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Where is the vision for Scotland’s First City: Glasgow?

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, July 11th 2019

Glasgow is Scotland’s first city in size and importance. There are of course several different Glasgows – from the official council area of 621,020 inhabitants to the metropolitan region of between 1.2 million to 1.7 million people, depending on the definition.

Glasgow matters. It’s success, wellbeing, vibrancy, the happiness of its people, sustainability, and state of its public realm all matter not just to the city, but to all of Scotland.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that to many Glaswegians. The past weekend saw GMB Scotland trade union boss Gary Smith talk of the city in fairly black and white terms. Smith called the city ‘filthy’ and ‘unkempt’, suffering from an ‘epidemic’ of rats, and claimed that it had lost its way and was in economic and political decline. Read the rest of this entry »

The Scottish Parliament at 20: Are we really ‘Children of the Devolution’?

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, July 1st 2019

It was twenty years ago today that the Scottish Parliament officially opened. Donald Dewar spoke eloquently, the Queen attended, and there was a small amount of pomp and circumstance in Edinburgh Old Town.

Time for reflection and an assessment – cue Allan Little’s ‘Children of the Devolution’ shown on the new BBC Scotland channel, and subsequently BBC Scotland (the last episode shown this Tuesday on the former, and Wednesday on the latter). This offers an appraisal of the past twenty years: the establishment of the Parliament, its impact, and how it has changed Scotland, politics and beyond.

The two parter opened with Little stating: ‘Twenty years ago our country awoke to a new dawn’, before adding: ‘We are all now children of devolution.’ The series has numerous talking heads including many prominent politicians who made their reputation over the past two decades including Nicola Sturgeon, Jack McConnell, Ruth Davidson, Wendy Alexander, Jim Wallace, Anas Sarwar, Andy Wightman and more. Two of our four living First Ministers – Alex Salmond and Henry McLeish – are not present, and neither is Tommy Sheridan. Read the rest of this entry »

Doubts Even Here: The Potential of Doubt in the Age of Certainty

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 26th 2019

The world at the moment is in a state of flux. Yet everywhere there is assertion and statements that imply certainty and do not allow for any doubt.

Doubt is central to being human. Galileo once said, ‘Doubt is the father of invention’. There is the personal doubt many of us experience – the inner voice that measures yourself by impossible standards. And there is the wider collective, societal and social doubt that poses that true faith and blind belief might not be the best way to think about things or organise societies.

I have always had doubt. My inner doubt comes in two forms: the emotional and intellectual – with the former in part originating in my experience of the Scottish state education system that never – in the past – focused on building confidence and social skills. That system for much of its history did not really know how to positively nurture bright working class children. It knew negatively what to do for too long; to prepare them as gently as possible for a life of disappointment, defeat and dashed dreams. And if that didn’t work it could always engage in punishment. As a counterbalance to all this, the element of intellectual doubt and my own sense of curiosity, desire to know about the world and to question things, originated in my parents encouragement of these qualities, and their belief in challenging authority. Read the rest of this entry »

Where will the new ideas for Scotland’s public services come from?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 19th 2019

Scotland seems to be at an uneasy, calm place at the moment. The storm clouds are gathering on the horizon yet still seem distant – from the threat of Brexit and even worse the car crash of a No Deal Brexit – to the expected arrival of Boris Johnson as Tory leader and UK PM, while alongside this the Scottish Government demands that the UK Government listens to it on Brexit, so far to no avail, and considers how to progress a second independence referendum.

At the same time the Scottish Parliament has turned twenty. This milestone offers the chance to assess where we are, and the impact of devolution over the past two decades. For one, Scotland has been blessed by an absence of the fragmented, divided public services which exist in large parts of England, and which have seen, for example, huge sections of the NHS given over to private providers such as Virgin Healthcare and US health care companies.

Yet much of Scotland’s policy journey over the past two decades has been by default: by choosing not to do what England has done. This is namely the road of corporate capture of public services, marketisation, outsourcing, and continual reorganisation: a pattern evident under New Labour in England and continued by the Tories. Significant sections of Scotland rightly take pride from the fact that we have mostly resisted this approach, but it still begs the question: what are the big achievements and landmarks of public services in Scotland these past two decades? Read the rest of this entry »

‘Seven Up’, Class and Modern Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 12th 2019

Last week saw a significant moment in TV programming when ITV broadcast the latest in the legendary series ‘Seven Up’, namely ’63 Up’. Michael Apted began first as a researcher then Director tracking fourteen seven year olds in 1964 and has subsequently returned to them every seven years since.

Over the past 55 years one of the fourteen has died (Lynn) and two have withdrawn leaving us with eleven people who contributed to the current edition of this bold experiment in broadcasting and social history. ’63 Up’ is reality TV in its true meaning rather than the self-declared faux ‘reality TV’ of the likes of ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Love Island’.

The series tells us many things about not just the individuals in question and their lives, but wider society. A soft, unstated idealism – or perhaps more accurately, a sense of public duty and care – informs the entire series to this day and is present in the current installment.

The ‘Seven Up’ series has a respect and humanity sadly rare in today’s TV. There is a trust and set of deeply embedded relationships between Apted and his interview subjects. The central characters who give the programme its purpose and uniqueness are shown a degree of respect and affection which is a rare commodity in the increasingly harsh, exploitative world of ‘reality TV’. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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