On 8 January 2017, just one week after completing her year-long ‘durational performance’ The Glasgow Effect, for which she refused to travel outside Glasgow for the whole of 2016, Harrison gave a talk about the work at the Glasgow Film Theatre.
Film by Stuart Platt
Q&A chaired by Peter McCaughey
Thanks to Peter McCaughey, Michelle Emery-Barker, Janie Nicoll & Jenny Brownrigg
Ushering by Margaret McInnes, Sheena Maclean, Katherine Matthews & Ellie Harrison
Ellie Harrison: Hello everyone. Thanks so much for coming along today. It’s amazing to see so many people bright and early on a Sunday morning. Welcome to my cinema! I’ve been a volunteer usher here for the last… oh, since 2010, so more than six years. And last year alone I worked 36 shifts, contributed 180 hours… of ‘volunteer labour’ to the running of this fine Glaswegian establishment. But who’s counting eh? Who’s counting? [audience laughter]
Ellie Harrison: So this is one of the many ‘hats’ that I wear with varying degrees of power in this city and beyond. So this venue was actually only picked really because it had quite a big capacity and was fairly central and… we could fit as many people in as possible. But it’s relevant because it’s one of the buildings that I’ve spent most time in last year and it’s also relevant because it’s the second time, that I’ve ever done a talk in a… cinema.
Before I moved to Glasgow in 2008, I was an usher in at a cinema in Nottingham where I used to live for eight years. A cinema called Broadway cinema. They actually used to pay ushers back in those days, so that’s a sign of how times have changed. But after working in that cinema for five years, in 2007, I was invited to do a commission for the cinema based on my experience of being ‘undercover artist in residence’ in the cinema and then to come and give a talk about my work.
So that’s a little bit of context. This talk as we all know is about the The Glasgow Effect. It’s about an epic project, which as I’m sure you all know, was funded to the tune of £15,000 by Creative Scotland. It has taken a whole year of my life to complete, where there has been absolutely no escape literally or metaphorically. This project has been my life and my life has been this project.
In its simplest terms, it was just a personal challenge, to see what would happen if I refused to leave the city where I’ve lived since 2008 for a whole calendar year. From the 1st of January to the 31st of December 2016. On top of that, I decided that in order to reduce my carbon footprint to the absolute bare minimum, and also to reduce my expenses to the bare minimum, I wouldn’t go in any vehicles at all for that whole time. And… I did it! I did do it. [audience applause]
On New Year’s Day… I used the data that had been collected on the GPS tracking device that I wore on me every single day for the whole year, which was actually programmed to send a text message to Creative Scotland if I went outside ‘the zone’ [audience laughter] I used that data to make this heatmap showing every single place that I went…
So I travelled 3,753 kilometres which as I’ve worked out is as far as travelling to London and back three times (apparently I’ve got a laser pointer on here which is quite exciting. I don’t know if you can see the details of this?) I travelled from, OK, out in the west (hang on a minute), somewhere round here – the western extremity… Gartnavel, Maryhill, Milton, Robroyston, Parkhead, Langside, Nitshill and Priesthill to Whiteinch and Govan. And on those travels… well as a result of not going in any vehicles I saved 3.48 tonnes of carbon based on this analysis that I did based on everywhere that I travelled in 2015.
So regardless of what you think of The Glasgow Effect as an artwork, this sort of reduction is something that should be valued in its own right. Given the fact that the Scottish Government has signed us up to eighty percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘2020’].
So just one of the many issues that I wanted to highlight in doing this project is that the value systems and the incentive structures promoted by our society are not always geared up to acknowledge that less is sometimes better: for individuals… for society and for the environment. So this is how the project ended on the 31st of December 2016 in perhaps, quite appropriately, a fairly low-key way. Quite a contrast from how it began. Let’s rewind back to January 2016 – when the chips hit the fan – as I like to call it. [audience laughter]
And actually, I know I’ve been taking your tickets as you’ve been coming in and looking every single one of you in the eye, but I was kind of interested to know how many of you here today were absolutely pure raging at me this time last year? Could you just put a little show of hands?
There’s only one! I fail to believe that. [audience laughter] Come on! Let’s do it again, let’s be honest. How many? How many of you? Just two? Look this is not representative. Two? Four? OK, six…
Audience Member: Maybe not ‘pure’ raging. [audience laughter]
Ellie Harrison: OK, and how many are still?
Audience Member: The criticism isn’t of you, it’s of the project. You’re framing this in the wrong way.
Ellie Harrison: OK. I just wanted to get an idea, because I didn’t sleep very well last night. And I had this vision of being egged. [audience laughter]
Ellie Harrison: I had this horrible vision and I just thought I would pre-empt it. And I would like to say please bear with me. I’ve actually got so much material. Like, this has been preoccupying my brain for more than a year. I’ve got so much material. But we are hopefully going to save quite a lot of time for a Q&A at the end. So I would say ‘don’t heckle’, ‘don’t heckle’. But then some people will know I’ve done my own fair share of heckling this year… last year at events that I’ve attended. I’m looking at Gemma there from the Youth Climate Summit, because I attended that on the 26 November and I heckled one of the Scottish Government ministers who was stood at the lectern giving a big speech about how great the Scottish Government was in terms of its carbon reduction targets having just voted to expand Heathrow Airport, when the SNP mysteriously got a big donation from Heathrow to fund their conference. So I gave that man a heckle. So you’ve gotta call out hypocrisy when you see it, so if you think at any point it’s necessary, you go for it, because I’ve got tough skin now. Trust me, I’ve got tough skin!
