Cos I Can

glasgow-effectDisclaimer: Because neither of my parents finished high school, I’m from Coatbridge, have seven brothers and sisters, grew up on a series of schemes as the Coatbridge high rises were successively flattened, and only ate my first raspberry at the age of twenty, I’m allowed to voice the following opinions.

Disclaimer: Because I ride a bicycle, order a veggie box from Locavore, have a humanities degree, make my own homemade gnocchi and dabble in ironically old-fashioned hobbies like knitting and hiking, I’m allowed to voice the following opinions.

How Scottish are you? Did you grow up on a scheme in the central belt? Have your home demolished several times through ‘regeneration’?  Ate a pizza crunch for lunch cos that’s all your tuck money could get ye and you were too ashamed to accept the free ticket your poverty afforded you? Learned to hide from the TV License man, the tax man, the polis, the council, and obviously, the provvy?

Ding ding ding


I win a free pass for saying whatever the fuck I like to complete strangers who sound a bit posh to my ears (cos they’re no a weegie) and who do self-serving things like make art about their experiences (get a grip ya middle class tubes).

When did being working class become the primary form of authentic, Scottish voicing? Was it when Thatcher crystallised the differences between the ‘Us’ of Scotland and ‘Them’ of rUk as a class war? Or when our media became saturated with Glaswegian caricatures and comedians that communicated a monolithic Scottish culture – no Doric, no Gaidhlig, no Highland or Lowland Scots, Glaswegian or nothing?

In the Scottish online world, we’ve talked a lot in the past few days about the disconnection between the professional artistic class in Scotland, and the working class. This is so very true, and I agree in many respects with many feelings and statements discussed – at the expense of Ellie Harrison, whose work has been taken out of context and grossly misrepresented as a ‘poverty safari’.

What I canny bide, is when we belittle and patronise the working classes by saying that the vitriol and abuse on the Glasgow Effect page towards a female artist is justified because, ye know, the poor souls canny help it!

I’ll admit, when I first seen the page, and the maelstrom surrounding it, I was pissed off and bemused. Are these immature signifiers of chips and the flippant employment of the ‘Glasgow Effect’ really part of a publicly funded project?

But without covering ground many have already traced (about her craft, expertise, and knowledge; the fact that this money was already allocated to project funding; the fact that she is a fecking Glaswegian artist having invested her time here for more than seven years; the fact that she has a sustained and prolific background in campaigning and activism; the fact that those commenting knew and continue to know little to nothing about her background or experiences, if any, of poverty) I want to focus on why the response from many on the page is so foundationally damaging to the project of eradicating cultural inequality, stigma, and class humiliation in Scotland.

You see in Scotland we do this really funny thing that I used to think was unique but turns out a lot of places all over the world do it. We simultaneously oppress and silence the working classes while using the ‘authentic’ sound of their voices to legitimise and explain our ‘culture’. As well as this, we eradicate the middle class stake in a Scottish identity (because they haven’t experienced all that pure authentic stuff like alcoholism or domestic violence, right?), while enshrining in the country’s education and labour infrastructure their dominance in administering and king-making in the national cultural ‘scene’.

What does this mean?

They both lose out. The working classes are very obviously the most disadvantaged, since their lack of economic freedom means they have limited access to not just basic needs, but the levers of power and participation that would allow them self-determination. To put it in another context, the shaming and ridicule of Scottish hip hop in recent years is a different power dynamic than that between disgruntled Glaswegians and a conceptual artist – because they capitalise on different currency. The former represents a traditional elitism of economic privilege versus the perceived ‘vulgarity’ of working class creativity. The latter is an inverted snobbery, exclusivity, and resistance to this elitism, wielded by those who enumerate their disadvantages and translate them into authority. Both are pathetic: while the working classes know they have no power and so use the discourse of authenticity to one-up and outflank their better off contemporaries, the middle classes believe they do. And they both perpetuate this be reifying the same stereotypes of difference and conflict, turning what are simply nice things to bloody do – going out for food, enjoying cultural events or taking daytrips to beyond your city – into symbols of difference rather than the lifestyles everyone in a developed economy should have access to.

Why doesn’t someone who has worked for years on their craft, is dedicated to social change, and who has until now done little more than use a badly chosen photo and facebook blurb not deserve to have a living wage for their work? Isn’t this the sort of experience we want everyone to have access to (discounting the torrent who will surely interject at this point to say that she is likely to only have access because she is ‘connected’, in ‘the scene’, or already has the privilege of knowing how to complete funding applications). Does an assumption about her background discount her from this? Is this not more indicative of a typifiably Scottish insecurity that we jumped to the conclusion that she must be a dick cos she sounds like Y and she dresses like X? Is that what our class analysis is now?


Angry? Aye I’m angry. Cos you’re talking for me, a working class woman, and you’re doing the exact same thing you claim the middle classes do. You’re reducing the working class in Scotland to your version of events and experiences (something, incidentally, white-heterosexual-ablebodied-men are prone to do cos they’ve learned that’s neutral and so must be right). You’re taking an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality when there are all shades in between in today’s increasingly complex class structure, thus alienating people who align with both or none of your dichotomous ‘working’ and ‘middle’ classes – so I like a craft beer and a halloumi sandwich, who gives a fuck? And most harmful of all, you’ve turned a kneejerk reaction to the Scottish cringe into an intellectualisation of bullying and abuse, relying on the very stereotypes you argue against to defend the bandwagoning. Oy fucking vey.


