his behind against the skirting. He looked happy enough, and was licking
Mambo stirred when Jean
put the tray down on the table.
Ah Jean, it's yourself,
Jean took the tenner from
her pocket, dropped it onto Mambo's chest, then fetched up Monty and went
to her room.
Bob Holman Interview
I had not been to Easterhouse
for some time. Bob Holman is a busy man, so I started asking him some questions
as we walked up the stairs of the converted block of houses that are now
their thriving Community Centre. How had it all come about? They had started
above a group of delapidated shops...?
Bob Holman Then these
shops were taken over by the contractors and of course--they originally
said that they valued what we were doing in the area and we could probably
have the upper floor of these shops. And when they built them there wasn't
an upper floor. So we didn't have anywhere. As a result of that there was
a public meeting in 1989 and we just formed this organisation Family Action
in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (FARE) and we didn't have any premises...I
used to work part time for it, just from my flat...
William Clark Who
are the power brokers in Easterhouse, I can't quite work out how it's broken
down, OK there's the council...?
BH They've got the
Greater Easterhouse Development Corporation, now headed by Cllr. Coleman,
he's also deputy leader of the Council...
WC So their work
is basically to do with housing policy?
BH No. It's all to
do with what's called 'Partnerships'...
WC And 'Social Exclusion'...?
BH 'Social Inclusion',
in Scotland: 'SIN'--the 'Social Inclusion Network'. They've pumped a lot
of money into the area: football pitches and all that kind of thing. It's
a very different approach from our approach which is very much being here.
This place is run by local residents. To be on a committee you've got to
come to the AGM. The idea of this is that local people know best what an
area wants. We're not trying to be a Social Services dept. In terms of
things like local services, youth clubs, supporting people--we think we're
the people who know best what the area wants, and that's been our emphasis,
what you might call a bottom-up approach. That kind of approach doesn't
get grants of millions of pounds--it gets chickenfeed.
WC Why do you think
it is this way?
BH Well it's a strange
thing...the Westminster government when it came into power and started
the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) the magic word was 'empowerment': 'we're
going to empower local people with the SEU.'
WC As you said:
"The first thing the Social
Exclusion Unit did was to define its own membership, its own leading 12
members. And the 12 members include professionals, a highly paid business
person, chiefs from the voluntary sector, people who've been to public
school and Oxbridge, but nobody who is unemployed, who is poor, who lives
in the estates like Easterhouse. So here's a very strange thing, that immediately
the Social Exclusion Unit excludes anybody who is excluded."
But fundamentally the SEU
and the Performance &Innovation Unit (PIU) are both run by Geoff Mulgan
with their 'third way' Demos-type ideas...
in that kind of context is a nonsense because the decisions are still being
made in the same old way by the same people. What the government has done
through the SEU and SIN--it's idea of empowerment--is to set up large 'Partnerships':
the Housing dept., Health dept., the Police; they're the people on the
Partnership, with a few local representatives. It's quite interesting that
in this area they advertised the voting: "you can have four representatives".
In the end it only got four nominations, so there wasn't in fact an election.
Which I think is indicative about what local people thought of it. So it's
really about large organisations in partnership. We know very well that
for a small organisation entering into partnership means that we are junior
partners. A partnership is senior and junior partners and we are the small
fry. So we don't get to distribute money, we get 'consulted', but we don't
get to actually make decisions. And I think what organisations like FARE--and
we're only one, because there are lots of groups--what we are showing are
that local people are capable of making decisions, they can run budgets,
they're not going to put it in their pockets and run away, they can appoint
staff and sack staff.
WC You seem to be
indicating that these large associations of government agencies are getting
together to maintain the status quo really. They've got other agendas,
which concur with the New Labour agenda: Third Way stuff which was thought
an electoral expediency with nothing really to it. Their policy is influenced
by their 'social research' and here there's been a bit of a rise of interest
in sociology in a similar way that the Thatcher government tried with economics.
The rhetoric is now 'social' rather than 'economic'. One of the things
I wanted to ask you was with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC),
which is the government funded organisation where they get their information--they
set up a particular (dubious) branch of that, the Centre for Analysis of
Social Exclusion (CASE), at the LSE with much the same remit as the SEU.
Well in their annual report of 1999, they cite you as taking part in their
seminars and that they consulted you...
BH I did take part
in their seminars...
WC But doesn't that
means you're being used to justify their position...?
BH Well I don't know.
If you look at the seminar I really made an attack on what they were doing,
the kind of things I'm speaking about now. Criticising the government for
having a top down approach and completely undervaluing what we're doing
at a local level. I never realised I got cited as part of the gang.
WC You're last on
the list! Somehow you get the impression they went round genuinely consulting
everyone. This organisation spent three quarters of a million pounds in
one year, producing a couple of reports--research into poverty! There's
something slightly disgusting about that.
BH It's a point I
made in the seminar: that the government can give £2m to that unit
and nothing to us. They argue it comes from different budgets, but it's
still public money. But a lot of the people on this list on these seminars:
Bill Jordan, Peter Townsend, would be critical of the work of that unit.
WC I think it is
fundamentally dishonest. When you start to look at the names in their report--the
director of CASE, John Hills' work is cited 38 times. He also writes with
Geoff Mulgan, what are they going to do with all their information--they're
going to send it to the SIU, so they get all this money, use their own
work and tell Mulgan stuff he already knows, meanwhile he's moved onto
another unit pumping all this stuff out as if it was independent.
BH I know. It's a
self-perpetuating organisation. When it first came out I did write a piece
for the Guardian, which they never published, criticising setting
it up. I could have made a lot more use of the money. One of the professors
was saying "there's no point in giving the poor an extra pound a week,
it wouldn't make any difference getting people out of poverty," which is
true, but I think people on low income would sooner have an extra pound
per week than £2m going to this unit. These people are earning £60,
£70,000 a year. One of the small things I can do because I've got
a small toe-hold into the academic world is I can convey what happens at
places like this...
WC That's how blind
and remote these people are, that you are the only link they have with
the outside world?
BH Geoff Mulgan came
straight from public school and Oxbridge straight into...but one of the
few good things we've been doing here is--I encouraged the local people
to write (a book called Faith in the Poor), six Easterhouse people
wrote it--great stuff--about their experiences; which dismisses the myth
that people are not articulate here. We had enormous problems getting it
published. Penguin told me 'the poor can't write, who wants to read it
anyway?' When finally it did get published it sold out.
WC I would have to
say that I am a product of Easterhouse but I don't feel overawed by the
intellectual weight of these people. There are these prejudices against
working class culture in general.
BH I think a lot
of that came with Charles Murray and his version of the 'underclass'...
WC Well they don't
want to use that phrase now...
BH It still seeps
out now and again--Tony Blair uses it now and again--Murray said that Easterhouse
was the classic example of under-class society. There are no fathers and
the kids run wild...and apparently he based it on a half-day visit here.
He's got another book out 'Underclass plus ten', it's been ten years since
he wrote that book. Murray's a typical case. He started on the left, Lyndon
Johnstone's time, and gradually moved to the right. He is in fact financed
by the Sunday Times: by Rupert Murdoch and they're the people who
pay for him to come over here and finance the books.
WC Well that's interesting.
Obviously these people's theories benefit someone. Within a lot of their
ideological shift there is this notion of 'globablisation'. For me it is
an excuse for the government carrying on letting multi-national companies
do what they want. You mentioned big agencies' agendas swamping everyone:
development companies have agendas and consultants and the fact is these
people are gaining from the private sector. CASE is funded by Toyota, Demos
and its spin-offs in 'sustainable development' are paid by and on the side
of big business.
BH It's 'partnerships'
WC Yeah, the third
way. There's nothing to it. The whole 'Nexus' debate, set up by the government,
all these Oxbridge academics and there's no academic basis for it. None.
BH I've read the
books...I think the problem is it's so nebulous it's actually quite difficult
to criticise, because you can't actually see what they're saying.
WC Which was much
the same with monetarist economics, it's got to be slippy. Eventually Thatcher
went on TV saying 'well you know I had nothing to do with monetarism.'
But you were also mentioned in a magazine article by Ian Christie the deputy
director of Demos. He starts with 'the History Man', sociology is tainted
by Marx, he tries to erase the last twenty years of what has happened and
then lines himself up with British Empiricists Young and Willmot.
BH Michael Young
wrote the Labour manifesto in 1945...
WC ...Lord Young.
BH Yes I'm a bit
disappointed at that...
WC Well let me read
you what Christie wrote:
The example of Bob Holman,
former professor of social administration at Bath University who has lived
for years on Glasgow's Easterhouse estate as a community worker, rejecting
the remoteness of academics from their objects of study, is a counsel of
perfection few can follow.
BH I really dislike
that sort of thing. There's another chap--Bill Jordan--who's written a little
bit about me and he says I'm 'marginalised'. People say these things to
put you in a corner so they don't have to accept anything you say--so it
is not really relevant. I do find that objectionable. But what it also
illustrates is with think tanks people can move into these positions straight
from University and they've no real understanding of what life is like
for ordinary people. You don't want to give the impression that you've
got to be a missionary going into poor areas. But probably because of our
own upbringing within working class cultures we've got a greater grasp
of what life is like than people who've been brought up by their fathers
who're professors and went on from a good school to good universities and
then into a think tank. That's a very dangerous mode the government have
adopted to get their information.
WC You can say that
this is incredibly naive and excuse them, or you can say for example well
wait a minute...there's connections here. How come what they're running
now within the Labour party mirrors aspects of the process of ideological
deception and anti-left propaganda that the US and UK secret services were
pushing in the 50s and 60s.
BH I suppose the
government gets what it wants. The SEU when it was first set up, with its
twelve members--all affluent or business people--there wasn't one member
who was unemployed or lived in a deprived area or had any experience at
the other end. So it's a very slanted view and also in some ways a very
patronising view because the assumption is that powerful people can make
the right decisions for people at the bottom end. But in a sense that's
a contradiction about what they're saying about empowerment. And that is
the fallacy which is behind all the government policy and rhetoric about
neighbourhood renewal. Hilary Armstrong is very keen that organisations
must belong to local people: but they don't. And that's just what I've
been trying to chip away at.
WC But they are trying
to suborn Non Governmental Organisations with their policy now. Mulgan's
PIU is described as 'exerting pressure' to make sure that people are trapped
into conforming. Now that involves psychological pressure, propaganda.
BH Targets. I think
a great example of this is the government's SEU document of 'Neighbourhood
Renewal'. There's a lot in it about empowerment and local involvement but
then it says what the targets are; so the targets already set by government
and all local involvement really means is help us to reach these targets
we've already set. They've set targets for the reduction of poverty but
poverty by their own definition: 'below half average income'. But that
is meaningless. Having half average income does not mean that you have
got a sufficient income. But in terms of targets what the government hasn't
said anything about is in terms of inequality. You can go through
that book issued by Alisdair Darling--which has I don't know how many targets--but
nothing about reducing inequality. There's nothing about reducing the gap
between the rich and the poor. For New Labour, it is prepared to alleviate
poverty by their own definition but it isn't prepared to reduce the gap
between those people and those at the top. For instance it will not increase
personal taxation. It won't increase inheritance tax. I haven't seen their
manifesto yet--but it will probably say the same thing: no increase in personal
taxation. Until you do that you can't reduce inequality.
WC You say with the
definition of Social Inclusion that it is:
...defined as 'Multiple
deprivations resulting from a lack of personal, social, political or financial
opportunities.' Now this is incredibly broad and vague, and it includes
things like kids deprived of school, truancy, even prostitution, ill health.
Now of course one wants to stop that kind of social distress, but the trouble
is that they're so multiple, so vague, so general, that you can't really
get a measure of social exclusion in itself, and it's noticeable that New
Labour refuses now to set a target a) for reducing poverty, or b) for lessening
inequality. And I think social exclusion really lets it off the hook.
