Was in glasgow on Thursday at Carol Craig’s (Chief Executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well Being) book launch – ‘The Tears that Made The Clyde.’ The book looks very interesting. This is a slightly longer blog post than normal, but thought it worth expanding a little on two excellent, succinct speeches.
An excellent evening, catching up with friends & hearing from the publisher, Carol herself, who spoke very briefly as she said ‘I’ve said enough already – 320 pages! We also heard, short but insightful speeches from Tom Devine (Professor of History at Edinburgh), who wrote the foreword, and Phil Hanlon (Professor of Public Health, Glasgow University), who wrote the afterword.
Tom spoke about the ‘urban conundrum’ that is Glasgow. How it is ‘schizophrenic’ and deeply divided, outlining differences in health, mortality rates, etc – only to mention that analysis was from the 1840’s! What’s changed since then? Not much, except the issue of obesity (with associated complications such as type two diabetes) has now been added to a long list of serious health issues. Carol explores this ‘lugubrious’ theme – which Devine said was vital for understanding the condition of Glasgow or the west of Scotland today.
Why has this issue been so ‘impregnable’ and ‘virtually immune?’ Even to the ‘massive state intervention’ that has taken place since the 1940’s, posed Devine.
Accepting that, in some areas, real progress has been made. The ‘transformation of Glasgow’s inner core.’ And, how ‘remarkably resilient Glasgow has been during deindustrialisation.
So, what’s been missing? For Tom, its clear – ‘there has been no convincing intellectual answer to the root of the problem. Not so much the techniques or the policies,’ but ‘the absence of a convincing intellectual answer as to why/how we got here.’
He challenges one aspect of conventional wisdom on this issue. It is not cased by deindustrialisation. This is ‘fallacious’
There is not one reason for this, nor is there one ‘answer’ to these ‘deeper and more profound problems.’
Tom pointed out it was not in his character to be overly positive, but he was fulsome in his praise of this work because it ‘comes closest to what we have at the moment to an intellectually satisfying response.’ Outlining three reasons why Carol’s book was important.
Firstly, she had struggled with the ‘queen of disciplines,’ history. And, secondly she had integrated oral history ‘that’s come down to us from memories of the past,’ with modern social scientific theory. Based on the revolution in scottish historiography in the last 30 to 40 years, she has grappled with this and ‘tried to implant it in the core of her analysis.’
Thirdly and finally, this has not just been an academic exercise, but she has ‘courageously suggested policy implications of her analysis.’ Building on her primary examination, trying to explain the problem, but then suggesting a solution.
The publisher, said that despite Phil’s comment – a ‘dagger in the heart of a publisher’ that ‘this would not be a popular book,’ he was delighted he wrote the afterword, and also agreed to speak at the launch.
Phil told a story, asked us to use our imagination, pulling a chair into middle of the room.
Phil asked us to imagine ourselves suffering from a serious symptom, one that might be a very serious illness. What do we do? We do what most people do for a time, we ignore it. But then, we speak to our new age friend who says all we need to do is to think positively and it will go away. We try hard to think positively, but it doesn’t go away.
Then we go and see a specialist who addresses the problem from the perspective of his specialism. And Phil quoted one of my favourite Mark Twain quotes, ‘To him with a hammer, everything is a nail.’ What you need is not to be seen as a problem/symptom, not to have a single technical solution foisted upon you.
After all this, denial, missed opportunities, fallacious optimistic thinking, you end up in the surgery of someone who is not a specialist, Phil said, now taking his seat on the chair. Someone who clearly sees you as a person. Who actually does not seem to concerned about your desires, as about you. And they enter into some real rapport and dialogue.
You find yourself saying, I can see it Doctor, and i’m going to have to do something about it.. And you leave the surgery with your heart strangely lightened.
Phil went on to say that is his sincere hope for this book. Of course there will be the new age optimists who will criticise the book as too negative, or the single issue people who see the problem from their own perspective as needing their particular ‘solution’ – and Glasgow has suffered from a surfeit of people peddling one answer.
Phil too was fulsome in his praise about how Carol had brought together and synthesised these ‘bodies of evidence’ in order to make her diagnosis – a picture of what we think the problem is as the start of the best way towards a solution.
Phil finished by coming back to his story, and his ‘genuine hope that glasgow, which has been in denial for too long about these things – indeed has almost lived off some of these problems. I genuinely hope that his book will be an opportunity for the City to feel loved and cared for as a person, but making it’s diagnosis with accuracy and fullness, and is able to stand and walk away with its heart strangely lightened.’
Thinking about this and writing this short summary on the way home on the train cased me to reflect on how Dundee is so like Glasgow, on a smaller scale. She has re-invented, or perhaps I should say re-discovered herself, with significant positive transformation taking place in the City over the past ten years. Yet Dundee remains a divided city. With some significant similarities to Glasgow’s problems Carol synthesises in her book.
I’m looking forward to reading it as I’m sure it will have some resonance for me, a citizen of Dundee, wondering what I can do to play some small part in helping address our problems.