17 May 2022

“In our neoliberal age of privatisation, it’s time and education that have become the real luxuries.”

I have to say Harrison makes for excellent company. The huge part she played in movements such as the rail renationalisation move with the Bring Back British Rail campaign and raising awareness and generating such unforeseen controversy with her work, which has resulted in this book.

“Thatcher’s government deregulated the buses in 1986 – a brutal act of vandalism which the Scottish Government, in its 20 years of power over our transport network, has done absolutely nothing to address.”

The chapter which included the online comments, aside from the darker comments, was highly entertaining and really captured what she was up against from the start. She is really good on the raging hypocrisy of academia and other cosy, middle class sinecures and the art washing of multi-billion corporations, politically compromised funding, which almost always comes with insidious ts and cs. She quotes so many great and memorable sources, Jimmy Reid, Cathy McCormack, Carol Craig and the likes of Tim Kasser’s extrinsic v intrinsic values, “The more we prioritise ‘extrinsic’ values, the ‘less happiness and life satisfaction and ‘fewer pleasant emotions’”

“The more transient and disconnected our lives become, the less we understand the places where we live and work, the less likely we are to fight to make them better, or even know where to start.”

Citing the likes of the Bruce Report, which among other shocking moves, saw the building of a six lane motorway, right through the heart of the city centre, and the brain drain, not just with people immigrating abroad, but people moving out to the many New Towns as part of Patrick Abercrombie’s Clyde Valley Regional Plan. She talks about the dislocation and isolation this led to, with it being a case of out of sight, out of mind, these fragmented families and communities made them less able to form a united force or collective voice.

Add to this the impact the cuts to the arts made by the SNP and look what over half a century of Labour ruling has done to the city of Glasgow and of course the Beeching cuts had on Glasgow you effectively had the city shifting away from unionised, cheap public transport to more expensive and more wasteful privatisation of mobility, partly due to lobbying by the oil industry.

Harrison is also really strong on highlighting the hypocrisy of Glasgow’s Labour establishment, which for over half a century, seemed to be best at enriching itself. Prioritising inner city gentrification and commercial development over addressing the many, deep seated issues and problems which were hammering the most needy and vulnerable within the wider city limits. They are very good at the gimmicky taglines, but not so strong on tackling the real life problems.

“Following devolution in 1999, Scotland has become ‘the most centralised system of government of any country in Europe’. Rather than urgently addressing the damage done by John Major in the 90s (neither his ‘gerrymandering’ of local government, nor his privatisation of our railways), the Scottish Government, in its 20 years in existence, has continued to strip away Glasgow’s local/regional power.”

“Glasgow’s poor health is partly caused by the benefits system controlled by Westminster, but there’s lots that the Scottish Government could and should be doing to reduce inequality now. It has power over education, the environment, health, housing, civil and criminal justice and transport. With additional powers over taxes and welfare and even the public ownership of Scotland’s railways…granted in the Scotland Act 2016. Why are these powers not being put to good use? Scotland has had power over its bus network since devolution in 1999. Yet it has done absolutely nothing to reregulate the buses and undo the damage caused by Thatcherism.”

One criticism I would level at Harrison is that at times she seems a tad self-pitying and all too willing to scapegoat Glasgow with some issues or problems which are not necessarily the fault of the city, such as her personal problems with relationships etc, it is all too tempting and easier to blame something as big and abstract as “the city” instead of meaningfully and painfully examining what other issues which may have contributed to these problems within yourself?…

I really enjoy books which strongly challenge the ideas, certainties or beliefs you hold and this certainly did that for me. I had no idea how ill-informed I was regarding the state of Glasgow’s transport system and many of the underlying political issues, but that’s what good books can do, expose your ignorance or knowledge gaps and make you just that little bit more aware. I also discovered a lovely list of names and books to chase up too, which is always a bonus.

So well done Ellie Harrison, take a bow you have produced a bold, vital and thoroughly researched piece of work and this should be stocked in every library, book shop and place of learning throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

Keen Reader