BH In terms of poverty,
what New Labour won't do is to assess how much pounds, shillings and pence
you need a week to have a decent life style, to enable you to participate
fully in society. It's always going back to half average income. Now the
Family Budget Unit of London University has in enormous detail worked out
how much money you need for a 'low cost but acceptable income'; and that
includes having a weeks holiday--not in Italy but in Blackpool. And it shows
from that if you're in receipt of income support you're probably about
£39 below a stringent (I think too stringent) amount you need to
live on. You see the government just refuses to identify how much money
you need and that is why it isn't tackling poverty. If you ever meet a
Labour politician ask them that question: they'll never answer it.
WC So they've got
all these statistics, all this million of pounds worth of 'research' from
BH If you ask them
how much money does a person need--a lone mum with two kids--per week to
have a decent life style--they will not answer.
WC There is also
the Acheson Report. [The Report on Health Inequalities carried out by the
former British Surgeon-General, Sir Donald Acheson] This says it very simply:
you've got to give them more money.
BH That committee
of enquiry was set up by the Labour party as soon as they came into government.
The basic recommendation was that to overcome health inequalities it isn't
enough to alleviate poverty, you've got to reduce inequalities. But of
course that's been ignored.
WC It is inequality
itself that makes people preventably sick.
BH After it's had
years in power New Labour will be able to say that the position of the
poor has improved in the sense that Child Benefit has gone up, Income Support's
gone up, there's a Minimum Wage; but in the sense of inequality their position
has actually worsened because the affluent have made gains at a far greater
rate. So in terms of old socialistic principles I think it's been a failure
and it follows that therefore the gaps in health won't change. This area
in particular: Baillieston has a very high infant mortality rate: I mean
it's double. I think it's so offensive that kids under the age of one have
twice the chance of dying here than they do in Surrey or Norfolk: I mean
it's just so inhumane. But New labour won't change that. Even within Glasgow
women here die five years younger than women in more affluent parts of
Glasgow. How can any socialist defend that.
WC Well they defend
it via the Third Way, where they say 'instead of re-distribution of wealth
we're re-distributing opportunities.'
BH Well that is it
isn't it: it's not a level playing field--it's nonsense. What equality of
opportunity is there for youngsters around here. There are teenagers around
here that are not even getting the dole. There are people from the age
of sixteen to twenty-one who couldn't cope who didn't like the New Deal
and dropped out. That's where the dole gets cut off. There's this great
thing in Britain where if you're like seventeen to twenty-one you can't
be unemployed: that's one of the reasons why the figures have come down.
So you have about 300,000 young people who are actually unemployed, but,
they're not receiving benefit. And the measurement now is 'unemployed and
receiving benefit'. This is one of the spins that get put on figures. There's
the election coming up and they're not only choosing not to vote they can't
vote because they're not on the list. They've been disenfranchised in our
democratic society. In a way you can understand that. They're not going
to vote because politics is meaningless. But within that kind of culture
of despair in a way, what's going to happen to them? Some young people
without the dole are dependent upon parents who are on the dole--so clearly
the poverty of that family is multiplied. Others just drift around from
bed to bed. The other side of this is it shows how resilient and strong
the society is: that people in poverty are willing to take in people who
are in poverty.
Outside in the bright
May Day sunshine I walked off to get the train. On the way I passed where
I used to live. It had been obliterated, completely demolished, I couldn't
even configure where anything had been or where the roads were going, it
was just too confusing. As I stood there bewildered, Holman came along
and gave me a lift to the station in his car. "Keep Struggling" he said
with a cheery wave, and drove off to look after his grandchildren.
about the nature and application of the new Terrorism Act Discussion
In his opening remarks Mark
Muller, chairing the meeting, said that the discussion had been prompted
by the widespread concerns about the nature and application of the new
Terrorism Act and especially its implications for long cherished human
rights and its impact on minority communities. Parliament's ratification
of the proscription of 21 international organisations making it an offence
to further their activities in any way fundamentally offended individual
human rights. No distinction was drawn between violent and non-violent
actions. The Act was a charter for suppressing both ideas and cultural
identities and compromised the country's respected tradition of offering
sanctuary to political refugees and dissenters.
While it was necessary to
combat terrorism and crime, Mr Muller said, the Act added nothing to existing
criminal law whose powers were sufficient to deal with the problems. So
why was the government acting now? He feared that the implementation of
the Act may result in increasing conflict and disorder and cited the experience
of the Federal Republic of Germany where similar bans had resulted in conflicts
and had merely driven dissent underground. The Act was ill-conceived and
came notwithstanding the incorporation of the European Human Rights Act
into British law.
Mr Muller then mentioned
the case of Kani Yilmaz who gained legal entry into Britain to brief parliamentarians
on the PKK's cease-fire, but was later arrested without a warrant on the
grounds that he posed a threat to national security. This came under pressure
from Turkey. This was all long before the new Terrorism Act, but, he asked,
what would be the status of such a meeting in Parliament today? Would it
now be deemed an illegal gathering? Mr Muller recalled that 70 MP s signed
a letter protesting at Yilmaz's arrest, including current Foreign Secretary
Robin Cook. He concluded that the most serious implications for human rights
were posed by an Act that made it illegal to hold a peaceful meeting called
with the intention of raising a legitimate political issue, like peace
between Turkey and the Kurds. Such was the consequences of the failure
to distinguish between violent and non-violent offences.
The first speaker, solicitor
Gareth Peirce, began by saying that she found the term "terrorist" to be
an offensive one because it carried with it a stigma. She was concerned
that last year's Act redefined the term very widely to include all protests
and any activity that might effect the health and security of any country.
Last year the media had reported almost exclusively on the Act's likely
effects on road protesters, greens and animals rights activists, but now
the reality of its effects were hitting home: it is almost entirely refugee
communities who are being targeted with the publication of the 21 proscribed
Ms Peirce then drew a comparison
with the way that government and police had targeted the Irish community
over 25 years when the PTA was in operation. Thousands of Irish people
had been effected: she had herself represented dozens of people charged
under the PTA and as it turned out wrongly detained and prosecuted. To
fall under the PTA was an ordeal for individuals and their families. Travelling
from Ireland and Britain was made a hazardous task. The implications for
how the new Act would be operated were clear: the PTA targeted indiscriminately
people of particular religions and nationalities. The wider scope of the
new Act, allowing the law to try cases of people allegedly involved in
terrorism abroad, was one terrifying aspect of the Act. She wondered how
lawyers in this country would ever be able to reconstruct the specific
political circumstances of a country like Algeria, Egypt and Sri Lanka.
Every aspect of the Act
raised serious questions: there was the issue of withholding evidence on
suspects vital to any defence case, but now restricted on security grounds;
the impact on peoples' behaviour by creating a mood of fear and uncertainty
with no-one really knowing if what they were doing was illegal. Ms Peirce
said that under US law the Act would be voided for its vagueness. The Act
set up a tension with the Human Rights Act. It had redefined terrorism
and human rights on ideological lines setting up people who deserved to
be seen as human by the government. This was only those who subscribed
to the UK/US model of democracy as the best in the world, no questioning
of it could be admissible. She thought the reasons for the Act now were
twofold: there were internal political objectives and the domestic impact
in its attack on inalienable rights; it was also intended for export being
proposed as a model for Europe and already hailed in the press of foreign
governments who saw it as a gift. Blair was clearly trying to take the
lead in the process of European harmonisation.
She concluded by stating
bluntly that the Act did not deserve to remain on the statute books. It
had torn up the lessons of the last century and destroyed the moral standing
of the country.
Nicholas Blake QC said that
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights allowed for the possibility of
rebellion against tyranny and oppression. Where laws do not protect human
rights there may be just cause to resort to forms of rebellion. There had
been evidence of this in English history and the idea had been the basis
for people coming here seeking asylum in the past. Such principles were
part of the country's political and legal traditions over some 200 years,
and especially in the 19th century. The European rebels who had engaged
in the 1848 revolutions, for example, had come to London seeking haven
as refugees and at that time the idea of rebelling against oppression was
regarded as legitimate. In contrast the new Terrorism Act was an advanced
attempt to criminalise the whole of the asylum process. The government
that had been losing the debate was now stopping legitimate debate and
removing the rights of asylum.
Mr Blake was particularly
concerned at the way the Act might have the effect of eliminating the arguments
about putting protection of the individual at the centre of the law. It
came in the context of a wider criminalisation taking place. It removed
the right to claim a political defence against extradition rules. Political
suspects could not be extradited, only suspects accused of non-political
crimes could be. He said that at the UN, Britain had failed to win the
debate in defining terrorism as a non-political offence, but was now changing
its own laws. The effects of the new Act meant that it would now be difficult
for someone to claim asylum. Indeed what was said in an asylum application
could conceivably lead to the same person being prosecuted for terrorism.
The implications seen in Algerian and Afghan cases did not bode well for
the future. Legal opposition to the new law was very limited. Courts had
extremely limited powers to strike down decisions made by the executive.
A challenge under judicial review was itself very limited. In cases involving
national security there will be a new special immigration appeal body which
would be where future challenges would be heard. Finally, Mr Blake warned
that the new Act was in danger of shortcutting the country's obligations
under existing international legislation.
The playwright Harold Pinter
pointed to the prejudiced political calculations behind the Act and the
list of proscribed groups. He understood that nowhere was the KLA on the
list and suspected that the Nicaraguan Contras would not have been there
either. Such groups were both subsidised by the US and seen as "our freedom
fighters". He was pleased to be participating in the event but found it
depressing that the meeting was taking place after the event. Likewise
he found the vote in the Commons where 396 voted in favour of the Act and
only 17 against even more depressing. It meant that only 17 people had
really subjected the Bill to any detailed critical scrutiny.
The case of Turkey and the
PKK was an eloquent example of where Britain stood in relation to human
rights across the world and American policy. While Turkey had brutally
suppressed the Kurdish people and sought to humiliate them by the arrest
of Ocalan, they had failed because of the strength of the Kurdish resistance.
Newspaper reports had repeatedly claimed that Ocalan had killed 30, 000
people, when the real facts were ignored which were that most of the deaths
were victims of the Turkish military. While this went on Britain was trading
with Turkey and energetically supplying the regime with weapons of torture,
as had been documented by Amnesty International. There was an obvious discrepancy
between government policy and the true facts.
Exposing the absurdity of
the situation, Mr Pinter concluded by mentioning the incident when his
play "Mountain Language" was performed by a Kurdish theatre group in Hackney.
The community centre was raided by the police because someone had reported
that the Kurds were carrying weapons, when in fact the play, which was
about torture, called for imitation weapons as stage props. The brutal
way the Kurds were treated made the Kurds feel that they were back in Turkey.
He condemned the new Act as dangerous and pernicious. British law was now
quite acceptable to Turkey.
Lord Rea, who participated
in the House of Lords debate on the introduction of the proscription order,
gave an account of the proceedings. He was concerned that the government
spokesman Lord Bassam was unable to give a convincing reason as to why
this law was being introduced at this particular time. He had simply mentioned
the need for Britain to support other members of the international community
in the global fight against terrorism. When the question was asked why
these groups had been proscribed, the answer was given that the Home Office
had access to additional intelligence which could not be disclosed even
when the groups were appealing for deproscription. It will not be available
to their barristers either. Only the commission charged with reviewing
appeals will be allowed to see it. In effect, Lord Rea said, no-one could
know exactly how the Home Office had calculated its decision and proscribed
groups will not know the charges laid against them.
Lord Rea felt it was curious
that the PKK was being banned over two years after it had declared a cessation
of armed activities and had been pursuing peace. Shirley Williams had questioned
the government about this, asking how long a period of non-violence was
required before the government would be able to lift the proscription.