So this project was founded on contradictions, so in hindsight, it’s little wonder to me that it combusted in the way that it did. I devised it specifically to highlight and challenge the contradictions in the lifestyle that I had ended up living as a 36 year old in Glasgow, in order to illustrate the wider social and economic forces at play.
So, why the hell was I living here? What the hell was I doing in this city? When my day job – teaching at the university, was in Dundee. When my parents who are now, both getting on a bit are down in London and I feel like I should be down there looking after them a bit, being a good daughter. When my sister, my niece and nephew live in Norwich. When most of the work I was getting offered was in cities in other parts of the UK and abroad. When most of my friends here, the ones I’d met when I was at art school had either left to go elsewhere or were just too bloody ‘busy’ – as I normally am – to be able to meet up. So I was getting increasingly socially isolated, which is a massive problem for lots of people here in Glasgow. And I would get back to an empty flat every night and just think why, why, why? There must be a better way.
And then there was the question of the money. So when I began my teaching job in 2012, I was so happy I’d found a ‘good job’, where I could help contribute to society and that I could use all the knowledge and experience that I’d acquired through my work to help improve young people’s lives… There’s a few of my students in the house today. There’s Tanith. Oh, I don’t want to point you out, sorry. She’s right in the middle… anyway… And the best thing about it is that I could earn enough from working part-time as a Lecturer to subsidise all my other activity. So I could subsidise my art work, I could subsidise my campaigning work, specifically running the… Bring Back British Rail campaign to re-nationalise our railways, which I’ve been doing since 2009. And I could subsidise my volunteering work here, without having to worry about any of that activity being profitable.
It seemed to me then totally absurd that, having finally got into this position where ‘I did not need the money’, that I was having pressure put on me to instrumentalise my art practice in order to raise money. And I would have stomached this, if the money for this so-called ‘research’ was keeping our university going and was actually improving the students’ quality of life, but all the evidence that I got was that it wasn’t even covering its costs and it was taking staff away from teaching. So I wanted to illustrate the absurdity of this situation. So the project was an intended ‘unintended consequence’ of a system, which places unnecessary demands on its staff.
Writer Jon Ronson, who some of you might know, who I actually met last year on the 4th of February when he came to do a talk in the… [Royal Concert Hall]. Jon Ronson who wrote a book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, says that people are ‘publicly shamed’ when they are seen to have abused their privilege. That was a hit I was prepared to take, because I wanted to illustrate how people in privileged positions are more likely to get opportunities and rewards in our society, which only exacerbates inequality. And I also wanted to illustrate that it is privileged people, who are the ones causing climate change. It’s the global elites with their extravagant carbon-intensive lifestyles who are causing all the problems in the world. The richest ten percent of humanity causes nearly half of all our carbon emissions. Which includes nearly all of us here in Scotland. Where in Scotland we are using three times more… than our fair share of the world’s resources to fund our carbon-intensive lifestyles.
It is not the billions of people around the world of people living in absolute poverty on less than $2 a day, who are causing climate change. I mean their carbon footprints are completely negligible. And if we’re serious about tackling inequality and climate change, then it is privileged people who are gonna have to take a hit. Our living standards are going to have to be reduced. We are going to have to radically transform our economic system to find way of valuing… this sort of trajectory [downward trajectory]. This sort of trajectory.
So as an artwork, The Glasgow Effect was a symbolic act of resistance. It was a wild-cat strike. It was a protest against the forces of globalisation, perhaps in tune with the other global events of 2016, from Brexit to Donald Trump. It was a protest against the market forces which force so many of us to move so far away from the places where we are born, far away from our natural family support structures in search of work. It was a protest against those same market forces, which simultaneously, deny so many other people such an opportunity for escape.
So as an artwork The Glasgow Effect follows in a tradition of the works by artists I really admire. Artists who resist the commodification of their work and artists who really push the boundaries of what art can be. So to give you a few examples: there’s Lee Lozano, who was actually shown in an exhibition at Transmission gallery last year quite by coincidence. She did a piece called ‘General Strike Piece’ in… 1969, where she gradually and determinedly removed herself from the artworld over the course of a year. And then her most famous ‘Drop out Piece’, which was ‘the hardest work she has ever done’ (something I empathise with), where she totally disappeared and was never seen again, from 1970 onwards.
And then artists like Tehching Hsieh, who some of you might have heard of, who’s done a series of year-long performances. This is his most famous one from 1980, where he photographed himself on the hour, every hour, for a whole year. He didn’t sleep for more than an hour for a whole year. He did another one where he lived outside for a whole year, he didn’t go under any shelter at all. And this is probably the most extreme, where he built a cage in his own studio and locked himself in it without any books, radio entertainment, anything for a whole year.
And Gustav Metzger’s Art Strike. The first artist to call an ‘art strike’. He’s a German artist who’s been living in London since the Second World War. And he called an ‘art strike’ in order to bring down the ‘art system’, which he believed was corrupted by the commercial values of the art market and by publicly-funded artists who were being used as puppets for the state. Go Gustav! I’ve actually met Gustav and he is quite an amazing man.
