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Postcards from Scotland

Comments from someone who grew up in Scotland and now lives in Europe

Carol Craig received the following letter from someone who had just finished reading The Tears that Made the Clyde. The person is keen to share their views with others but prefers us not to use their name.

Dear Dr Craig,
I’m a Scot living abroad and read your book The Tears that Made the Clyde while visiting Scotland at Christmas. I would just like to express my sincere thanks for writing it. The topic is obviously not an easy one, but the book is extremely readable, and I found the solutions very positive and thought-provoking.

I grew up in and have spent most of my life in the Glasgow area, although I have been living in a European capital since 2000. I chose to leave primarily for career reasons and because I had always been interested in working abroad. However, at the same time I was immensely frustrated with the suffocating parochialism so prevalent in the West of Scotland. I was also fed up with the chronic negativity and the debilitating “Daily Recordism” that holds people back, crushes originality, and automatically equates anything cultural or intellectual with snobbery. 

I visit Scotland usually twice or three times a year, and I admit that each time I’ve very mixed feelings. I obviously enjoy seeing family, friends and familiar places hugely, and there are many things about Glasgow and Scotland of which I’m immensely proud. But when I return I’m also struck by how far Glasgow lags behind similar cities in many ways, such as its attitude to alcohol. In addition, I’m made painfully aware of issues that I need never think about in my new home, such as “ned culture” or sectarianism. I’ve visited many places in mainland Europe, not just attractive tourist destinations, and have observed a general quality of life in all of the countries I’ve visited, even in the poorer nations. I’m aware of the risk of having a simplistic, idealised picture of other countries and the “grass is greener syndrome”, but it’s clear that even in regions with similar back stories to Clydeside, such as Silesia in Poland, the Glasgow conurbation compares poorly.

Each time I visit I try to understand the reasons behind these problems. Although I grew up in the Glasgow area, know it extremely well, and studied urban planning at Strathclyde University – an ideal opportunity for grasping the city’s problems – I admit that I’ve never really understood why Glasgow seems incapable of shaking off its chronic ills and, why some Glaswegians even revel in its sick man of Europe image. I try to work out why so many Glaswegians think it’s socially acceptable to get paralytic every weekend, with all too often serious consequences, or why they feel no shame about dropping litter in the streets. Obviously, I’m far from the only one who feels this way, but it seems that the voices of those holding such opinions are never heard.

The Tears that Made the Clyde therefore strongly resonated with me because at long last I had found a book that strongly echoed my feelings about Glasgow. Unlike so many other books about the city, it isn’t sentimental and doesn’t engage in a needless blame game when analysing Glasgow's shortcomings. Rather, The Tears that Made the Clyde is honest and uncompromising, while giving a powerful voice to who have an alternative view of the city and believe that Glasgow could be much, much better.

The book also helped me to understand how Glasgow really works, and to consider contributory factors that I had never really thought of before. After reading it, I had a stronger awareness of how deep rooted some problems are, and how they are being perpetuated through the generations.

I therefore strongly believe that boosting confidence and changing mindsets have a key role to play in improving Glasgow and Scotland as a whole. Many people dismiss such an approach as “pie in the sky” that has nothing to do with reality, but such a dismissive view is symptomatic of the very problem we are dealing with. Entrenched negativity underpins many of the problems besetting the West of Scotland and I believe that the Centre for Confidence has a key role to play in tackling such issues. I would therefore like to wish you all the very best in your work at the Centre for Confidence, as you work towards a more confident, healthier and positive Scotland.

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