Lawyer Louise Christian,
involved in asylum work since 1988, related the Act to the current attacks
on asylum seekers. The Home Office was sending out refusal letters to Kurds
and others on the grounds that they were not active members of banned parties;
they were now being criminalised because they were. The Terrorism Act meant
that the UK was repeating the process of persecution that asylum seekers
had endured in their home countries. It should also be seen as part of
the attack on the principles of the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Ms Christian said that she
had long taken a sceptical attitude towards the effectiveness of the Human
Rights Act and found her views confirmed by the new Terrorism Act. She
was not optimistic that any challenge to the law could be left to legal
action alone as judicial review procedure was very limited. The Act was
a political issue and demanded a wider campaign. It should be challenged
by direct action, she said, giving notice of a protest that was being organised
in May. So far the new law had had little media coverage, it had been brought
in with force in an undemocratic way. Last year no-one knew who the real
targets were; the press reported on animal rights and green activists,
but did not consider refugee communities. She said that countries like
Turkey and India had been putting pressure on Britain to act against groups
like Kashmiris and Kurds.
She went on to condemn the
Home Secretary's proposals for revising asylum policy, especially the idea
of setting up detention centres on neighbouring countries as an alternative
to the present system. This was an alarming development and presented a
major assault on the Geneva Convention. She was ashamed to be associated
with a country that was advocating such ideas.
Desmond Fernandes, a lecturer
from De Montfort University who had written about state security matters
and human rights, spoke of the two decade long history of criminalising
the Kurdish community by the British police and security services. The
Terrorism Act was nothing new for the Kurds, but was more an extension
of legislation and actions already taken against them. He feared however
that the process would intensify. He set the issue in a far wider context
of international alliances. Britain was a NATO ally of Turkey and was pursuing
strategic aims against the Kurds and the Turkish left. He alleged that
Britain had assisted in the funding and training of Turkish death squads
used against political activists and referred to the way HADEP members
were habitually refused visas to enter the country. All this was part of
the same suppression of dissent. The criminalisation made it easier for
the government to repudiate the Kurdish cause and allowed deportations
of Kurdish asylum seekers to Turkey. He described the interrogations of
visitors at the ports as evidence of the restrictions being put in place
on the freedom of movement between European member states. The proscription
of the PKK had turned millions of Kurds resident in Europe into terrorist
He gave several examples
of how security services had already been targeting the Kurdish community
and how MI5 had been monitoring human rights activists dealing with Turkey.
Kurds had been detained under the PTA in 1995. Incidents included phone-tapping,
police targeting Kurdish cultural and community events, police warning
Kurdish shopkeepers not to sell Kurdish newspapers, individuals being offered
bribes to become police informants and even the offer of refugee status
for co-operation. All this has occurred before the PKK ban and he warned
that this was now likely to intensify. He warned everyone that under the
new Act even wearing Kurdish dress could be interpreted as supporting terrorism
because the Act refers to items of clothing that arouse suspicion.
The meeting concluded with
a determination to support the campaigns and initiatives that were being
launched to get the Terrorism Act 2000 repealed and to end the policy of
proscribing political groups. One action would be to draw up a public appeal
against the legislation to be signed by prominent personalities and lawyers.
Report: David Morgan, 24
For information call Peace
in Kurdistan Campaign on 020 7586 5892 or 020 7250 1315
and Comix Review
Am I allowed to review Porno
Mags in Variant? Well how about Playboys from the 1960s, when grown men
could say straight faced that they bought it to read the articles? Unless
you're lucky enough to have a complete run of valuable, vintage 1960s Playboys
you're unlikely to have seen any of the classic Little Annie Fanny
comic strips. Harvey Kurtzman who created MAD magazine in the mid 1950's,
came up with this satirical strip named after a rather grown-up and generously-proportioned
version of L'il Orphan Annie. Playboy owner Hugh Hefner wanted something
special for his magazine, and took a personal interest in the strip, going
to the extent of approving scripts and suggesting alterations. Hef gave
Kurtzman and cartoonist Will Elder a generous budget without the constraints
of fixed deadlines, in return Kurtzman and Elder created an innovative
strip, lusciously painted in full-colour, which looked completely unlike
anything else at the time and where every inch of background space was
crammed with sight gags and topical references.
Annie Fanny's adventures
take her tripping blissfully through every social event, fad, craze and
phenomena of the Swinging Sixties; the Sexual Revolution, Beatlemania,
discotheques, Pop Art, Black Power, Psychoanalysis, Civil Rights, the Space
Race, Surfing, the Living Theatre, Hippies and Protest Singers are all
explored for maximum satirical value. Annie emerges unscathed and inevitably
unclothed at the end of each episode. The excellent Little Annie Fanny
Volume 1 1962-1970 collects these innovative and controversial strips in
220 pages, an annotated guide to the episodes is helpful for those of us
who were aged just 5 at the time, and don't quite get all the contemporary
references or recognise the personalities of the time.
Usually the comic book comes
first and the toys follow later but with World of Pain James Jarvis
has done things the other way round. Following on from the limited edition
action figures of his potato-headed characters for the SILAS clothing label,
comes World of Pain which constructs the world in which the toy
characters live. It's a cheery but authoritarian world, a policeman on
the beat keeps a look out for crimes such as untied shoelaces and typeface
pollution before confiscating a skateboard and showing the skate dudes
a few kick-flip tricks of his own! There's an entire unfolding subplot
about the lyrics and mythology of obscure psychedelic rock and heavy metal
bands. World of Pain is guaranteed to be the only publication reviewed
here that is bilingual, in English and Japanese!
Do you remember Senor Sandwich
from your childhood, the roll-a-long Salami Sandwich with olive eyes and
a gherkin nose? How about the Weiner Works Toy Set 'make your own tasty
frankfurters from table scraps'? or Whip-It's, those racing cars powered
by whipped cream? Possibly not, but they're all here in the Gobler Toys
1964 Catalog, alongside classics such as Darwin the Evolving Chimp,
a top-hatted ape who gradually learns to walk upright until he's given
a stiff drink and then regresses back to his primal state! and child-sized
Play Dead Coffins which come 'with everything you need to fake your own
death'. These nutty toys are only slightly more surreal than what is currently
on sale in your local branch of Toys'R'Us and Woolworths.
The full colour illustrated
Gobler Toys 1964 Catalog may just be a fictional spoof, complete
with company history, newspaper clippings and biography of founder Ira
Gobler, but I'd pay good money for these crazy playthings. The Gobler product
line is rounded out with cherry flavoured licorice underarm hair, US Mint
Pops that print twenty dollar bills onto your tongue and Senorios the first
salami flavoured breakfast cereal. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that
the Gobler Toys creators have been fending off phone calls and job offers
from toy giants like Mattell, Bandai, Hasbro and Topps.
You must have seen those
figures made from old car parts welded together sitting on top of garages
or standing outside car mechanics premises, they're usually made from old
exhaust pipes with the cylinders forming bodies and heads, pipes as arms
and legs. In the US these humanoid auto-junk sculptures are called Muffler
Men (Transatlantic translation dept #1: exhaust pipes = mufflers),
and guess what, now there's a book all about them. With plenty of wonderful
photos and accompanying text this book approaches its subject from a Folk
Art perspective looking at Muffler Men as workplace art created
by self-taught artists rooted in occupational and ethnic traditions (many
are by Latino mechanics). There's maybe a little bit too much analysis,
I was longing for an interview with an innocent car mechanic saying; 'Well
gee I kinda never really thought about it much, it's just one of those
things that auto repairmen do, isn't it?'
The more primitive, goofy
Muffler Men that reflect the character of independent garages are
more interesting than the consciously crafted/designed ones, franchises
& corporate-owned auto repair shops either discourage or have bans
on muffler men! There's no tips on how or where to get hold of a muffler
man of your very own, but its clear that outsider/folk art collectors have
already identified and started to move in on these garage mascots.
It was a real surprise to
see a copy of Punk magazine in the racks of Tower Records, a mere
twenty years after the last issue! It says on the cover that it's a 25th
Anniversary issue, but there's no further explanation for it's reappearance.
Is Punk back again? which revival are we on now? the third or fourth? I've
lost count. Maybe it's just that after a lengthy stint at High Times magazine,
editor John Holstrom has seen his way out of the dope smoke haze? Punk
was the original document of the mid to late 1970's New York Punk Scene
and this issue faithfully recreates the miscellany of interviews, comics,
spoof pieces, rants, reviews and Punk 's legendary Top 99 chart,
plus there's colour pin-ups of all yer fave punks; The Damned, Blondie,
Richard Hell and Johnny Thunders. Pleased as though I was to see this issue
I wouldn't have felt the need to buy future issues, but with the recent
loss of Joey Ramone, who was a contributor, the next issue is certain to
be a Ramones tribute issue, Punk is definitely the right magazine
to do them justice.
Panik is required
reading for Transgressive Culture Vultures everywhere, a magazine for all
the misanthropes and miscreants who've been in mourning since Answer Me!
fell silent. Inside the Trevor Brown cover we find Jim Goad making good
use of his time behind bars by compiling a dictionary of prison slang,
there's articles on film-maker Larry Wessel, Japanese Literary Suicides,
What's Wrong with Assault Weapons? A Manifesto for Misanthropolo-gists,
unpleasant websites, Peter Sotos/Whitehouse, Boyd Rice, the Nietzschean
Spirit of Planet of the Apes, Plastination, Videos you won't find at Blockbuster
and Adam Parfrey on his Apocalypse Culture 2 book. Basically there's something
here to shock, amaze and offend everyone plus plenty of reviews. Tabloid
sized Panik is easy to conceal in the folds of your floor-length
black leather trenchcoat.
Each issue of Monozine
is a collection of factual stories of sickness, disease, affliction and
infection of every possible kind. Straightforwardly written (often hand-written)
and plainly presented, without comment or analysis it makes great voyeuristic,
gut churning reading. No matter what you've been through one of the Monozine
contributors has had it worse and of course being American the writers
have the biggest and best ailments and most disgusting stories. Other people's
suffering is a comedy staple and such subject matter has a universal appeal,
would reading a copy of Monozine be a cure for hypochondriacs? Each
time I read the latest Monozine it leaves me feeling healthy and
bursting with energy. (Transatlantic translation dept #2: mono = mononucleosis
= glandular fever) Did I ever tell you about the time I had Kidney Stones?
Below Critical Radar,
Fanzines and Alternative Comics from 1976 to Now. Edited by Roger Sabin
and Teal Triggs. There have been several American books covering the publishing
world of alternative/underground/subculture comics and zines, but until
now nothing from the UK. There's definitely a need for a guide to help
people find their way into the bewildering world of these strange little
publications (after you've read this column of course.) I'd been looking
forwards to Below Critical Radar, its title indicates the whole
area of publishing that exists for its own reasons remaining free of commercial
considerations, and the subtitle shows a broad, inclusive approach.
The format which mixes reviews
of comics and fanzines representative of specific genres with short essays
works well, but only David Kendall's essay on the genre of Horror fanzines
and comics stands out, emphasising the overlap between publisher and readers,
many of whom are actively, enthusiastically involved in contributing to
and shaping these publications. By covering fanzines and alternative comics
side by side, the editors fail to make the important distinction that fanzines
are entirely self-published and distributed with minimal news-stand distribution,
in contrast alternative comics are published by 3-4 alternative publishers,
with established distribution networks, and are relatively easily available
from specialist comics shops nation-wide.
Fanzines are a lot harder
to get hold of than alternative comics, their readers have to make an effort
to find out about them in the first place and then send off cheques and
S.A.E.'s and wait patiently by the letterbox. On principle zine writers
list contact details for publications they review, the editors of this
book give us instead a 5 page bibliography, ensuring that the very publications
that enabled them to compile their book in the first place remain Below
Critical Radar. In his essay David Kendall sums it up;
"Whatever the definitions,
it is enthusiasm that is the binding factor. Academic commentators rarely
understand this. From what I've seen of academics' (parasitic) relationship
to the fanzine culture, what they want to find in zinesters is something
like themselves but purer, untainted by nasty commercialism or arts grants/book
subsidies/the requirements of tenured posts. The noble savage syndrome."
Below Critical Radar
is a good general introduction, but sadly just that and no more, I can't
imagine that anyone is going to read this book and get inspired enough
to rush out and start their own zine/comic.
