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Postcards from Scotland

Update on the Centre's views on the University of Edinburgh's Scottish Affairs

Below you can read a statement we posted on the Winter edition of Scottish Affairs in response to a grossly unfair and personal attack on Carol Craig in a book review by Sean Damer. The editor Lindsay Paterson only offered Carol the standard right of reply the journal would give to any person who complained about a piece. Once this was published Sean Damer would then get a chance to reply to this thus giving him the final say. We did not take them up on this offer as we decided we were best to use this website to put across our point of view.  However, we are pleased to report that Harry Reid, author and former editor of The Herald, wrote a formal letter of complaint which they are publishing in the latest edition of Scottish  Affairs.  This reads as follows:

Sean Damer’s” review” of Carol Craig’s book The Tears That Made the Clyde is not so much a review as a rancid rant.

Mr Damer tells us that Craig is attacking, indeed slandering, Glasgow’s working class. I cannot find this “attack” in her book. Her writing is concerned and at times angry about the condition of working people in Glasgow but it is manifestly not an assault on them. Where Craig finds positives, Mr Damer chooses to ignore them. His comments are ad hominem, and altogether spiteful.

Embittered self-serving quasi-academic disputation such as this is mired in introspective negativity. It is woefully disconnected from the efforts of many people who are genuinely working to improve matters. I am saddened that such an ill- judged and fustian piece should appear in a publication that I have hitherto respected.
Mr Damer concludes with an unlikely show of concern for “the taxpayer”. In this context, might I ask who has been paying for Mr Damer?

The Times
Finally we were also bemused by the major piece that The Times ran on the critical review on Saturday 14 May: 'Pernicious mince': one critic on a book about Glasgow. If you have a subscription to the Times on-line it is available here

Statement posted by the Centre's Board on the Winter 2011 edition of Scottish Affairs
Those of us involved with the Centre have now read a seven page review essay by Sean Damer on Carol Craig's book The Tears that Made the Clyde which appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of Scottish Affairs. Critical reviews are inevitable and can be useful. Indeed this website carries some negative comments and links to critical reviews on our Chief Executive's first book The Scots' Crisis of Confidence.
What is different about Damer’s review is that it not only seriously misrepresents the book's argument but is written in an extraordinarily strident and intemperate manner. The tone of the review is illustrated in the author's dismissal of The Tears That Made the Clyde as 'not just mince', but 'pernicious mince.' One of the book's aims is to broaden thinking on some of Glasgow's seemingly intractable problems so that we are more likely to find solutions. Damer is obviously entitled to disagree with Carol’s approach but in his review he goes further and mounts an attack on Carol’s personal integrity and character. In our view that is not acceptable.
The Centre came about as a result of the publication of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence. In it Carol Craig outlined some issues which are brought into sharp relief in this negative review. Of most importance here is how commonplace it is in Scottish public life for disagreement, even when there is a rather small difference in views, to degenerate into a judgemental assault on the opponent's moral worth. What's more, Scotland claims to be an egalitarian culture and its academics like to talk about 'the democratic intellect'  yet what we too often see is a small group of people acting as if they are the keepers and interpreters of  'the truth'. Carol's analysis of Scotland touched a raw nerve and many identified with her description.
If this review had been published in a political magazine or blog we would have ignored it. But it appeared in Scottish Affairs, a quarterly journal, published by the Institute of Governance at the University of Edinburgh. It is difficult to understand why the editorial team of this journal judged it suitable for publication.
Scottish Affairs proclaims that its focus is 'the development of Scotland'. It states that it has 'no policy positions of its own (other to encourage well-informed debate).' The review can hardly be said to encourage well-informed debate. Indeed such an all-out attack on an author who is trying to come up with fresh perspectives and analysis is likely to close down debate and deter new thinking rather than provide encouragement.

You can access some other reviews on The Tears that Made the Clyde on this site.

Read Carol Craig's blog on 'the need for more respect in public life'.

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