David Carr: Is another Scotland really possible post-Brexit or are we kidding ourselves?

Commonspace columnist David Carr reflects on the gap between community and national issues

I STAY in Govanhill, Glasgow. It is an area of cheap housing stock, much of it privately rented. It has therefore always attracted transitory residents, many of them immigrants, searching for an affordable roof over their heads. This history goes back to the Irish and Russian Jewish immigrations of the 1900s. It is a welcoming, creative, multi-cultural community - something that brings me great joy.

But there are problems. When I first arrived in Glasgow 25 years ago, I knew Govanhill as a shabby district, great for shopping trips to buy samosas or bunches of coriander but often with rubbish and discarded mattresses on the streets. 

It hasn’t changed. Exploitative landlords have filled their properties beyond overcrowding point with tenants who include some of the most marginalised groups in Europe. 

These are 1900s conditions in 2016 Scotland. There is also fear of crime - the police say it is in excess of actual crime - exacerbated by the groups that congregate on street corners to socialise and escape their homes.

Following a recent fire - some properties breach fire regulations - five prams were counted from a single dwelling. The inevitable results of the overcrowding is that tenants have to endure lice, bedbugs, cockroaches, rats which spread throughout the community. 

These are 1900s conditions in 2016 Scotland. There is also fear of crime - the police say it is in excess of actual crime - exacerbated by the groups that congregate on street corners to socialise and escape their homes.

Among this, a community campaign has grown to clean up the area. Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency office is in Govanhill and the campaign has lobbied her (as well as and Glasgow’s Labour City Council). A post on the campaign’s Facebook page states: "No talk of independence until your constituents are free from vermin, filth rubbish and our streets are safe again."

This is a perfectly reasonable position. We all have our individual priorities and these lead us to support political concerns, or not. In a similar vein, before the Scottish elections, Darren 'Loki' McGarvey declared himself as #NoVotesSNP: independence isn’t enough for Scotland’s poorest communities.

There can be a negative side to the Govanhill campaign. For some the issue elides into racism. I see social media comments blaming Roma residents for problems which are not of their own making. I see comments about refugees.

So, should anyone share the campaign’s doubts about independence they’d be siding with racists, right? I hope you’d agree that it’s not that simple. It’s utterly reasonable to be concerned most about issues in your daily life.

For me, there is the inconvenient truth that the EU is an anti-democratic institution specifically constituted to reinforce a global economic model that has got us into a mess and prevents us doing some of the things that would fix it.

Similarly, in the EU referendum we all had our individual reasons for voting the way we did. I was a very reluctant Remain. I do not say the EU is all bad, but wonderful things like Erasmus studentships and the prospect of weekend breaks in Krakow might mean more to some than to others. 

For me, there is the inconvenient truth that the EU is an anti-democratic institution specifically constituted to reinforce a global economic model that has got us into a mess and prevents us doing some of the things that would fix it. So I still cannot bring myself to be part of the rah rah enthusiasm for EU membership as the key to Scottish independence. Not this EU.

The arrogant assumption from some has been that the English Leave vote was motivated solely by racism and/or misinformation. Remain voters - or Scots - by contrast were of superior intelligence and could see through the crap. But I have good friends who voted Leave and I respect their well thought out reasons for doing so. 

They are far from the lazy stereotype of racist, uninformed dupes. They simply reached their decisions via a different route than I did. What of it?

Whether we wanted the EU referendum or not, democracy has done what it is meant to. It delivered different outcomes in different parts of the UK because social, economic and political conditions were different. 

The choices people make are determined by their own history and experiences and every single voter should be assumed to have made a legitimate choice based on their own priorities. A majority of Scots chose to Remain, but there are reports that Govanhill and other disadvantaged areas delivered atypically high Leave votes.

Scottish independence and EU membership are beginning to look like the easy, default positions. But what if the people - based on the facts of their daily lives - do not find these arguments compelling? 

Scottish independence and EU membership are beginning to look like the easy, default positions. Everybody should want them, surely, if only they understood the arguments? But what if the people - based on the facts of their daily lives - do not find these arguments compelling? 

It is easy to see how people can go against mainstream opinion. To borrow a Polish phrase that has recently entered English: "Not my circus, not my monkeys."

Referring to Nicola Sturgeon’s robust leadership, Anas Hassan writes in CommonSpace that the wisdom of Jimmy Reid will lead us to Scottish independence. But Reid also knew a thing or two about alienation. 

A steady-as-she goes, managerial approach would be the safe option at this point. We can coast it. But we would run the risk of delivering a form of independence incapable of healing Scotland’s desperate inequalities. Will we have the Scotland we want? Or is another Scotland possible?

Meanwhile back in Govanhill, life goes on. Other hardworking and creative community groups - The Govanhill Baths, Milk Cafe, The Daisy Street Neighbourhood Centre, the Dixon Avenue Mosque - are growing a positive community which includes all residents.

I still wear my Yes badge, but their work feels a lot more relevant than saltires, EU flags or SNP doggie bandanas.

Picture courtesy of Neil Winton

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Comments

Arthur Blue's picture

Arthur Blue

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 20:55

I know the resentments building up but Leave - particularly under its current leaders and tone - was never going to help things. On Independence helping, well it just might, though there are all sorts of problems. Neither Scotland nor England is served well by a hard border, so a fudge is needed on both currency and immigration, said fudge requiring to be worked out between the three parties ( Scotland, RUK, EU ) Successful policies often depend on such compromises, worked out by leaders of subtlety, insight,and long vision, qualities not very evident right now, particularly in England. Nevertheless it is reasonably encouraging to see that our FM hasn't lost her head, though it must be buzzing quite busily under the smooth hairdo. And the Tank Commander hasn't joined in the Tory bloodletting either. Yet.
Independence - or whatever variation is available- won't automatically solve the problems, but might make them a little bit less difficult to deal with. As the Queen may have privately remarked to Nicola the other day "Keep calm and hold your options open "
Anyone got better suggestions ?

David Carr

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 21:38

But how, specifically, does all that high-level politics improve living conditions for folk in Govanhill?

Arthur Blue's picture

Arthur Blue

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 22:10

In a democracy the purpose of high-level politics - i.e. the formulation of policy - should be to improve the lot of ordinary people, because that's where the effects are felt most. Specific action flows from policy. That's why there's a lot of heated argument about it.

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