Schwing!, most excellent
title dude, but I'm not so sure about the magazine. Schwing! Golf Mag
(that's with a circled anarchist A) aims to be a magazine for golfers with
attitude from the publishers of Thrasher and Juxtapoz. Both these titles
have been formative reading for me at different times, Skatemag Thrasher
was considered so controversial in the early 1980s that a rival publication
emerged with the declared intention of being a more wholesome skateboard
magazine! and despite some patchy recent issues Juxtapoz still manages
to find art you'll never see covered anywhere else.
With features like 'America's
Worst Golf Courses' Schwing! just about retains some of the humour
& character of its parent publications, but the celebrity interviews
with J. Mascis/ Dinosaur Jr and 'Chart Toppers Incubus' leave much to be
desired and the cheesecake'n'golfclubs photos are just plain tacky. Is
this a magazine aimed at the influx of young golfers that Tiger Woods has
attracted to the sport in the US, or maybe just the result of a calculated
decision by surf/skate/snowboard clothing companies to create new clothing
lines for golfers. Hopefully it will remain a stateside phenomena, but
I'm not a golfer, so what do I know, maybe at this very moment clubhouse
committees up and down the country are hotly debating whether to let people
with baggy camouflage-patterned trousers and blue hair play on their courses.
Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs,
Rock'n'Roll and Violence in the British Underground David Huxley. Having
a small but treasured collection of British Underground Comix I'd been
looking forward to this book, but sadly it fails to live up to the promise
of the title. As I ploughed through the pages I realised that actually
there weren't very many British underground comix and most of them weren't
very good! This is a shapeless rambling pub-conversation of a book in desperate
need of a good editor, re-presenting the same old tired arguments about
sex, drugs, violence and good ol' bad ol' Robert Crumb is pointless. This
left me disappointed and yearning for something more substantial, maybe
a close textual analysis of Pete Loveday's Big Trip Comics?
Little Annie Fanny Volume
1 1962-1970, $24.95 Dark Horse Comics. www.darkhorse.com
World of Pain £3.00.
Magma Bookshop, Earlham Street, Covent Garden, London.
Gobler Toys 1964 Catalog
£7.95 inc p+p. available from Disinfotainment, P.O. Box 664, London,
E3 4QR. http://www.goblertoys.com
Muffler Men Timothy
Corrigan Correll and Patrick Arthur Polk. $18.00. University Press of Mississippi,
Punk $5.00+p/p. PMB
#675, 200 E.10th St, New York, NY 10003. www.punkmagazine.com
1891 Obispo Ave. Long Beach, CA 90804. http://bountyhunterinc.com
P. O. Box 598, Reistertown, MD 21136, U.S.A.. http://www.monozine.com
Below Critical Radar
£10.00+£2.00p+p Slab-o-Concrete, POBox 148, Hove BN3 3DQ. www.slaboconcrete.com
Schwing! $3.99. P.O.Box
8845570, San Francisco, CA 94188-4570, U.S.A..
Nasty Tales £13.95
Headpress, 40 Rossall Avenue, Radcliffe, Manchester, M26 1JD http://www.headpress.com
New Labour leaders think
of themselves as pragmatists though they don't use the word: within Labour
Party discourse it is contaminated by its association with Harold Wilson.
'We are interested in whatever works', says Tony Blair, 'We are beyond
ideology'. And a tiny sliver of the British left wonders if Blair knows
that 'beyond ideology' was one of the key slogans in the CIA's psychological
warfare efforts to prevent socialism in Europe after WW2.
In the 1950s the appeal
of the theory behind 'beyond ideology' was obvious. Europe had been wrecked
by the war; the US was producing about half the world's GDP in 1950. How
wonderful the East Coast of the US must have seemed to the streams of Labour
politicians taking the American government-funded trips across the Atlantic
then! And everywhere they went they heard the same message: it is the end
of ideology. Capitalism--American production methods--had cracked it. Redistribution--fuddy-duddy
old socialism--would not be necessary to solve the problems of the world.
No more class struggle. No more conflict. A rising tide floats all the
Now we are being governed
by another group of America fans. Some of them, Blair and Brown for example,
have been on the US freebie and bought the story--no-one more enthusiastically
than Gordon Brown who has been visiting nice, white, civilised New England--home
of Yale and Harvard--since he was in opposition. He had his honeymoon there
in a cottage at Nantucket.
It is one of the clichés
of the age that New Labour are the masters of spin. Gordon Brown is rarely
mentioned in the tales of spin doctors. The self-styled 'iron chancellor',
restoring prudence to the finances of the country, Brown is presented as
above that petty political stuff. But if anyone can claim to be the master
of spin it is Brown. For despite a decade of first espousing and then implementing
the age-old economic policies of the banking world at home, and more recently
striding the world stage as the advocate of the virtues of American-style
capitalism (aka globalisation), Brown is still perceived by many as somehow
a more left-wing figure than Blair.
This perception is extremely
odd for Brown's career in opposition as Shadow Chancellor was a long courtship
of multi-national capital and, advised by figures from the City, the ditching
of 'old Labour' national economy and manufacturing-oriented, policies.
Of course Brown wouldn't
see it this way. He would see his intellectual trajectory since the late
1980s as simply facing up to the reality of the power of the markets and
the impotence of the nation state before them. And if asked for an example
Brown, I'm sure, would quote the event which really got Labour elected
in 1997--Black Wednesday, the ERM fiasco of 1992 which destroyed the Conservative
Party's claim to be the party of economic competence.
But Brown learned the wrong
lesson from those events. What being forced out of the ERM showed was that
it was impossible to sustain an overvalued currency. Nothing new here;
the only difference between this and other sterling crises before it was
the scale of speculative onslaught and the speed with which events unfolded.
No matter: like John Smith, Brown drew the conclusion that to get elected
Labour had to do the bidding of multi-national capital--'the markets'.
By the time Labour took
office Brown and Blair had promised to toe the conservative (and Conservative)
line on economic policy: no income tax rises, no increased public spending,
no attempts to use government to direct the economy; and no renationalisation.
They had learned the mantra: private good, public bad.
Taking office in 1997, there
was only one tool left in the new Chancellor's hands but it was the critical
one: the control of interest rates. Interest rates influence the domestic
economy directly--think of Mrs Thatcher's great recession of 1980-83 caused
by high interest rates--and via their impact on the exchange rate: high
pound, imports cost less; exports cost more. This last, essential lever,
was duly surrendered to the Bank of England on Brown's first day in office.
He couldn't wait to show willing. And so--absurdly, incredibly--Labour set
out, like Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s, to run the British economy with
neither an interest rate policy nor an exchange rate policy: these would
be left to the Bank of England who would use interest rates solely to control
inflation. Cue an over-valued pound and another wave of manufacturing closures.
Brown was carefully shepherded
into the views he now holds. In the decade before becoming Chancellor,
his personal office was managed by Sue Nye , the wife of Gavyn Davies,
a partner in the US multi-national bank, Goldman Sachs. The late John Smith,
when Labour leader, took him to the heart of the globalising lobby, the
secretive Bilderberg group. Unknown to his party, his colleagues, or his
biographer, Andy McSmith, John Smith had been on the Bilderberg inner circle,
the steering committee. It was thus not surprising that when Brown, qua
Shadow Chancellor, chose someone to give him economic advice he picked
Ed Balls, leader writer at The Economist, the leading British advocate
of globalisation. (Two writers at The Economist are the so-called
rapporteurs--i.e. minute-takers--for Bilderberg.) It was Balls who arranged
meetings with government economists in America in 1993 when Brown and Blair
visited the Democrats.
'Whatever works' say New
Labour; but it's a lie. They are not interested in anything happening on
mainland Europe. If they were they would be studying Holland, Denmark,
Sweden for social policies; virtually any of the EU countries for how to
run a railway; France for its health care system; Germany for how to be
a middle ranking power without much of an army or intelligence service;
Portugal, Ireland, Italy or Spain for how to get EU money without implementing
its more ridiculous legislation. None of this is happening. 'Whatever works'
actually means 'whatever the Americans are doing'. Matthew d'Ancona in
the Sunday Telegraph reported on January 14: '[Brown's] preoccupation
with best practice across the Atlantic is all-consuming: one Cabinet minister
told me that 'the only sure way to get Gordon to listen to a policy idea
is to produce an American who believes in it.'
Brown looks at the vast,
mineral-rich, largely empty continent of America and sees things we should
copy here on this over-crowded island. He apparently doesn't see the 3
million in jail, the 25,000 gunshot deaths every year, the hundreds of
thousands living on the streets, the most obnoxious foreign policy since
Joseph Stalin and the most corrupt political system since Britain in the
days of the 'rotten boroughs' in the 18th century.
Most of all Gordon Brown
is naive. He believes that the multinational drug companies are just itching
to sell their products at cost price to the Third World. He believes that
the West's bankers are willing to write off the debts owed them by the
Third World. He believes that the British bankers feel duty bound to invest
in the infrastructure of Britain.
None of these beliefs are
true. And in pursuing them Brown looks foolish. He has had it easy so far
but the American recession just beginning will create unemployment over
here as the multinationals start cutting-back. We may then discover if
Gordon Brown is to be remembered as anything more than the last dribble
of Thatcherism down the leg of British politics.
In March 1979 the people
of Scotland were asked whether they wanted their own parliament separate
from England. The majority said yes. However, a last minute clause added
to the bill stated that 40% of the total electorate had to be in favour.
This took non-voters to be saying no. Governments get elected on less.
In 1980 I started reading
manuscripts for the Edinburgh publisher Polygon. The backlist consisted
mostly of books about Scottish failures. There was one on the failure of
the breakaway Scottish Labour Party, another on the Scottish Daily News--a
failed attempt at newspaper publishing. And there were books about failures
that failed to appear. Someone was commissioned to write a fan's diary
of the Scottish team's failure in the Argentina World Cup of 1978.
Polygon was also due to
publish Neal Ascherson's Devolution Diaries written during the referendum
debacle, in which he referred to the post-referendum years as 'the hangover
of '79'. In some circles it was known as the 'deferendum' due to the lack
of nerve exhibited by the electorate. In the end Ascherson decided they
were too frank and instead deposited them in the Public Record Office in
Edinburgh under a 'Closed' mark.
Around the time I started
at Polygon, publishers released a flood of histories, companions, dictionaries
and encyclopedias of Scottish literature. In most cultures these reference
works might have had quite a long shelf-life, but the publication of work
by Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and others in the early 1980s rendered the
volumes that had excluded them obsolete almost as soon as they were published.
In retrospect they were marking the end of a former era in Scottish literature
and the beginning of a new one.
Anyone looking for the country's
authors in a Scottish bookshop at that time would have been pointed towards
reprints of Neil Gunn and Eric Linklater. Publishers were more interested
in resurrecting dead writers as opposed to looking for new ones and grants
from the Scottish Arts Council encouraged this. When on behalf of Polygon
I sent them Kelman's second novel A Chancer, they deemed it unworthy
of a grant towards publication costs. They had received a complaint from
a Conservative Member of Parliament, Alick Buchanan-Smith; one of his constituents
had picked up Kelman's previous novel The Busconductor Hines, in
an Edinburgh bookshop, and was shocked that taxpayers' money was subsidising
such language. Those who claimed to represent culture had lost their collective
There was the publication
of the long-delayed New Testament in Scots in 1982 and the Concise Scots
Dictionary in 1985. These became surprise (to the bookshops) best-sellers
and were products of decades of work W. L. Lorimer's New Testament in
Scots, like Gray's Lanark and Kelman's Not Not While The Giro
and other stories, were completed long before publication in book form.
Lorimer first had the idea of translating it in 1945, began in earnest
in 1957 and completed it in 1966. It took until 1983 to raise sufficient
interest and funds to secure publication. He uses different forms of Scots
to show different authors in the New Testament and when the Old Testament
is quoted he uses Old Scots. The book's raciness and hybridity made the
attempts by various writers and academics in the decade before to sort
out an agreed form of Scots laughable.
Later on in the 1980s books
and pamphlets came out glossing Glasgow speech such as Stanley Baxter's
Parliamo Glasgow and Michael Munro's The Patter, which topped
the Scottish best-seller charts for months and went into several editions.