So what differentiates The Glasgow Effect from these works, of course, is the fact that it was publicly-funded, to the tune of £15,000, as we all know. I did what I was told to do. I filled out the form and I played by the rules. But perhaps the one line in the funding application which could now be seen as slightly untrue… was this one: ‘All the while reflecting positively on the original site of its making: Glasgow, Scotland, as a centre for cultural activity’.
Even while I was writing and submitting this application, under the benign sounding name ‘Think Global, Act Local’ in summer 2015, I knew that I was actually going to call my project ‘The Glasgow Effect’. I knew I wanted to draw attention to the story of this city which the Council and the Government’s PR strategists would much prefer was kept ‘out of sight and out of mind’. That is that this city has the worst health inequalities in Western Europe. And by ‘health inequalities’ they mean the difference in health or mortality rates of people on the lowest incomes compared to the people on the biggest incomes. And that premature deaths are thirty percent higher in Glasgow than they are in comparable post-industrial cities in England, like Liverpool and Manchester.
And like Loki, himself, said at our Glasgow Effect discussion event at the Glad Cafe on the 2nd of February 2016: ‘If you’re gonna do a year-long project in this city and it’s not about poverty, then that’s the scandal’… Yet you wouldn’t think that if you were to look at the work this city’s prestigious art galleries choose to spotlight, and the story of ‘the Glasgow miracle’, which they choose to promote. The fact that I only first heard the phrase ‘the Glasgow effect’ in 2013 [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘2015’], after I’d already been living here for five years and existing largely in an ‘artworld bubble’. To me it was all the testament you need of what a hugely divided city this is, where inequalities in wealth and the inequalities in health which result from that are rife.
So last year, this guy Morgan Quaintance, who’s a writer whose work I really like, asked this question: ‘why is there not more politically-engaged art in these turbulent times?’ And he found it really remarkable that in the most prominent exhibitions in 2016 – including Glasgow International – that political activity was largely absent from what he considered to be totally ‘risk adverse and strangely inconsequential curatorial frameworks’ (that’s a quote). And he says that it is because of growing inequalities that the artworld is becoming increasingly dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds.
So had it not been for the funding it received, this project would not have provoked the debate that it did, helping to demystify how these funding bodies and institutions work. Nor would it have succeeded in reaching out to an audience way beyond the ‘artworld bubble’ in the way that it did. So the Facebook event itself appeared in the newsfeed of more than one million people (which you can see there), which is kind of crazy. With more than 8,800 writing comments. And that’s gone up quite a lot actually in the last few days. It seems to have been rekindled somewhat.
So in February 2016… I decided to use this broad demographic to conduct my own ‘Public Survey’ asking ‘does more money = better art?’ And most people agreed with me, that no it doesn’t. That actually art can often get worse and more meaningless, the more money that is pumped it into it. But there was one interesting comment in favour from a guy called Barry Hale. He said that: ‘more money can mean that unheard voices can be given a forum through which to be heard’.
And that’s exactly what The Glasgow Effect did. And more than that… it was predominantly young people that it reached. It reached the people who are suffering the most and whose lives are far often overlooked by the culture that this city promotes. This is an image from a talk by Harry Burns, who is… Professor of Public Health at Strathclyde University, which I went to on the 3rd of May last year [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘the 8th of May’]. And as you can see, it’s the so-called ‘psychosocial’ problems: alcohol, drugs, violence and suicide caused by poor mental health, which are the main causes of premature mortality in Scotland.
So these are times of extreme crisis indeed. These are times of social crisis. They are times of economic crisis. This is a graph taken from that same session on the 3rd of May, which shows how inequalities in income have grown over the course of the last century in America. But this is a trend which is largely being echoed all around the world, in the UK and in Scotland. These are the people… these top ten percent. These are the people that we should be channelling our anger at. But what we seem to be doing instead is… giving these people even more power and voting them into the highest offices in the world.
But of course these are also times of environmental crisis. These images are from a film that I made in 2013 called The Other Forecast, where I attempt to predict what sort of world we are heading towards based on our current trends. So increasing energy consumption (this is all real data I used). Increasing levels of obesity, and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health do acknowledge that the period from 2010 onwards is going to be dominated by obesity and the issues it causes. Growing levels of social isolation. And growing C02 emissions and the temperature increase that results from that.
So in 2016, while all of this was unfolding and people found ridiculous things to distract themselves with, like deciding whether or not to leave the European Union, global temperatures were increasing to record levels. 2016 was the hottest year on record and the third of record breaking heat in a row. 2016 was 1.2ºC hotter than the 1990 levels. And that is not good news, given that Paris Agreement, which was also ratified last year… is attempting to limit global temperatures to 1.5ºC in order to preserve a climate where our species can actually continue to survive, and we’re nearly almost there already.
So when we’re faced with such… harsh realities, I agree, it is quite hard to justify making any art at all. And this is a question that I wrestled with when I was first arrived in Glasgow in 2008. But I came to the conclusion that it would be difficult quit altogether, because having a creative outlet is essential for a person’s mental health. For processing all the shit that’s happening in the world, and of finding a way to giving your life meaning.
