Sunday, September 26, 2010

Commonwealth Games' city mired in poverty, filth and violence

It really doesn't befit a modern day economy or a democratic nation that aspires to bridge the gap between rich and poor. But this city was once part of the British Empire and though the crumbs of colonisation fell to a fortunate few most were left to the queue for work, die in industrial accidents, die of disease and live in squalor. In the slums are the grandchildren of those who fled famine, clearance and repression.

The rich of this city can be seen in their favoured nightspots or shopping at some of the numerous designer boutiques in the city centre. On the outskirts though, where the 'stylish' rarely go, tens of thousands are crammed into damp substandard housing. The homeless are visible under bridges or standing at refuges and soup kitchens. Malnutrition is rampant and in some parts of this 'vibrant' city, your average man will be fortunate to live beyond 60. Thousands of city dwellers attach themselves to various religious sects and violence along sectarian lines is commonplace. Crime, corruption and vicious gangland violence are also rife. At one time, the murder rate was higher than in Northern Ireland during the 'troubles'.

A visiting dignitary commented that 'here people live in houses that we wouldn't keep our dogs in'. *

Yet to this city come the Commonwealth Games. In 2014.

Will there be a dividend? Maybe for the few. What is certain is that there has been little if any 'dividend' from Glasgow's supposed status as the 'second city of the empire'. Sure, grand architecture came our way, but for the many, life changed little. Decades of voting Labour MPs into the local council and into the Westminster parliament have achieved little. Flocking to Papal masses and marching to commemorate debauched foreign tyrants like King William of Orange at best distracts us, at worst breeds new misery.

Local politicians and media have their heads in the sand. Some, like journalist Roxanne Sorooshian from Glasgow's Herald newspaper are more offended by Gaelic-speaking schoolkids (?!!) than the poverty around her.

Our nation's dirty laundry is no secret though. Tourism guides can now see beyond the 'Glasgow with style' hype with its focus on designer fashion and culture. And while Glasgow's contribution to our culture is not in doubt, references to the violence, poverty and 'grim hinterland' are a reminder that the Scots Parliament has much to do.

The posited solutions... Independence? A re-connection with our land, language and culture? Community ownership of land? Better education? Eating berries?

There are no magic pills but looking north for inspiration is a start. These possible remedies range from...

the big scale - Norway is a relatively young nation that has used its oil wealth wisely and not sent it to another nation whereby it goes to feed a habit of warmongering and arms accumulation.

to the easily achievable -  investing in top quality education where children are encouraged to explore their environment, engage with traditional and practical tasks from gathering food, chopping wood to cooking, embrace languages and develop inquiring minds and constructive attitudes. The new Curriculum for Excellence is a positive step but is there the political will from all parties and funding to see it succeed?

to the ludicrously simple - Finland has dealt with similar issues to ours - alcoholism, depression, short life expectancy - by readopting traditional land-based practices such as gathering fresh fruit.

The alternative option of voting Labour for the status quo is a road to nowhere.

*Sulian Stone Eagle of Nova Scotia's MicMac tribe came some years ago to oppose the plans for a Harris superquarry and lent his support to the Pollock Free State protest at the M77 motorway extension. He visited some of Glasgow's schemes and compared the poverty he witnessed to his own tribe's reservation in Canada. For more info, see Alistair McIntosh's site here.

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