Words that were being taken out of speech and print in the past couple
of centuries were now being put back in (in the case of anglicised Scots),
or left in (in the case of others). Derek in Kelman's story 'Events in
yer life' says, on turning on the TV one morning, that 'it was only the
Scottish accents made it interesting'. Eck in John McRay's play Dead
Dad Dog has the answer: "lt's not ma accent it's your ears." In a nice
reversal, Alasdair Gray used a transcription of upper class Oxbridge English
for 'The Distant Cousin of the Queen' section in Something Leather.
Here, your is 'yaw', poor is 'paw', literature is 'litritcha', here is
'hia', nearly is 'nialy' and Shakespeare is 'Shakespia'.
The sudden appearance in
print of many of these writers has been called a boom by many commentators.
In reality, however, it was more the result of a process: Alasdair Gray,
Jeff Torrington, Bill Douglas and James Kelman wrote for more than a decade
before being published in book form in Scotland or England. Perhaps it
took the failure of the Devolution Bill in 1979 to bring them to a wider
public. There is, after all a school of thought that says that when the
politics of a country run aground, the people look for self expression
in culture. The public acceptance or censorship of vernacular Scots has
always been a symptom of political feeling in the country. In reaction
to the Act of Union with England in 1707, there was a renewal of interest
in the vernacular, followed by a reaction in Edinburgh around the middle
of the eighteenth century when a guide book on how to excise Scotticisms
from speech became popular amongst the literati. Its stated aim was 'to
put young writers and speakers on their guard against Scotch idioms' and
its influence is still obvious many generations later in the properly annunciated
speech of Miss Jean Brodie. One exception was Robert Burns, whose writing
was applauded in the 1780s by the same people who had set about removing
Scottish words from their vocabulary.
In Glasgow during 1971 some
writers had begun to meet every two weeks in a group co-ordinated by Philip
Hobsbaum, a lecturer in the English Department at the university. This
was the fourth time he had organised such a group. Besides an earlier one
in Glasgow there had been groups in London and in Belfast (to which Seamus
Heaney brought his poems) in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Here Gray
and Kelman met each other and Tom Leonard and Liz Lochhead for the first
time. Other writers at the group included the poets Donald Saunders, Aonghas
MacNeacail and Robin Hamilton, and the science-fiction writer Chris Boyce.
Each would submit a piece of writing in advance which would then be copied,
circulated and read out during the meeting. The value of such encouragement
and criticism at an early stage of a writer's career cannot be overemphasized.
Leonard's "The Good Thief' had already appeared in the first issue of Scottish
International back in January 1968. When he had tried to publish poems
in Glasgow University Magazine the printer declined because
of the language. A few years later a typesetter wanted 'foreign language
rates' for some of his other Glasgow poems. Leonard was probably the most
established writer attending the Hobsbaum group. Six Glasgow Poems
and A Priest Came on at Merkland Street were published to some acclaim
in 1969 and 1970. J. B. Caird (one of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools
in Scotland) ended a talk to the Association for Scottish Literary Studies
in 1972 with the question: "Is there a possibility in fiction--as has been
done in verse by Tom Leonard and others--for the phonetic rendering of Glasgow
speech in the way Raymond Queneau has used Parisian speech in 'Zazie dans
le Metro?'" Like most people, he was not to know that over in Glasgow James
Kelman was doing just this.
When Kelman and Gray first
met at Hobsbaum's group they did not particularly like each other's writing,
but warmed to each other personally. Gray later acknowledged him for helping
the first chapter of Lanark read smoother. He included a drawing of Kelman
on the frontispiece of Book One of Lanark while printing his story
'Acid' in one of the footnotes to plagiarisms in the novel. Gray had been
working on Lanark since the 1950s. When he completed one of the
four books it comprises he sent it to the literary agent Spencer Curtis
Brown, who rejected it in 1963. An editor at Quartet bought an option on
Lanark for £75 after reading a half-complete version in 1972.
When Gray finished his work four years later it was turned down because
it was 'too long'. Two other London publishers offered to publish it if
he split it into two books. During this time Gray made a meagre living
selling plays to television and radio. In between he would go back to painting.
He did murals in restaurants and churches, and for more than a decade made
portraits of Glasgow citizens for the People's Palace Museum. Finally,
he offered Lanark to the Edinburgh publisher Canongate in February
1977, who accepted it a year later. They went on to publish it in 1981.
Lanark had been twenty-four years in the making.
In 1987 Gray used the advances
of two books to organise a touring exhibition of the painters John Connolly,
Alan Fletcher, Carole Gibbons and Alasdair Taylor, whose work he felt had
been unjustly neglected.
Kelman had been writing
since about 1967 and by 1971 had enough stories for a book. Through Hobsbaum
he met the American writer Mary Gray Hughes. She got a publisher in Maine
interested in the manuscript of An old pub near the Angel his first
book of stories. It was published in 1973 by Puckerbrush Press and was
little noticed in Scotland or England. His work was starting to appear
in magazines and occasionally in the Scottish Short Stories annual
volume. By the mid-1970s Kelman had another collection of stories ready,
was completing one novel and was well underway with another.
A good deal of co-operation
amongst these writers in the West of Scotland began at this time; writing
circulated in manuscript and addresses of hard-to-come-by literary magazines
were exchanged. The best of these was Scottish International which
lasted from 1968 to 1974. At the beginning of the 1970s it ran extracts
from Lanark and published Alan Spence's stories. Two poets--Edwin Morgan
and Robert Garioch--were on the board of the magazine. Morgan sponsored
Alasdair Gray's application to the Scottish Arts Council for money to finish
Lanark (he received £300 in 1973).
Many of the new writers
from the West of Scotland found Morgan's poetry an inspiration as it took
in urban life (especially Glasgow) and embraced the new. These were themes
not often found in combination at that time. Scottish International
was strange for a Scottish cultural magazine in several respects. Guided
by its editor Bob Tait, it treated Hugh MacDiannid as a poet amongst equals
instead of installing him high on a throne. It also tried to cover Glasgow
comprehensively for the first time.
In 1970, the Glasgow
Herald did two features on Thomas Healy entitled 'From the Pick to
the Pen' and 'Labourer Who Writes Stories'. They reported that Healy 'whose
most recent story--The Traveler--reflects his experiences as a navvy on a
hydro-electric site in the Highlands, has won at the age of 28, a Scottish
Arts Council bursary of £500.' This allowed him to work on a novel
of Glasgow in the 1950s. Some stories appeared in an anthology of new writers
put out by Faber, who took an option on the novel but never published it.
Nothing more appeared in book form. Until in 1988, maybe aware of the work
we were publishing, he sent Polygon his novel It Might Have Been Jerusalem.
He had been writing for more than twenty years without having a book accepted.
In his second book, Rolling, his hero has a love affair with a schoolboy
in Glasgow, gets dysentery in Madrid and ends up, via Germany and Australia,
in a marriage of sorts. After publication, Healy was berated for creating
a character who made everything secondary to drink. Many Scottish reviewers
appear to seek redemption from books by Scottish writers. They approach
them with different critical apparatus to that which they might bring to,
say, an American writer. Like the councillors of Glasgow they prefer happy
endings to hard-won self-determination.
In 1974, Bill Douglas wrote
the novel My Childhood to raise money to allow him to complete his
trilogy of films My Childhood/ My Ain Folk / My Way Home, but it
never found a publisher. The manuscript resurfaced nearly twenty years
later. In 1975 William Mcllvanney, after winning the Whitbread Prize for
Docherty, said he wanted 'to write a book that would create a kind
of literary genealogy for the people I came from.' Meanwhile, Kelman was
doing exactly this and getting rejection slips from London publishers who
slammed the door on Scottish writers of fiction just as quickly as they
had opened it. Not being published in book form, whether in Edinburgh or
London, meant they had to build their own links with readers and other
writers to avoid complete neglect.
If publishers in Edinburgh
and London had their blinkers on when it came to manuscripts from new Scottish
writers, the work was not sitting in drawers. Magazines and small presses
evolved to plug the gap and they had an influence disproportionate to their
size. For a couple of years from 1978 Kelman, Gray, Leonard, Lochhead,
Spence and others distributed booklets of their work as the Glasgow Print
Studio Co-operative with the help of its director Calum Mackenzie. In 1979
Kelman began the first of two periods as Writer-in-Residence for Renfrewshire
District Libraries. In an interview with the Glasgow Herald at the
time Kelman said "I wanted to help ordinary people to become aware that
books and writers are not sacred and unapproachable. Most people have something
in them worth writing about if only they realised it, and I intend to have
workshops in every local community to encourage people to both read and
write." In May of that year, five days after Margaret Thatcher's first
election victory, Kelman put on--in his words to a reporter at the time--'the
first poetry reading to take place at Paisley Town Hall since W. B. Yeats
in 1924'. Among those on the bill were Sorley MacLean, Iain Crichton Smith
and Aonghas MacNeacail.
In the absence of interest
from publishers or agents, authors in the west of Scotland continued to
link up. More and more readings were organised. Here Kelman met Jeff Torrington,
who had been a shop steward at the former Talbot/Chrysler car plant at
Linwood. Torrington was in the middle of writing Swing Hammer Swing,
part of which Kelman passed to me in 1983. It led to several Torrington
stories appearing in Edinburgh Review. Torrington told me that when
he first attended one of Kelman's writing groups in Paisley Kelman suggested
that he knock all the stained glass windows out of his prose, referring
to the adjectives and adverbs. But Torrington's favourite writers include
Vladimir Nabokov and Ray Bradbury and as he enjoyed using these words they
remained. When Liz Lochhead ran a writing group in Alexandria, north of
Glasgow, she met Agnes Owens who gave her the story 'Arabella'. Lochhead
showed it to Gray and Kelman who loved it and soon became friends with
the author. Several years on, in 1982, Gray passed me the typescript of
the novel Gentlemen of the West by Agnes Owens, which was published
I also heard about Janice
Galloway from Kelman. He had been judging a short story competition and
photocopied some of her entry for me. I went on to publish several stories
in Edinburgh Review and her novel The Trick is To Keep Breathing
at Polygon. Later, Kelman was to bring Torrington and McLean to the attention
of his publisher at Secker & Warburg. Galloway published the first
work by Irvine Welsh as one of the editors of New Writing Scotland.
He went on to be published by The Clocktower Press and then in Kevin Williamson's
Rebel Inc. McLean suggested Welsh and later Alan Warner to the same
editor at Secker & Warburg. There is a common strand here of writers
using their own reputations to bring to people's attention the work of
other writers. Just look at the cover puffs and you'll see how one writer
praises another who in turn introduces another new writer's work. In his
'diplags' and 'implags' in the margins of Lanark, Gray uses a satire on
academic footnotes to admit he has plagiarised sentences or parts of sentences
from the work of Kelman, Lochhead, Leonard, Spence and McCabe. This was
an unselfish support network proving the validity of Ezra Pound's comment
that no single work of art excludes another work of art. Tom Leonard
made a huge magic marker banner of this phrase and put it along one wall
of the room where his writing groups met in Paisley.
Scotland will be free
when the last Church of Scotland minister is strangled by the last copy
of the Sunday Post
Tom Nairn (1970)
When I see one of these
Free Church ministers on the street in Lewis, I feel like walking across
the road and hitting him in the face.
Iain Crichton Smith (1989)
Most of the themes in these
works--the art of keeping a fragile hold on sanity, struggles against moral
intolerance and the causes and effects of drinking too much--would have
made sense to another Glasgow writer, R D. Laing. His work has been an
influence on some of the writers refered to here. What many of them have
in common with him is rage, intelligence, humour and a curiosity and frustration
about the central role of guilt in the Scottish psyche. Laing's first book
The Divided Self published in London in 1959 after he left Glasgow,
is a psychological look at the everyday occurrence of split personality.
He felt that guilt develops when anger is not expressed but sent inward
and two selves are created. Scotland can lay some claim to being one of
the best purveyors in world literature of the doppelgänger or double.