But I did decide that I would try to find ways of creating art. Whether that was events, performances, talks, social media shitstorms, which would not require adding any more unnecessary objects to the world. So when I wrote my dissertation at the end my two years studying which was called How to Reconcile the Careerist Mentality with Our Impending Doom, I concluded that artists – with the skills and the qualities that they have acquired through their education and upbringing – could be huge force for social change if only they could re-channel just a small amount of that time and energy away from self-indulgent art into direct political campaigning or community organising instead. And these skills include their confidence, their arrogance, which writer Hans Abbing notes, can often come from the fact that they are often from ‘above average social backgrounds’. It’s also their ability to switch between those different ‘hats’, to be adaptive and resourceful. It’s also their persistence and their dogged determination to complete something that they set out to do despite all odds.
So by framing The Glasgow Effect as a ‘durational performance’, which I could have completed if I’d have done nothing. If I had done what a lot of people think that I was doing and just sit on my arse, in my flat… living the high-life [audience laughter]. I could have still completed my performance. I didn’t actually have to do anything. So what I did in framing it in this way, was free-up a whole year of my time – where I didn’t have to worry about money – and that I could invest that time in a full spectrum of… critical and creative activity, from art to activism.
I would finally have the time to be an ‘active citizen’, to start to hold our public institutions and our politicians to account. I had a hunch back then when I wrote that application that this activity would actually be a win-win situation. Not only could it potentially help improve my mental health – we can discuss this later [audience laughter] – by enabling me to start meeting and working with people here and increase my sense of ‘belonging’ – a much ridiculed word which I used in my funding application, which it turns is actually one of the three key things [alongside ‘Sense of Social Connection’ and ‘Empowerment’] people in Glasgow and beyond crave in the communities where they live so much. This [slide] comes from a presentation by Pete Seaman who’s the head of Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which I went to on the 23rd of November last year based on research that they carried out in Dennistoun.
But I also thought that this ‘active citizenry’ which I hoped to carry out would have lasting positive impact on the city where we live, starting to tackle these crises head on.
And quite by coincidence, Glasgow Centre for Population Health published their report last year in May – I didn’t know this was coming – but it essentially solves the mysterious ‘Glasgow Effect’. And it is a very complex issue which I’ll touch on later, but one of the many causes of the social isolation and poorer mental health which contributes to excess mortality in Glasgow, is our city’s relative lack of community participation – that activism or volunteering, compared to cities in England, like Liverpool and Manchester. So in this CommonSpace summary of the report, they write:
‘Political activism, as a quite intense form of mental stimulation, can therefore play a double role in terms of public health: it can stave off the damaging effects of social isolation and exclusion by establishing deep ties and bonds within communities, while at the same time having a tangible impact on government, and therefore improving public health via more socially just legislation.’
So if you don’t think that Creative Scotland should be funding this sort of work, then that’s exactly the sort of debate I want to start. It’s not that we want less people getting the opportunity to ‘actively engage’ in the city where we live, helping to make it a better place, we need more! We need everyone! Particularly those suffering the most in the poorest parts of the city. This is part of the solution to our public health crisis, so how are we going to fund it?
All the public attention at the start of the year… exposed for me another core tension in the project. That is in having this dual role as artist and activist, which I sometimes see as completely oppositional. So in the newsletter that I wrote on the 11th of March 2016, I kind of acknowledged the irony of the situation, that is: ‘to do meaningful, successful ‘community’ work of any sort, you [need to] put aside your ego and work in a collaborative, low-key way.’
So as a reaction to the public attention… my year in Glasgow became the perfect opportunity for me to attempt live the ‘plan of action’ which I outlined in the essay that I wrote in 2010. I’m just going to run through these, because I re-read this essay last year and I was struck by some of the things that I had written six years before. This is kind of illustrating how I believe the role of the artist needs to evolve in order to start to investigate, expose and challenge the multiple crises that we face.
- stand back and view the world objectively
- offer an external critique of the system
- develop ways of working outside institutions
- escape solipsism (now this word me and Peter thought was pretty academic, but basically… stop being such a narcissist… or that’s maybe another one! Stop being such a… megalomaniac!) and work with and not against peers
- reject ego and embrace anonymity
- create free ideas, not objects for sale
- abandon the trajectory; find motivation in… immediacy, not legacy
This is a quote from what I wrote:
‘Heavy on words such as ‘abandon’, ‘reject’, ‘stand back’, ‘disengage’, the ‘plan of action’ calls us to make radical changes. It demands that we shift our goals away from the fantasy status of the ‘successful’ artist. It all makes our new role seem far less glamorous than our dreams may have envisaged – insisting that we renounce our vanity, abandon our egos, move towards collectivism and anonymity; in short, commit ‘career suicide’.’
[audience laughter at animated GIF of kitten asking: ‘what the fuck you doing?’]
So, quite a lot of my adoring fans on Facebook… have been politely getting in touch. Just dropping me the odd line and saying ‘oh Ellie, my good friend, pray tell what is it you’ve been up to this year?’. And this is one of my favourites. [audience laughter]
I know I’ve not given them the answers that they’ve wanted. I’ve tried to balance the time that I’ve had between these three things: education, action and reflection. A virtuous circle of activity which I believe every human being should be allowed the time to do. That is: researching and learning about the world, taking action to address the problems that you see, and then reflecting and adapting your behaviour and actions, and then researching and learning more about the world, and so on. But in reality… most of my time was spent in the hard graft of organising, which it seems slightly absurd to try to document. It would probably take as long to document as it takes to do. It largely involves: writing vast amounts of emails, newsletters, Facebook posts for each of the individual projects and campaigns I’ve been involved in.
