7 January 2016
Disclaimer: Because neither of my parents finished high school, I’m from Coatbridge, have seven brothers and sisters, grew up on a series of schemes as the Coatbridge high rises were successively flattened, and only ate my first raspberry at the age of twenty, I’m allowed to voice the following opinions.
Disclaimer: Because I ride a bicycle, order a veggie box from Locavore, have a humanities degree, make my own homemade gnocchi and dabble in ironically old-fashioned hobbies like knitting and hiking, I’m allowed to voice the following opinions.
How Scottish are you? Did you grow up on a scheme in the central belt? Have your home demolished several times through ‘regeneration’? Ate a pizza crunch for lunch cos that’s all your tuck money could get ye and you were too ashamed to accept the free ticket your poverty afforded you? Learned to hide from the TV License man, the tax man, the polis, the council, and obviously, the provvy?
Ding ding ding
I win a free pass for saying whatever the fuck I like to complete strangers who sound a bit posh to my ears (cos they’re no a weegie) and who do self-serving things like make art about their experiences (get a grip ya middle class tubes).
When did being working class become the primary form of authentic, Scottish voicing? Was it when Thatcher crystallised the differences between the ‘Us’ of Scotland and ‘Them’ of rUk as a class war? Or when our media became saturated with Glaswegian caricatures and comedians that communicated a monolithic Scottish culture – no Doric, no Gaidhlig, no Highland or Lowland Scots, Glaswegian or nothing?
In the Scottish online world, we’ve talked a lot in the past few days about the disconnection between the professional artistic class in Scotland, and the working class. This is so very true, and I agree in many respects with many feelings and statements discussed – at the expense of Ellie Harrison, whose work has been taken out of context and grossly misrepresented as a ‘poverty safari’.
What I canny bide, is when we belittle and patronise the working classes by saying that the vitriol and abuse on the Glasgow Effect page towards a female artist is justified because, ye know, the poor souls canny help it!
I’ll admit, when I first seen the page, and the maelstrom surrounding it, I was pissed off and bemused. Are these immature signifiers of chips and the flippant employment of the ‘Glasgow Effect’ really part of a publicly funded project?
But without covering ground many have already traced (about her craft, expertise, and knowledge; the fact that this money was already allocated to project funding; the fact that she is a fecking Glaswegian artist having invested her time here for more than seven years; the fact that she has a sustained and prolific background in campaigning and activism; the fact that those commenting knew and continue to know little to nothing about her background or experiences, if any, of poverty) I want to focus on why the response from many on the page is so foundationally damaging to the project of eradicating cultural inequality, stigma, and class humiliation in Scotland.
You see in Scotland we do this really funny thing that I used to think was unique but turns out a lot of places all over the world do it. We simultaneously oppress and silence the working classes while using the ‘authentic’ sound of their voices to legitimise and explain our ‘culture’. As well as this, we eradicate the middle class stake in a Scottish identity (because they haven’t experienced all that pure authentic stuff like alcoholism or domestic violence, right?), while enshrining in the country’s education and labour infrastructure their dominance in administering and king-making in the national cultural ‘scene’.
What does this mean?
They both lose out. The working classes are very obviously the most disadvantaged, since their lack of economic freedom means they have limited access to not just basic needs, but the levers of power and participation that would allow them self-determination. To put it in another context, the shaming and ridicule of Scottish hip hop in recent years is a different power dynamic than that between disgruntled Glaswegians and a conceptual artist – because they capitalise on different currency. The former represents a traditional elitism of economic privilege versus the perceived ‘vulgarity’ of working class creativity. The latter is an inverted snobbery, exclusivity, and resistance to this elitism, wielded by those who enumerate their disadvantages and translate them into authority. Both are pathetic: while the working classes know they have no power and so use the discourse of authenticity to one-up and outflank their better off contemporaries, the middle classes believe they do. And they both perpetuate this be reifying the same stereotypes of difference and conflict, turning what are simply nice things to bloody do – going out for food, enjoying cultural events or taking daytrips to beyond your city – into symbols of difference rather than the lifestyles everyone in a developed economy should have access to.
Why doesn’t someone who has worked for years on their craft, is dedicated to social change, and who has until now done little more than use a badly chosen photo and facebook blurb not deserve to have a living wage for their work? Isn’t this the sort of experience we want everyone to have access to (discounting the torrent who will surely interject at this point to say that she is likely to only have access because she is ‘connected’, in ‘the scene’, or already has the privilege of knowing how to complete funding applications). Does an assumption about her background discount her from this? Is this not more indicative of a typifiably Scottish insecurity that we jumped to the conclusion that she must be a dick cos she sounds like Y and she dresses like X? Is that what our class analysis is now?
Angry? Aye I’m angry. Cos you’re talking for me, a working class woman, and you’re doing the exact same thing you claim the middle classes do. You’re reducing the working class in Scotland to your version of events and experiences (something, incidentally, white-heterosexual-ablebodied-men are prone to do cos they’ve learned that’s neutral and so must be right). You’re taking an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality when there are all shades in between in today’s increasingly complex class structure, thus alienating people who align with both or none of your dichotomous ‘working’ and ‘middle’ classes – so I like a craft beer and a halloumi sandwich, who gives a fuck? And most harmful of all, you’ve turned a kneejerk reaction to the Scottish cringe into an intellectualisation of bullying and abuse, relying on the very stereotypes you argue against to defend the bandwagoning. Oy fucking vey.