Since James Hogg's Confessions of A Justified Sinner and Robert
Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde many Scottish writers have
explored this theme. Yet, what is remarkable about so much Scottish writing
of the past fifteen years is how the double has disappeared. There is very
little splitting. Some of the characters may be struggling to recover from
damage but they are whole. They may be alienated from the values of society,
but they are not alienated from themselves. They may be angry, but this
comes out as rage and is not left buried to form cycles of bitterness and
depression. They fight madness and avoid suicide: Patrick Doyle in Kelman's
A Disaffection; Roy Strang in Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares;
Jock McLeish in Gray's 1982, Janine; Joy Stone in Galloway's The
Trick is To Keep Breathing; Helen Brindle in AL Kennedy's Original
Bliss and Ralph in Iain Crichton Smith's In The Middle of The Wood.
For these characters sanity is not given, but won. Then they are whole,
not split people.
For his Radical Renfrew
anthology Tom Leonard compiled a thematic list of contents which could
be a thumbnail history of Scotland. The first five of the sixteen sections
are religion, alcohol, emigration, employment and unemployment. Institutionalised
religion still has a powerful hold on Scotland. Monty Python's Life
of Brian is still banned from every cinema in Glasgow and in the early
1980s Glasgow University Union denied students permission to form a Gay
Society. In Alan Sharp's A Green Tree in Gedde, Moseby began to
understand what being West Coast Scottish meant, with its preoccupations
with guilt and sex and sin. Twenty-five years later, in The Trick Is
To Keep Breathing, Janice Galloway sums up the prevailing ethos of
Scottish schooling: 'apportion blame that ye have not blame apportioned
There are more antecedents
of these themes in the work of Glasgow writer Ivor Cutler. In Life In
A Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2 his mother smells burning:
"Who's been playing with
the matches? asked Mother, looking into the box and shaking the contents.
I looked through a hole in my plate.
You could have boiled a
kettle on my cheek ALL the children were busy looking guilty. It was our
Not that long ago children
in Scottish schools were still being punished by the tawse. The Concise
Scots Dictionary defines it as
"a whip with tads; the lash
for a whipping top; a leather punishment strap with thongs (since 1983
rarely and only in certain regions); also a child's word for penis."
Schools can oppress their
teachers as much as their pupils. Teachers appear in contemporary Scottish
fiction as people for whom sanity is no longer a given. Ralph in Iain Crichton
Smith's In The Middle of The Wood, Joy Stone in The Trick is
to Keep Breathing, Patrick Doyle in A Disaffection ("He just
wanted something different. To not be a teacher perhaps") are all burdened
with the pressures put on the country's educational system. Whether because
of Calvinism or Catholicism, Scotland has had hangups in abundance--especially
around sex and drink. Then there is anger. Then there is guilt about this
anger. Then the depression that follows when anger is internalised. Nowhere
is this clearer than in the rage of Scottish men. A good deal of contemporary
Scottish fiction shows the pressure put on Scots men to be real hard men.
In Marabou Stork Nightmares, in my opinion Irvine Welsh's best book
so far, Roy Strang is abused by his racist uncle. A few years later he
helps commit a gang rape. Strang has been 'running away from sensitivity:
a fucking schemie, a nobody, shouldnae have these feelings because there's
fucking naewhair for them tae go.'
In the 1970s two plays dealt
with this theme overtly. Tom McGrath wrote The Hard Man about convicted
murderer Jimmy Boyle and Bill Bryden's play Benny Lynch tells the
story of the Glasgow boxer who lost it all to drink William McIlvanney's
novel The Big Man traces the life of a man who loses his job in
contemporary Ayrshire and turns to bare-knuckle fighting to earn a living.
Even the title of his collection of short stories--Walking Wounded--tells
us that we are entering the arena where damaged men do damage to each other
and have damage done to them. It is as if only a decade, not centuries,
has elapsed since the wars with England. The word 'manliness' occurs very
regularly in Thomas Healy's fiction and it is not surprising that his most
recent book A Hurting Business, is a memoir of being a lifelong
boxing fan in Glasgow. In the novel Gentlemen of the West by Agnes
"Proctor's answer was to
hurl a glass through the mirror behind the bar. My mother gave a moan of
fear. This excited Paddy's chivalrous instincts. He hurried up to Proctor
and smashed a lemonade bottle on the counter over his head."
The main character of the
book, Mac, describes the scars on his face, saying 'they were status for
me'. Owens presents violence as a straightforward fact of everyday life,
with little comment or judgement. Violence and anger (and fondness, which
can sometimes make the switch hilarious) come out in language too. Most
violence between people never results in a fight but remains in language.
Kelman has given the example of writing about a few men in a pub. You can
either write using the dialogue that they might actually use or you can
write using language they wouldn't use. If you do the latter then you end
up censoring their whole existence. A writer has to make other decisions,
such as: Does the narrator use the same language as the characters? In
the prose of some writers mentioned here, there is no such split. In 1988
a magazine for English teachers in Scottish schools printed a review of
Gentlemen of the West which concluded that the book's "usefulness
as a school text is unfortunately limited by the realistic inclusion in
the dialogue, of language associated with 'bouts of drinking and occasional
houghmagandie'". The reviewer finished by warning teachers that 'the parents
of your average S grade candidate would certainly be moved to protest.'
Censorship can take many
different forms. I came across a peculiarly misguided example when I was
editing Towards The End, a novel by the Glasgow writer Joseph Mills
published in I989 by Polygon. The job of an editor is to understand the
author's intention and play devil's advocate to both the writer and to
his or her own instinctive response. Although I didn't like some of Mills's
florid metaphors, what made the book compelling was its attention to detail,
its focus on the particular lived moments of the protagonist's life. Yet,
whenever the character moved about the city, the Glasgow place and street
names had been tippexed out on the manuscript.
"I'd like you to think about
reinstating these names.'
'Are you sure?"
'It's just that the publisher
in London that almost took the book said if I took them out it would have
more universal appeal.'
Needless to say he was delighted
to reinstate them.
In December l990, the Scots
Magazine--a favourite read among Scots abroad--published an article by
Maurice Fleming entitled 'Scotland the Depraved'. In it he called for a
return to the values of the comic classics of Compton Mackenzie and more
publicity for writers who could celebrate Scotland as opposed to those
he labels 'the terrible twosome': Kelman and Welsh, joined by Duncan McLean.
He describes his targets as 'desperate to plumb even deeper depths of depravity'.
These writers, he said, 'appear to view Scotland with undisguised and malicious
disgust [portraying the place as] a nation of drunks, drug addicts and
In 1992 the Daily Record
printed the headline:
SEX SHOCKERS ON SCHOOL'S
and continued with reference
to 'dirty books' and 'classroom porn shockers'. In response to the action
of a retired chemistry teacher on the Johnstone High School board five
books were removed from the library's shelves for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds.
The books were A Chancer and Greyhound for Breakfast by James
Kelman; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; The Cider House Rules
by John Irving and Perfume by Patrick Suskind. The reason given
was that they contained obscene language and/or depictions of rape and/or
child abuse and/or violence. As a follow-up the paper had sent copies of
pages from these books to the Strathclyde Region's Director of Education
who commented I am shocked and appalled... and taking urgent steps to ensure
that they are not available to children anywhere in the region.'
The next day, under the
CLEAN UP AT PORN SCHOOL
The director of education
commented: "It was utterly unacceptable that such filth should ever have
become available in the first place." Subsequently, Robert Gould, the Leader
of Strathclyde Region, told the school to take all post-1970 grown-up fiction
off the shelves to be vetted. He was later quoted in a paper as saying
"I'm not much of a reader. No one talks like that, f-ing and blinding all
over the place. You can't use language like that in public; if I spoke
like that I'd be f-ing hounded out of office.'
This is not that different
from those who only want a rosy image of their city written or painted
or filmed. A standard criticism from this direction in Scotland was trotted
out during the 1990 Year of Culture and then for the film of Trainspotting
and goes something like this: 'Yes I'm sure the book/film accurately represents
life as it is lived for a proportion of the population, but to put this
out as art or entertainment makes me feel uneasy. The book/film seems to
condone all that is bad about our society. He needn't have written it because
we see it every day in our streets and estates'.
Many newspapers still put
in asterisks or dashes or blanks when they take exception to what is simply
language. The Glasgow Herald would print stories in censored versions--removing
the words from view and leaving nothing in their place--even after guarantees
to the author. These writers were too important for the paper to be seen
to be ignoring them but that didn't stop them doctoring the language. Several
anthologies published with the school market in mind have obviously gone
out of their way to pick a Kelman story or a Leonard poem with no language
they don't like in it. The radio stations in Scotland still omit words
without bleeping them: "Well,' they seem to be saying, 'would you prefer
not to have your story broadcast at all?'
The Scots Magazine
got one thing right and that is the connection between the so-called culprits.
Duncan McLean has said, only half jokingly, that he sees himself as the
missing link between Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Kelman. McLean may come from
rural Aberdeenshire but he has written about life in and around Edinburgh
in a way that would simply not have happened unless he had come across
Kelman's Not Not While The Giro and The Busconductor Hines.
Some Scots do not believe a book is worth reading unless it has been praised
in London. It often has to be published there as well. Bill Forsyth said
his film Gregory's Girl was not given a proper cinema release in
Scotland until it had the seal of approval from London. Many journalists,
broadcasters and academics north of the border poured scorn on Kelman's
experimentation and use of language until A Disaffection was shortlisted
for the Booker Prize.
Whereas Kelman looked to
America and Europe for a literary tradition, McLean, together with Gordon
Legge, Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh and to a lesser extent Janice Galloway
and A. L Kennedy--have been influenced by Kelman and Gray, in part for their
tenacity and in part for formal and technical breakthroughs in their use
of language. McLean says, "When The Busconductor Hines came out
in 1984 it just blew my mind. It was the voice. For the first time I was
reading a book about the world I lived in. I didn't know literature could
do that." Welsh also credits Kelman with "setting the whole thing out so
that people like myself can have more fun." A. L Kennedy has said that
people like John Byrne, Tom Leonard and James Kelman "made my generation
of writers possible ... gave us permission to speak ... made us more ourselves--gave
us the reality, life and dignity that art can at a time when anything other
than standard English and standard address was frowned upon."
The Busconductor Hines,
Kelman's first published novel did not reach the Booker Prize shortlist.
However, Richard Cobb (the chairman of the judges), did express his shock
that 'one of the novels seemed to be written entirely in Glaswegian' as
if that was enough to pass judgement on it. Anne Smith, editor of the (then
Edinburgh-based) Literary Review said of it, 'Who wants to read
300 pages about the life of a busconductor where nothing much happens anyway?'
When Kelman won the Booker Prize for How Late It Was, How Late,
Simon Jenkins of The Times said the Booker Prize judges were glorifying
a noble savage, a glib and condescending way of sidelining work that disturbs.
The Edinburgh Magazine
once described Burns as 'a striking example of native genius bursting through
the obscurity of poverty and the obstructions of laborious life.' The same
sentiments in more modern language greeted many of these writers on their
first publication. More than a few of them have been described in profiles
as coming from non-literary backgrounds, using Leith or Grangemouth or
Gorbals or whatever argot, dialect, patois or demotic. Most critics go
to extraordinary lengths to avoid using the word 'language'. The result
is that writers are marginalised outside a constructed literary canon,
built by those who think middle class people in the English home counties
have no accent whatsoever. Similarly, when Alasdair Gray gets described
as 'eccentric' critic and reader can collude in not taking his political
or historical arguments seriously.
In 1985, Douglas Dunn concluded
his Glasgow Herald review of Kelman's A Chancer with a plea
for a good middle class novel set in the west of Scotland. Things have
come a long way from the day when Neil Gunn, writing in the same newspaper
nearly fifty years before, wrote that 'Glasgow needs a working class novel
written from the inside'. Elsewhere, in his Oxford Book of Scottish
Short Stories, Dunn talks of the 'bruising candour' of Kelman and McLean.