In 2016 I sent 6,443 emails, to 2,665 individual people. I worked all of this out on New Year’s Day. I had a fun New Year’s Day [audience laughter]. I sent 16 newsletters (on the various email lists that I manage) to 74,236 individual people. I stuffed 1,129 envelopes (that’s largely for the Bring Back British Rail campaign and that is not abnormal actually, it’s just an annual occurrence). I did countless Facebook Posts, which go out to more than 107,677 ‘followers’ of the various pages that I help manage. I had 176 meetings – this is true and by the way, I have got a massive spreadsheet with all of this in – I had 176 meetings with 134 individual people and three different working groups that I was a member of. I organised six demonstrations, I attended fourteen demonstrations. I helped to organise three public events, I spoke at eight public events and I spoke at six events via Skype. I organised two public screenings in my flat, which was something that I said I was gonna do in the original application, or that I ‘might do’ in the original application, and I did this as part of the Scalarama and… Radical Film Festivals… not wanting to put my address on a public forum, they were advertised as a ‘secret location’. Was anybody at those? Anybody here? [audience raise hands] Oh, we’ve got one. Oh yeah, a couple…
See, it did happen. All this shit happened. I’m not joking. And I also attended 221 public events. 221… which is loads – talk, discussions, films, performances and exhibitions. Sometimes I asked questions, sometimes I heckled, sometimes I just sat quietly and behaved myself. I have met and worked with many people through the projects and campaigns I’ve invested my time in, and hopefully there are a good few of you in here today. It think it would be unethical to identify anyone who does not want to be… and there are literally thousands of people who, whether they are aware of it or not, will have in some way benefited from my labour last year…
Millions of people in fact if you include all of the media coverage… discount[ing] the media coverage from The Glasgow Effect – just the media coverage of the campaigns that I’m involved in running – millions of people. But I don’t actually want to dwell too much on any of the individual projects or campaigns that I’ve worked on here today. Because… they’re too important and I don’t want to risk any of them becoming any less successful or effective for being associated with the ‘toxic Ellie Harrison brand’. Nor do I want them to be mistaken for ‘artworks’ as the artworld may have a tendency to do, because… a lot of them quite simply are not. And for political campaigns, I believe that it can undermine the campaign’s effectiveness is it’s understood in that way.
How are we doing for time Peter? Oh, OK. I have to admit that I was actually still working on this talk this morning… that’s because I got so much material, I’ve got so much material – it was a whole year. So according to my notes here I’m about two thirds of the way through. So maybe, I’ll just carry on with this final section, which is a sort of roughly chronological romp through my year’s research and activity outlining how my thinking developed. And it might get even more rantier from this point on. Because I have haven’t quite had enough chance to edit it, but here goes. So, in January 2016 – a year ago – the first few months of the project were marked by, or fraught by, not only because the public attention, but also the deliberate conflict that I’d created with the people and institutions I had commitments to outside the city.
It demonstrated to the impossibility of severing all your ties overnight and the fantasy of being able to make a totally ‘fresh start’. So from January to March, I was half-in and half-out of the university where I work and I kind of deliberately kept ties with them because I wanted to outline the issues that I was addressing with the project. So, I gave a Skype presentation to the Centre for Environmental Change & Human Resilience conference last February, which looked at the motivations behind the ‘internationalisation’ agenda in Higher Education and beyond and the negative consequences I believe it has in terms of creating more transient and disconnected communities and also obviously increasing carbon emissions.
I then wrote this essay and printed fifty copies of it to send to all the senior management at the university and also donated one to the university library and to Glasgow School of Art, if you want to check it out, it’s also available free online. But it’s based on research by a psychologist Tim Kasser on universal human values… I wanted to show how the values that we claimed we had, particularly: ‘valuing people’, ‘working together’ and ‘integrity’, were complete at odds with the demands that were being placed upon people.
Tim Kasser’s online. But it’s based on research is based on this diagram, which is called the Circumplex, and it shows the basic human goals which are found to recur in more than fifteen different cultures across the world. So the goals on the left are what are called the ‘extrinsic values’, such as popularity, image and financial success – read ‘league tables’, ‘research grants’. And the ‘intrinsic values’ such as self-acceptance, community and affiliation. And this is a quote from Tim Kasser:
‘Dozens of studies now… make it clear that people who prioritise extrinsic values experience lower levels of well-being and higher levels of distress. If … money, image and status rise in importance, people experience less happiness and life satisfaction, fewer pleasant emotions (like joy and contentment), and more unpleasant emotions (like anger and anxiety)… Placing higher importance on intrinsic values (and [most importantly] be able to successfully pursuing those values) is, in contrast, consistently associated with being happier and healthier.’
The evidence also demonstrates that when a person prioritises the values on the left-hand side, that the values on the right-hand side become suppressed. So if you care more about your own self-acceptance, and community for example, then you’re less likely to care about making money or being famous, and you’re more likely to act in a… less-selfish, more environmentally conscious way and have increased levels of well-being.
