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Postcards from Scotland

Rev. Anthony Craig's views

Thoughts provoked by Carol Craig’s The Tears that made the Clyde
Submitted by Rev. Anthony Craig (not a direct relation to Carol, so far as is known!)

This book is brave, spiky and surprising.
It is brave because it starts with crushing statistics about the state of health of Glaswegians, and it could have stayed on that level of numbers and how to try and turn them around, but in fact it ends with a call to hope, spirituality, kindness, gentleness and love.  This to my mind is unprecedented in a book which could be considered to be dealing with social policy; but it just rings so true.
It is “spiky” in the sense that it is (a) uncomfortable, and (b) hard to grasp.
Uncomfortable for someone like myself who grew up in a privileged west of Scotland background.  My grandfather (Sir John Craig) consolidated Colvilles Steel and as chairman was responsible for building Ravenscraig.  I was aged 15 at the time of his funeral in the 1950s and remember the streets of Motherwell being lined with people turning out in respect for what he represented in the steelmaking identity of the community.
I say this because of course I was brought up to believe he was a “good” employer and it is certainly true that in my family there was a strong emphasis on those with privilege having a duty of service to their employees and community.  For instance, my father as secretary of the company challenged (and changed) the sectarian hiring practices for accountants in the head office in Glasgow.
However, the book is uncomfortable reading because it lays out so clearly how, despite the good will and good intentions that I felt my family represented, the human condition of hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians has remained unimproved for so long.
On a technical level, the book is sometimes hard to grasp because it encompasses such a variety of approaches - psychology, literary criticism, sociology, history and so on.  Moving from health statistics to a eulogy for James Maxton, or to a detailed discussion of a novel, is an unusual traverse for me as a reader, but it does make a convincing argument for a much wider approach to Glasgow’s problems than has usually been the case.
Which leads on to the surprising aspect.  There have been so many treatises on Glasgow’s social conditions, which in turn have launched a thousand anti-poverty projects.  This book recites the statistics and the analysis but then goes on to recommend (good) marriage and takes a swipe at the cult of self-esteem.  This is not the approach that I have come to expect in the average left-of-centre book!
Likewise the common sense approach to authors and their motives is appreciated.  During over twenty years in a Glasgow parish I felt I had enough exposure to city life and all its struggles without having to read misery novels.  So I am not familiar with the stories of recent Glasgow literature.  But what is described in Tears rings true about these authors and their tales.  No doubt some have political motivation, but it seems very probable that they write of miserable childhood experiences, not because of Scotland’s political alienation, but because they had very tough childhoods.  In my time in the parish I came to deplore particularly male behaviour, and so many families’ despair, despondency or contempt around schools and education.  Each generation of emotional and mental deprivation leads to another.
Together with Tears, I have been reading Trustbuilding (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2010), written by a former Glaswegian, Rob Corcoran, who has been thirty years resident in Richmond, Virginia.  I commend it as having many parallel concerns around healing communities, especially of giving individuals hope that they can make a difference.  Glasgow’s leaders might find helpful pointers in the “Hope in the Cities” program developed in Richmond.
A couple of quotes as samplers:
The integrated approach:  “The thesis for this book is simple: building trust is the essential foundation for building healthy communities.  I believe social action and legislation without accompanying changes in individual lives and relationships are unlikely to be effective over the long haul.” (p.8)
Beyond blame:  “None of us is responsible for the wounds of the past, but we are all responsible for the acts of repair.” (p.11)
For building relationships:  “The things that are most needed are not in anyone’s job description.  No one’s paid to be an honest broker. (p.53/54)
I have drawn Rob Corcoran’s attention to The Tears that made the Clyde.

Anthony Craig 6/5/10

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