His argument is that just as in the nineteenth century many Scottish writers
escaped into writing kailyard (cabbage patch) stories of rural idylls,
so now unfortunately, the emphasis on urban working-class stories can appear
to be as exaggerated as the agrarian stresses of the past.' He goes on
to refer to Alasdair Gray's "eccentric, astonishing intelligence" ... "the
politicised demotic challenge of James Kelman" and "feminist purposes of
These are writers from a
country where more people leave or die than stay or arrive. Scotland's
biggest export in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been people.
The net emigration that has been happening for most of this century stopped
abruptly at the end of the 1980s. Now less Scots are leaving and more are
coming back. The Public Record Office in Edinburgh has so many archives
and exhibitions on the theme of emigration that it should consider changing
its name to The Museum of Those That Went Away. Jim Sillars, the main force
behind the breakaway nationalist Scottish Labour Party in the late 1970s,
has made the point that "going to Canada or Australia or Rhodesia or into
the armed forces was an accepted fact of life. If you wanted to get on
then you had to get out."
The Scots, like the Jews
and the Irish, are a small nation dispersed all over the world. They form
a higher-than-average proportion of Interpreters, mediators, football managers,
athletics coaches and translators. Great writing was found at the margins
amongst Scottish translators like Willa and Edwin Muir (Kafka), C. K. Scott-Moncrieff
(Proust), Alastair Reid (Borges), Hamish Henderson (Holderlin and Gramsci),
Stuart Hood (Pasolini, Buzzati and Busi) and Edwin Morgan (just about everyone).
Emigration is a theme that
appears in the fiction of many contemporary Scottish writers. In Thomas
Healy's It Might have been Jerusalem, Rab is looking for somewhere
to live and a job and the conversation turns inevitably to where to go
to achieve his aim: 'tae London,' he tells his friend. Renton in Trainspotting
says: 'Ah huv tae get oot ay Leith, oot ay Scotland. For good. Right away,
no jist doon tae London fir six months.' The impossibility of staying and
the difficulty of leaving is a constant refrain in Kelman's fiction. In
A Chancer John asks Tammas:
Ever thought about emigrating?
Any fucking place!
And in How Late It Was,
How late, Sammy Samuels tells his son Peter:
I'm thinking of heading.
Back to England
Trying to get a job and
that ye know?
In 1983 a book was published
in France entitled L'Ecosse: une nation sans stat. A year later,
Invisible Country by James Campbell was published in London. He
visits his native Scotland to discover why he had left the place a couple
of years before. He gave it that title--which infuriated reviewers in Edinburgh
and Glasgow at the time--because he felt that at the heart of the place
was a political void. These were the years immediately after the 'failure'
of the referendum on devolution. Campbell wrote that 'in this queer stagnation,
prospects for a thriving modern literature are pretty dismal'. Allan Massie's
novel, One Night in Winter, came out in the same year as Campbell's
travel book. In it, Ebenezer exclaims that Scotland is a 'withered culture'.
He says, 'Let Scotland be as independent as they wish, it will not alter
the fact that there's little ... to keep talent here. Of course a political
framework would retain a few--but how many?'
Both echo the 1936 essay
'Scott and Scotland', where Edwin Muir argued that the writer who wants
to stay in Scotland and add to the culture 'Will find there, no matter
how long he may search neither an organic community to round off his conceptions
nor a literary tradition to support him! Any writer working in Scotland
today certainly has the community and tradition to draw on for support.
Alasdair Gray has said that during the 1950s and most of the 1960s the
only writers living in Glasgow he knew were Joan Ure and Archie Hind. In
the years that have passed a lot has changed. An outsider reading some
of the new writing coming out of Scotland could be forgiven for thinking
that independence had already come. Cultural self-determination is assumed
like never before in the nation's history.
Maybe it's because of size
that Scotland works well as a literary centre. People can meet face to
face relatively easily. Through the Hobsbaum group, the Print Studio Press,
readings at the Third Eye Centre, and the small magazines, writers met
one another frequently for mutual support and disagreement. This happened
more in Glasgow than in Edinburgh. Some hostility between the two cities
remains even though they are only 45 minutes apart by train. Glasgow is
a large city, but at any one time there tended to be half a dozen pubs
where people connected with literature could meet for a chat. This helped
to create a context outside the institutions of higher education and away
from the distractions of London, where writing could be talked about in
"There is very little written,
acted, composed, surmised and demanded in Scotland which does not in some
strand descend from the new beginning he made."
Leader, The Scotsman, 9th
September 1978, after the death of Hugh MacDairmid
Scottish writers often employed
an alias. Hugh MacDiarmid was born Christopher Murray Grieve, George Douglas
published as George Douglas Brown. James Leslie Mitchell used the pen-name
Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Robert Sutherland called himself Robert Garioch.
Thomas Douglas Macdonald wrote as Fionn MacColIa and Morris Blythman as
Thurso Berwick. If such a distancing mechanism was necessary for them to
write in a free way, others sought geographical space. There was Alexander
Trocchi (who had written Young Adam and some hack pornography under
the pseudonym Frances Lengel) in Paris and New York, W. S. Graham in Cornwall.
Muriel Spark in New York and Rome, Alastair Reid in New York and the Dominican
Republic and Alan Sharp in Los Angeles and then New Zealand.
MacDiarmid had a memorable
face off with Alexander Trocchi during the International Writer's Conference
at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival. This was organised by the publisher John
Calder who invited seventy writers from twenty countries. Trocchi had lived
outside Scotland for many years and was familiar to the authors attending
from France and America but was little known in the country of his birth.
The debate came to an operatic climax when he said that anything that had
any merit in the Scottish Literature of the preceding twenty years had
been written by him. MacDiarmid countered by calling him 'cosmopolitan
scum'. Trocchi replied, 'I am only interested in lesbianism and sodomy'.
Americans, including William
Burroughs and Henry Miller, lined up in support of Trocchi and East European
Communist Party writers backed MacDiarmid. On the surface this could be
read as Trocchi the internationalist versus MacDiarmid the nationalist,
or modernist versus traditionalist. Yet MacDiarmid had experimented with
language in his poetry and drawn on sources from all over the world. Maybe
their differences were more cultural and generational: beatnik and bard,
heroin and malt whisky, black polo-neck and tweed tie. Thirty-five years
on the division seems to endure with Irvine Welsh calling Trocchi 'a Scottish
George Best of literature' and MacDiarmid 'a symbol of all that's perfectly
hideous about Scotland.' The problem may lie not so much with MacDairmid
as with those that cling only to his aura.
For most of the twentieth
century, there was such a lack of debate in Scottish letters that MacDiarmid
would start arguments with himself changing his mind from month to month
as if only to open up areas to debate. In making all this noise he was
being more deliberate than most thought. He once wrote that what Scottish
literature needed most was bulk. MacDiarmid spoke at times as if he was
the country personified, the embodiment of the spirit of Scotland. At the
age of seventy-two he told his friend George Bruce that he felt his job
had always been
'to erupt like a volcano
emitting not only a flame but a lot of rubbish'
He certainly kept his foot
in the door when those outside were trying to slam it shut.
A by-product of this massive
effort to hold Scottish literary culture up and protect it from all comers
was firstly to prioritise poetry at the cost of fiction, and secondly,
to prioritise MacDiarmid in front of everybody else. After his death it
was not always easy to get close to his work. MacDairmid's own words about
Burns in 'A Drunk Man Looks At the Thistle' could well be applied to himself:
'Mair nonsense has been
uttered in his name
Than in ony's barrin liberty
Young male disciples and
sycophants created an aura around his life and work which meant you inevitably
came to it with massive preconceptions either in favour or against. A cultural
magazine--Cencrastus--was named after one of his poems and a book of tributes
was published called, not surprisingly, The Age of MacDiarmid. For
writers interviewed in the early 1980s an early question would be, 'What
do you think of MacDiarmid's poem about or essay on... ?' Especially after
the 'failure' of the devolution referendum his legacy was a lifeboat for
young men. Now, his halo has receded and it is possible to appreciate his
writing free from encumbrances. It is hard to exaggerate the influence
of his personality on those around him.
At his funeral Norman MacCaig
said that MacDiarmid would walk into his mind 'as if it were a town and
he a torchlight procession of one.' Seven years later when signing a copy
of his own collected poems he at first wrote 'Hugh MacDiarmid', crossing
it out just before he reached the end of the surname. He was a standing
stone that cast a large shadow. For several decades Scottish literature
appeared to the world as a group of male poets sitting round a table covered
in malt whiskies in The Abbotsford Bar in Edinburgh. A writer only got
admitted if one of them died. And if you weren't a poet you might as well
wait at the door. For three decades or more Scottish Literature was Scottish
Poetry, and Scottish poetry was claimed by Edinburgh. The poets met in
Edinburgh in one of three literary bars after a reading. The atmosphere
is best captured in a classic, often reproduced, photograph of Hugh MacDiarmid,
Sydney Goodsir Smith, Norman MacCaig and Douglas Young, cigarette in one
hand, malt in the other. The scene has become something of an archetype--also
appearing in a novel, a painting and being echoed by more recent photographs
of writers. In Alasdair Gray's 1982 Janine Jock McLeish goes into a basement
bar in Hanover Street for a pie and a pint:
'The bar was crowded except
where three men stood in a small open space created by the attention of
the other customers. One had a sombre pouchy face and upstanding hair which
seemed too like thistledown to be natural, one looked like a tall sarcastic
lizard, one like a small sly shy bear. "Our three best since Burns," a
bystander informed me, "barring Sorley of course."
I nodded as if l knew what
he meant then went out and bought a picturecard view of the castle.'
In his painting Poet's
Pub (also the title of an Eric Linklater novel) Alexander Moffat merged
three drinking places--Milo's Bar, The Abbotsford and the Cafe Royal--into
one. It formed the centrepiece of the 1981 exhibition 'Seven Poets' and
he put MacDiarmid in the middle of a single canvas with lain Crichton Smith,
George Mackay Brown, Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean, Norman MacCaig and Robert
Garioch. In hindsight this mythic combination marked the end of an era
where poetry eclipsed prose, Edinburgh lorded it over Glasgow and women
were left outside the pub of Scottish literature. The idea that you could
fit Scotland's best writers round one table is inconceivable now. Yet a
sincere attempt was made in 1995 when the New Yorker sent Richard Avedon
to Glasgow to capture Scotland's best in a single posed team shot at the
Clutha Vaults, a pub in the East End of Glasgow. In the sixteen years between
Moffat's painting and Avedon's photograph the public landscape of Scottish
writing has changed beyond recognition.
A few months later the New
York Times magazine had a reporter set up a similar scene in Robbie's
Bar in Leith. The piece appeared with the headline 'the Beats of Edinburgh'
and the sub-headline 'from the margins of Scottish society comes a new,
beer-soaked, drug-filled, profanity-laced, violently funny literature.'
'Scotland doesnae mean much
tae Glesca folk'
Robert McLeish, The Gorbals
'There was no feeling of
being Scots. I was from Greenock and that was different even from being
from the Port or Greenock or Glasgow.'
Bill Bryden (1977)
James Kelman's autobiographical
note to the Three Glasgow Writers anthology (published by Molendinar Press
in 1976) reads:
'I was born and bred in
I have lived most of my
life in Glasgow
It is the place I know best
My language is English
In my writings the accent
is in Glasgow
I am always from Glasgow
and I speak English always
Always with this Glasgow
This is right enough'
In 1982 his story 'Not Not
While the Giro' was published in Penguin's first Firebird anthology.
Contributors provided sixty- or seventy-word author biographies. He wrote:
'James Kelman is a citizen
of Glasgow. In the pages that follow about a third of the writers are from
Glasgow. When my first issue as editor of Edinburgh Review came
out at the end of 1984, the reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement
said that there were so many writers from the west of Scotland it should
be renamed the Glasgow Review. If there was a scepticism of centralised
power in London, there was barely less suspicion of the power that Edinburgh
presumed itself to have. To much of the outside world Glasgow was still
a city of murderers and drunks.'
This image had started to
change through new representations of the place by writers and artists.