So individual action may seem… quite futile in the face of global forces… like globalisation, but it is essential. Individual action is essential for a person to be able to retain their integrity. And it’s only through retaining your integrity that you’re able to act instinctively in accordance with your values in time of stress or pressure.
So The Glasgow Effect, for me, became about what happens when a person attempts to live intrinsic values and to operate with integrity, in a system, in a society and in a city, which is totally set-up to encourage the opposite. For starters, money is an extrinsic goal [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘intrinsic’]. And I had to spend the first few months… of last year thinking about money quite a lot. Because after it transpired that I couldn’t ‘donate’ the money to the university as they’d suggested, I had to work out what the hell I was going to spend it on. And I was aware that I might not get any public funding for a long time after this, so I wanted to make sure it would go as far as possible. So I spent a few months analysing my living expenses from previous years, in order to work out the bare minimum I would need.
[at this point there was a technical hitch: the projector went black and took fifteen minutes to fix. A full unedited version of the event is available in the archive of the live stream]
So I did this by analysing my living expenses from previous years to work out the bare minimum that I would need to live off: £8,400. So after all… my bills and housing costs were paid (and my housing costs are cheaper than a lot of people’s because I own my own flat), I had £80 a week for my food and other living costs. So it’s much, much more than asylum seekers get… more than Job Seekers Allowance, but still a relatively modest sum. Certainly enough to live on: if you live close to where you work and need to go, close enough to be able to cycle… that you’re fit and healthy enough to be able to walk or ride a bike, and certainly enough if you don’t have to pay the extortionate bus fares on the horrific rip-off privatised buses in this city. It’s enough, if you have the time and you’ve got the knowledge to be able to cook cheap and healthy food and, it’s enough, if you’ve got that creative outlet, that way of giving your life meaning, without having to spend money on unnecessary consumer goods. Something that is incredibly difficult in a city which prides itself on being… ‘the top retail destination in the United Kingdom outside of London’.
On the 30th June last year, I attended another Glasgow Centre for Population Health seminar. I always saw Mark at them actually, I’m shadowing Mark… I shouldn’t embarrass anyone in the audience, sorry, I said I wasn’t going to do that, but yeah… I was at an event called ‘the secret lives of low income households’, which was very interesting. I mean, I discovered then that I was a ‘low income household’ and even actually on my salary that I normally get, which is £18,884, that’s still only slightly over the threshold, which is £18,500. So I was a hell of lot less under that [last year]. And the presentation was based on research that was… carried out in America on people in ‘low income households’, and they did a survey saying: what would you choose ‘Financial stability’ or an ‘increased income’? And as you can see a vast, vast majority of people chose ‘financial stability’ [93%]. So our economic system may be set up to tell us that we want more, more, more all the time, but that actually goes against our human nature. And the only reason people keep grabbing and hoarding more, more, more is because we have created a system which makes them feel so much insecurity in their lives. We never know what’s going to happen next.
So it was at this event that I found out that they were going to do a similar study into ‘the secret lives of low income households’, which was about to start in Glasgow. And one of the things that happened to me at the beginning of the year, because I’ve got quite obsessive tendencies anyway – I consider myself to be a ‘recovering data collector’, in that I don’t collect data about my life anymore, but it’s difficult when you’re under so much public scrutiny. So I did keep a receipt for every single thing I bought this year. I had a massive pile of these receipts and a huge spreadsheet – it’s all been type into a spreadsheet – and I didn’t know what the hell to do with that. Like, do I really want to make that public? I’m all for transparency and accountability and public ownership… of institutions because it makes them more transparent and accountable, but it goes slightly too far when it’s just one individual. But I wanted to do something with these receipts, so I discovered that I could actually use them in some way, where it would have some social good, by signing up to this study.
And the study aims to look at ‘the relationship between how people manage their finances and how they manage their health’. So for the last six months of 2016, I was having a monthly meeting with my researcher at Caledonian University and we were discussing all of these things. The results will be published… this summer, 2017. And the study is called FinWell, which stands for ‘Financial Well-being’. Apparently, I’m quite an anomaly in the study. Maybe because I have actively chosen this low income rather than having to survive on it, but also because, all of the detailed analysis that I did at the beginning of the year on how much I would need, enabled me to distribute the money through a BACs payment, so that I knew that I was going to get this regular monthly allowance, so that I wouldn’t have to think about money too much for the rest of the year and risk that suppressing my intrinsic values. So the aim was that I wanted to get to the point, rather than people asking me whether I was getting paid for different activities that I was doing – what was voluntary and what wasn’t – I wanted to get to the point where I was just doing the activities that I was doing because I really believed in them, and I really cared about them. Isn’t that a situation that we want to create for everybody?
So, OK this is where it gets really ranty actually – these last few pages, because I did just write this this morning. But it’s quite fun [audience laughter]. It’ll probably get me into even more trouble. But… it was about March time 2016, I started to get my confidence back a bit and emerge out into the city after everything that had happened with the social media shitstorm, and the one person that I was really angry was the head of Glasgow City Council. How could this man, who takes a salary of £60,000 of public money every year and whose party has presided over the making of Glasgow’s public health crisis since the 1950s. How could this man take a pop at me?