The city fathers sought to accelerate the process by paying public relations
experts vast amounts of money to dream up rapturous tautologies like 'Glasgow's
Glasgow' and 'Glasgow European City of Culture' and 'What's Glasgowing
On' and 'Glasgow's Miles Better'. The latter was trying to point out that
Glasgow was smiling again (the decline of heavy industry made for cleaner
air but massive unemployment) and that it was miles better than Edinburgh.
When the slogan was booked by an ad agency for the side of Edinburgh's
maroon buses, the capital's politicians refused permission at the last
While many Glasgow writers
see themselves as natives of that city first and of Scotland second, the
city's burghers have been far from happy to take them on board. A member
of the Festivals Office during Glasgow's year as European City of Culture
was asked by a journalist why so few writers were involved. He told him
'The writers were too difficult
to work with'.
A piece in the New York
Review of Books by expatriate historian Gordon Craig took the side
of the writers. This was followed swiftly by a long letter from Glasgow
City Council leader Pat Lally rubbishing his argument. When the city fathers
have included them it has been in a belittling fashion. In 1995 Glasgow's
Department of Performing Arts distributed a lavish colour brochure consisting
of folding out posters in four languages. I picked up my copy on the Gourock
ferry. The section entitled 'Glasgow People' is so awful it is worth reproducing
in its entirety:
Glaswegians prefer life
lived on the verge of the surreal. Theirs is a gallows humour - exuberant,
extravagant, grotesque but sparkling like the sun on frosty glass. As Ken
Dodd put it 'the trouble with Sigmund Freud was that he never had to play
the Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night' It could have changed history.
Look at some of the people
GLASGOW has produced.
Lord Lister Lord Kelvin
Tobias Smollett James Bridle
James Kelman Jimmy Maxton
Liz Lochhead Charles
SOME TEAM! as Glaswegians
might say! But Glaswegians are prone to talk about themselves in a language
that could bamboozle visitors.
During this promotional
hubbub Edwin Morgan commented that 'it's much harder to write about central
Glasgow today, which has had its face lifted--this doesn't give rise to
feelings from which poems come.' A lifetime of being ignored, spoken for,
used and abused and patronised would be hard enough for one person to bear.
The city of Glasgow was done in by England and Scotland... and by the burghers
On the frontispiece of Book
One of Lanark, Alasdair Gray rewrote the Glasgow city motto. Instead
'Let Glasgow flourish by
preaching the word'
'Let Glasgow flourish by
telling the truth.'
The truth about Glasgow
is that it has the highest density of lung cancer, heart problems, suicides
and alcohol use in western Europe. In Jeff Torrington's story 'The Sink"
Brogan tells Jordan that his neighbour has been sent home from hospital
as incurable: 'Liver's like a chunk of cardboard. An alky. Telling you,
if they cremate him he'll burn for a fortnight!' In Torrington's novel
Swing Hammer Swing Burnett suggests to Clay that a Gorbals House
of History should be erected. Clay muses to himself that 'at Sales Points
patrons would be able to purchase wee model slums that tinkled "I Belong
Tae Glesca" when their roofs were raised.'
'Fuckin failures in a country
of failures. It's nae good blamin it oan the English for colonising us.
Ah don't hate the English. They're just wankers. We are colonised by wankers.
We can't even pick a decent, vibrant, healthy culture to be colonised by.
No. We're ruled by effete arseholes. What does that make us? The lowest
of the fuckin low, the scum of the earth. The most wretched, servile, miserable,
pathetic trash that was ever shat intae creation. Ah don't hate the English.
They just git oan wi the shite thuv goat.
Ah hate the Scots.'
from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting
The Scottish National Party
used this monologue by Renton for a recruitment form in September 1996.
The Commission for Racial Equality received a complaint about it from a
Labour Member of Parliament and it was referred to a lawyer who said that
they might be in contravention of the Malicious Publications Act. The editor
of Chapman, one of Scotland's literary periodicals that comes out
most in favour of devolution and independence, has said,
'I'm not a patriot, Scotland's
a rotten country.'
This berating of Scotland
from within shows a new self-confidence. Scottish writers are more comfortable
criticising their own country than ever before. This can only come from
a degree of cultural security, moving beyond the see-saw of self-love (in
the form of blind patriotism) and self-loathing. This was not the case
twenty years ago.
During 1995, Mainstream
Publishing had a runaway success with the guidebook Scotland the Best.
A year later Canongate, another Edinburgh publisher, released its sequel
Scotland the Worst, a clear sign of cultural health. Frank Kuppner
sent a cycle of poems called 'Albanian Folk Songs' to the London Review
of Books. The Scots-born editor asked why he was writing about a distant
south-eastern European country and he had to point out that Alba was the
Gaelic for Scotland. An interviewer once asked him, 'Kuppner--that's not
exactly a Scottish name is it?' To which he replied, 'Well, it is now.'
Muriel Gray in her speech
on being elected Rector of Edinburgh University said: 'I am no staunch
defender of the couthy heedrum hodrum brand of marketable mock Scottishness.'
She called her production company Gallus Besom. There used to be another
called Big Star in a Wee Picture. When Duncan McLean was part of the Merry
Mac Fun Co theatre company in the mid 1980s they wrote plays with titles
like Macattack and Psychoskanter.
In the Highlands on the
road to Fort Augustus there is a grey concrete litter bin on which someone
has written in huge black letters the words TARTAN TOURS BOX OFFICE'. Football
fans, rugby fans and pipers busking on Princes Street in Edinburgh or Sauchiehall
Street in Glasgow now paint the Braveheart-trademark St Andrew's Cross
on their faces as a humorous and powerful rather than nationally obedient
gesture. 'Roam the globe, not the glens' screamed a recent advert for the
newspaper Scotland on Sunday.
In 1981 Barbara and Murray
Grigor organised an exhibition called Scotch Myths. They gathered ephemera--from
shortbread tins to whisky bottles--which showed the whole range of representations
of Scottish-ness. A recent promotional postcard from the British winemerchants
Oddbins would have fitted nicely into their polemic. It highlights a range
of rare malt whiskies 'bottled from precious and dwindling collections,
each has been nurtured to perfection and carefully selected. Most are unlikely
to be seen again.' This combines the two recurrent myths of visitors to
rural Scotland. On the one hand it has some of the last stretches of wilderness
left in Europe and somehow by peat bog through highland spring water we
can sample this purity through a malt. On the other hand with more tourism
and development you are less likely to be alone, or in the words of the
Oddbins promo 'So small is each bottling that this may represent your first
and last chance to see, let alone taste, them.' The reverse of the postcard
has a Ralph Steadman drawing of three men with red hooked noses and beards
leaning over a malt potstill, with the faces of two more like them wafting
ghostlike into the air above the boiling pot.
For an insight into the
competing myths that part of Scotland claims as its own, buy copies of
The Field and Country Life in the month of August (the month
the shooting season begins). Then look at the Scots Magazine with its ads
for Burns paperweights, cassettes of music with titles like 'Blood in the
Heart' and, understandably for a country that so many people leave, articles
on tracing your Scottish ancestry by CDROM. They make odd bedfellows. What
they have in common is a desire to keep Scotland as it was. Or as it never
'As a nation we have what
the Germans call eine unbewaltigte Vergangenheit--a past with which we haven't
completely come to terms. (In this we are quite unlike the English, who
have come to terms with their history so well that they have largely forgotten
Hamish Henderson in the
'We have to become independent
so that we become more Scottish and less anti-English.'
Dick Gaughan (1995)
'England player: You Scotch
are just a shower of bloody animals. Scotland player: Aye, and don't you
bloody well forget it.'
(conversation reported between
players at a Rugby international)
Scotland continues its fight
for statehood in an era where nations are breaking up into ethnicities,
satellite broadcasting and internet communication mock national boundaries,
and individuals are united more by their enthusiasms than by the colour
of their passports. Yet its intellectuals are broadening their parameters
to cope with this. The historian Angus Calder says that you can be counted
as Scots if you support one of the country's sporting teams. What nationality
does that make a Chicago Bulls fan in Aberdeen (or Moscow for that matter)?
In 1994 a new cultural journal
was launched called Scotlands. Its editorial foreword described
the magazine as an atlas to the plural identities that form contemporary
Scotland. When Alan Warner was interviewed in the style magazine I-D in
a feature on young talent to watch for in 1995 he said, 'There are many
Scotlands within Scotland. I wanted to capture the strangeness of the one
I know.' This embracing of the plurality that is Scotland is a characteristic
of the new writing coming from the country which goes way beyond a table
in The Abbotsford Bar.
The relationship between
Scotland and England is still commemorated from Jedburgh to Orkney in the
annual 'Ba Game'. In a cross between the running with the bulls in Pamplona
and the Eton wall game, a leather ball is moved through the streets. The
'ba' is said to represent an Englishman's head. Football matches between
Scotland and England at Wembley were war by another name. Major pitch invasions
followed the Scottish victories of 1967 and 1977. The Scottish National
Party wanted to use footage of these in a political broadcast but were
Scottish business embraced
the Union because it offered access to riches to be mined, picked and exploited
in the foreign lands throughout the British empire. The Scots were the
empire's most loyal administrators, engineers, teachers, doctors and key
missionaries, like David Livingstone. The image and reality of the Scot
as the trusted subaltern lives on in characters like Scottie, the loyal
servant in Star Trek As the empire began to decline, the English aristocracy,
accelerating a process that began with Queen Victoria building Balmoral,
turned ever larger parts of rural Scotland into the huge sporting estates
which still constitute a third of the country's landmass. People were evicted
from their homes for the sake of sheep and sport. What would the population
of Scotland be now if the Highland Clearances had never happened?
While travelling around
Scotland in 1995, the journalist George Rosie had a chance meeting with
a senior English civil servant from Whitehall. As they sat in a hotel overlooking
Ben Loyal and the hills of Sutherland, Rosie asked him why English governments
have been so unwilling to hand Scotland back to the Scots. The official
ticked the reasons off on his fingers:
'One, oil. Two, gas. Three,
fish. Four, water. Five, land. The oil and gas are self-explanatory, even
now. Fish might not mean much to the British but it is a superb bargaining
counter in Europe. Water will be important one day. I suspect. And as for
all this [gesturing to the hills] well, this is our, how shall I say it,
breathing space. That bit of elbow room that every country should have.'
There were clearances of
another sort in the 1960s when planners and developers bulldozed tenements
and sent the people up into modern but damp flats or to the new towns like
Cumbernauld, Glenrothes or East Kilbride. In Swing Hammer Swing
Jeff Torrington writes that:
'Whole tribes of Tenementers
had gone off to the Reservations of Castlemilk and Toryglen or, like the
bulk of those who remained, had ascended into Basil Spence's "Big Stone
Wigwam in the Sky"'.
This was a time when--in
the words of Burns Singer--Glasgow felt it was too big for its own boots
and set about shaving down its foot to fit.
Scotland missed out on the
great nation-building of the nineteenth century because the middle classes
had such a good economic deal out of being England's junior partners in
the empire. As the empire fell apart and former colonies won their independence,
the Scots lost the foundation of their British identity. This led to the
first real electoral impact of Scottish Nationalism in the late 1960s.
Scotland would have been given back to the Scots by now had it not been
for the discovery of North Sea oil. As the oil depletes, so does Scotland's
chance of self-government increase. There is a strange dynamic at work
here, though. The Scots have Scottish nationalism, the Welsh have Welsh
nationalism, but English nationalism is about being British.
Scotland entered the Union
with England in 1707 as some people enter an arranged marriage--without
enthusiasm. David Black has said that
'She recognised in her partner
qualities she needed to develop in herself, qualities of stability and
Now it may be too late for
marriage guidance. As this relationship nears its end, the two countries
require a course of separation counselling. The place can no longer be
described, in the words of one Scot who edited an anthology in the early
1980s, as 'a nation which has lost much of its original culture and invented
or romanticised more.' For the first time in centuries of insecurity and
strife, Scotland has begun to stop defining itself by what it is not--England--and
is with good humour facing up to what it is, both bad and good. Future
generations will applaud the contribution which the writers played in this
A version of this text
appears in the introduction to the Picador Book of Contemporary Scottish