The Glasgow Centre for Population Health report… I’ve got it down there and I recommend that you all read it, it’s brilliant. But they acknowledge in the report that one of the causes of poor mental health in Glasgow in the period from 1980 to 2010 has been the hypocrisy of the council. And this is a direct quote:
‘…In the 1980s the Council actively experimented and innovated with neoliberal policy measures guided by the maxim that ‘what’s good for business is good for Glasgow’. These were seen as quite ‘astonishing’ developments in such a ‘solidly Labour City’, and were soon to lead to the identification of Glasgow as a so-called ‘dual city’ with ‘dual urban policy’. On the one hand high budget, high profile retail and property development in the city centre led by… a ‘growth coalition’… [and] on the other hand much lower resourced and very limited mitigation and management of poverty, and an intensifying social crisis in the city’s poorest areas, principally in the peripheral estates.’
So on the 23rd March, I sent the leader of the council an email. I said I wanted to get together to discuss this… He was a bit ‘too busy’ to see me, but he arrange a meeting with his deputy and the head of Glasgow Life on the 3rd May 2016. I wanted to challenge them on their record, and also, to work with them in order to bring a different type of economic thinking – that is economics which puts human well-being and the environment first, instead of this idea of ‘growth at all costs’. So this led to several meetings with council officials and a public event, which I help to organise which we held at the City Chambers on the 30th of November 2016 – which aimed was to bring New Economics Foundation (who are my gurus, if you don’t know the New Economics Foundation do check them out); to bring their thinking… about economics as though people and the planet mattered; to bring those ideas into the belly of the council beast. The one line that sticks in my mind most in that Glasgow Centre for Population Health report, is this one, that ‘economic policy matter for population health’.
On the 24th May, I met up with another councillor who had actually been a former member of the SPT board. For those who don’t know me, public transport is my passion and SPT – the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is the publicly-owned body which is meant to oversee this city’s entire public transport network. And like many other people in power in this city, this was a man who clearly did not have to rely on public transport himself. I asked him if he had a car and he took the question as though it was an insult: ‘of course I’ve got a car!’ The one bit of useful information this man gave me though, which I’m grateful for, is that he told me that the SPT board meetings, which happen every month, are open to the public.
So I began my unofficial residency at SPT and I attended six of their board meetings there over the course of the year. With this t-shirt [saying F**k First Buses: Public Ownership Now!] on I might add [audience laughter and applause]. And I was always there… I was nearly always the only member of the public who was there: watching them, holding them to account and finding out exactly why Glasgow’s public transport network is so much worse than in other cities. Other cities like Edinburgh, where they still have a publicly-owned bus company: Lothian Buses. And for those who have been to Edinburgh (I’ve not been for a while) [audience laughter]. But the buses are much cheaper and have a comprehensive cover over the whole city.
Audience Member: And we have trams!
Ellie Harrison: And you have trams. And cities like London, where publicly-owned Transport for London has supreme control over the entire transport network. And in doing that… it can bring in charges like congestion charging to disincentivise car use at the same time as reinvesting and building the public transport network. And London’s the only city in the whole of the UK where bus usage has actually grown over the last ten years.
On the 7th of June 2016… I submitted a FOI – a Freedom of Information request to SPT. I wanted to know how many of the board members had cars themselves. Anyway, they wouldn’t give me this information, but I suspect it’s quite a high majority. And to me that is the scandal – that the people who are making decisions about our public transport are not actually the ones who have to rely on it themselves.
So, as I learnt more about Glasgow’s history throughout the year, I discovered more about the damage that had been inflicted on its citizens in the massive urban re-developments of the 1950 to the 1970s… Developments which have served to create the far less equal and a far less sustainable city. Massive social injustices have been done to create the situation that we have now.
This map is from the 1930s, which shows a world-class, fully-integrated, publicly-owned public transport network. A hundred miles of tramlines reaching everyone in all parts of the city, that everyone could access. And this was all ripped up in 1962 and replaced by this [picture of the M8 motorway] – something which only the privileged minority in this city can use. So this is a paragraph that I wrote on the 30th of September 2016, which sums up all of my thinking on this:
‘Glasgow is the city with the lowest car ownership in Scotland (49% of households compared to 86% in Aberdeen), yet our cityscape is completely dominated by the sight, noise and smell of motorways. This car-centric infrastructure, has created a divided city of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – those who own cars and can glide over the epic flyovers and experience their spectacular views and those who have to negotiate the underworld of underpasses and endure the noise and air pollution which filters down from above. But increasing car ownership is not the answer to inequality. Glasgow Centre for Population Health research shows that the sedentary lifestyle, which car use encourages, is actually even more hazardous to health than smoking. Instead, we need to radically re-think our cities so that everyone can get around easily and live happy and healthy lives without need or aspiration to own a car.’
This disastrous planning of the 1950s to 1970s has created a situation where, car ownership is now used as a measure of deprivation. I found out about this at the Public Health Information Network seminar that I went to in September 2016. You are deprived indeed, because you cannot access vast swathes of the city’s infrastructure and you have to make do with a shambolic bus network instead. And it’s the stigmatisation that comes with this, which has such a profound impact on mental health and explains why that councillor probably wore his… car like a badge of his ‘success’.
It was Margaret Thatcher, of course, who de-regulated the buses in 1986, which paved the way for mess that we have in Glasgow now. And then, quite cruelly, she supposedly said this (this is not totally attributed to her), but she said: ‘you should consider yourself a failure if you’re still on the bus at an age of thirty’. But bus regulation has been a devolved matter in Scotland since the Parliament was sent up in 1999. And successive Labour and SNP governments have failed to address this as an urgent priority, which totally undermines their claim to ‘poverty proof’ their policies.
At a presentation that I went to on the 6th October 2016. It was actually an activists training day run by Friends of the Earth about air pollution. Somebody from Cycling UK presented the details of one of their campaigns, which is based around this idea that a third of all journeys made by car are under five kilometres. So what they aim to do is to shift all of those journeys onto biking or walking instead to drastically cut air pollution and carbon emissions.
So, going back to my heatmap from 2016. That’s a… five kilometre radius, and as you can see I rarely went outside of the distance that they’re trying to encourage people to cycle – as what’s seen as being about as much as people could reasonably be expected to do in a commute. The fact that Glasgow’s peripheral housing estates, which I mentioned earlier, are all way beyond that five kilometre radius, just shows the extent to which the re-development… from the 1950 to the 1970s has not only created not only created a spatially divided city – with ‘the Glasgow miracle’ largely taking place within easy reach of the city centre, whilst everybody else is stuck outside. But also the urban sprawl, which was actively encouraged… not just in the peripheral housing estates, but also in the New Towns which are even further away and were spread across the whole West Central Scotland conurbation. This is exactly the opposite of what you need to build a sustainable city, where people can easily walk or cycle to where they need to go. 300,000 people [now] drive into Glasgow every day. 150,000 people every day from Lanarkshire as a result.
Now you get to see this fun GIF, which I made between the 24th of March and the 23rd of May 2016. It’s the very from my studio which looks over the M8 and up to Royston. And it shows, what Chris Leslie – who’s somebody that I met quite a lot last year – has documented as ‘Disappearing Glasgow’. The fact that a third of the high rises that were built in 1960s have disappeared in the last ten years. Whether it’s a good idea to smash up and relocate these communities yet again, remains to be seen, but it does at least show that radical change in this city is more than possible.
Last year, Nicholas Stern, who published… the famous Stern Report on the impact of climate change in 2006, spoke about the urgency of this period in time, in terms of the infrastructure that we choose to build. Because the infrastructure that we choose to build, if it’s high-carbon infrastructure, like roads and airport expansion, then we are ‘locking in’ high-carbon lifestyles for decades to come. So some of the mistakes of the past are being rectified, others are just simply being repeated – doing exactly the opposite of what we need to promote a more equal and sustainable city. We’re spending yet more money on another city centre redevelopment plan, when all the evidence shows that we need to be redistributing wealth to the periphery of the city, not creating even more polarisation between the two.
We have £60 million being spent on a new motorway in the East End of Glasgow, which is actually continuing the flawed plan… which was dreamed up in the 1950s before they knew the impact of car use on air pollution and climate change and the massive health risks caused by the physical inactivity that that encourages. But the council have agreed to build the final leg of the so-called ‘East End Regeneration Route’, right through the heart of the East End where… 57% of people don’t have access to cars. And from just before Christmas, this is the Scottish Government budget, which shows how motorways and trunk roads have the biggest increase in spending.
Oh maybe I should skip this bit, because this is when I go into a rant about electric cars. But this is the Blythswood Hotel. To me this is inequality on wheels. This is what happens when you waste lots of public money on the richest and most privileged people in society who do not want to give up… any of those privileges. They like to believe that they can continue driving. And the reason I want to show this, is because it evidences the need to address social, environmental and economic problems at once.
I want to end with a note of optimism. Very important. Activism works! If people are allowed the time and resources, and are empowered enough to hold our leaders to account, then change can happen. Especially in a small country like Scotland, where the Parliament is relatively close by.
And on the 20th of December 2016, we submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament petitions committee with 1,705 signatures demanding the re-regulation of our country’s buses. And on the 5th of January 2017 (just three days ago), we held a public meeting with passengers, unions and other campaign groups to demand the public ownership of ScotRail… If these campaigns are successful, as I hope they will be, then it will be the beginning of the urgent process to re-build a world-class, fully-integrated, publicly-owned public transport network for everyone in our city. And if any of the other projects and campaigns that I’ve been working on, and which I will continue to work, are successful, then I hope that it will be in some way down to the time and energy I was allowed to invest this year.
So, I came here as an ‘economic migrant’ in 2008 – in search of ‘the Glasgow miracle’. We are the most loathed of all human beings I believe – I didn’t realise quite how much, of course, until last year. But the ‘outsider’s view’ can offer a useful perspective on a city, based on their experiences of having lived in places elsewhere. So, I’ll just finish-up with the two things that most shocked me most on my first night in Glasgow in 2008.
It was when I bought a portion of chips and I discovered that all the chip shops in Glasgow used saturated animal fat to cook the chips in, which is totally the opposite from Nottingham where all the chips are cooked in unsaturated vegetable oil, which was such a shock and it also meant that I couldn’t really eat them seeing that I’m a vegetarian. But then there was the motorway. I just could not believe my eyes that you had to cross a six-lane motorway just to get home. And Glasgow’s the only city in the whole of the UK that has to put up with that. It is not the norm. And the fact that it’s not even mentioned in that Glasgow Centre for Population Health report, I think is a massive oversight, given the profound social and environmental damage that it does.
… [transcription in progress]