Comments (47)

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  1. bob says:


  2. Alan Munro says:

    The frustrations expressed in the article are understandable. Schools ( Even now when ironically they are more egalitarian than ever ) have been the primary hammers of the working class scots. The schools mould aspiring individualistic types. Aspiring to become middle class. A middle class that runs the judiciaries, media, church, football clubs etc. Fortunately class lines do not determine ourselves exclusively and the level of rebeldry among the scottish population remains healthy.

    1. Mike Annis says:

      Wow, schools the hammer of working class Scots…..a whole debate there but have to say that it was never in my years of teaching. What they did try to do was teach the use of sentence structure to all. It was very egalitarianof them

  3. Brian Beadie says:

    “turning what are simply nice things to bloody do – going out for food, enjoying cultural events or taking daytrips to beyond your city”
    Many people can’t actually afford to do these things, or only very rarely; for some people, “going out for food” means going to a food bank. This is the source of working class anger at middle class complacency, and, presumably at Harrison. Her work is obviously addressing the middle classes, who CAN afford to spend a large part of their disposable income to escape their environment eg on holidays, rather than stay and invest time and money in their communities. BTW, I’m fully on Harrison’s side.

  4. Mike Annis says:

    Well thought out response to a viral issue, no bad written also those bit I understood. The problems with this issue are many but I am glad for your info on the artist, something missing from the keyboard warriors. I think the pic that went with the article shown on FB of a plate of chips did more to damage the case for this project than any other misinformation, pandering to jaded stereotypes…..after all there was no cheese on the chips. As for funding this type of project, where are the complaints of the “millions” given to opera, classical music etc when compared to the pittance given to this artistic project. Before anyone upbraids me on the many working class punters going to and enjoying opera and classical music they are priced out of the hands of the commander man or woman despite so much public funding. Let’s see what the artist produces then unless the dogs of Facebook.

    1. Mike Annis says:

      “Common” man or woman ……can someone get a grant to research the annoying effects of predictive texts?

      1. Charlie says:

        It’s a misconception that opera/classical music is expensive. In fact, analysis shows that opera is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment out there. Certainly it’s cheaper than live football tickets – something commonly associated with the working classes.

  5. Kay McKellar says:

    Thank you. That was fan – fucking – tastic.

  6. Ivan Coghill says:

    Well done to Harrison for opening a nice can of worms.

    Unfortunately, “ her craft, expertise, and knowledge”, and that of those who appointed the stupid scheme, contains absolutely no political science whatsoever. What would you think about the surgeon who is about to cut you open when she tells you that she did a lot of action painting as part of her medical training?

    To disagree with this nonsense is “foundationally damaging to the project of eradicating cultural inequality”. No, to disagree with this bollocks is the best way to diminish cultural inequality. Let’s face it, the divisions represented by art in our society are caused by the economic ones to a greater extent than the other way around. This project is an example of “the other way around” and the symbolic violence of art and cultural status acting upon our economic relations: and in such a way as to reinforce and deepen social stratification.

    Money IN/Money Out

    What gets lost in all this cultural badinage is the basic accounts. Where does the money come from and where does it go to? This isn’t a debate about middle class conceptual art versus “working class hip hop”. What we have is the “iron law” of public funds going not to the public but towards subsidising middle class leisure. And, a core element of middle class leisure is a nice bit of symbolic violence aimed at the scum below.

    I’ll bet you (the author of this Bella Caledonia article) “like a craft beer and a halloumi sandwich”. And a good sociologist could extrapolate everything else about you from that. Pity a good sociology student didn’t get the grant. But then, the bunch of nitwits on the selection panel would not have thought of that.

    Good luck to Harrison and I hope she teams up with some sociologists.

    1. Ivan Coghill says:

      Ethnomethodology sometimes elicits a non-response … unlike Ellie’s “action research”

  7. Walloper says:

    I’d have appreciated it had you flagged this article as a response to Loki from the outset. It took me another read to work out the ‘you’ you were having a go at with the “white-heterosexual-ablebodied-men” bit. Maybe just post this as comment in his article instead?

    1. leavergirl says:

      Ok. It’s time to make a fecking stand.
      I am against all bashing of “white men” no matter how many self justifying additional adjective you add to it. Enough already.

      And if you call me a racist in whatever context, I will call you a totalizing bully. Enough on that too.

  8. Tits Mcghie says:

    Whit um a wantin tae recycle fur?
    Aye right, moan al add even mair graft to ma never ending day.
    Am oot daen 10 oor shifts in aw weathers, a dinny need that pish.

    Grow ma own fid ye say?
    Moan al shove a broom up ma arse an sweep the flair whilst am itit.

    Shoap local and organic ? Aye a dae, local farmfids, or gan nick a pun o mince the week before pey day.

    Positive discrimination, ye whit?
    Is that when that crabbit wummin gets aw in a fankle when a caw her hen and offer tae carry her messages?

    I huvny goat a clue what aw you arty farty, airy fairy folk are oan aboot.
    Read aboot this, learn that, stoap this, dae that.
    Am just knuckling doon tolerating ma days an trying tae feed am claeth ma wains, av nae time fur aw that

    Whit does it goat tae dae wi helping me oot o debt? ye gonnae gie me a wage poke fur daen it?

    Put yer pointy finger awa
    A don’t gie a shite
    Ye stuck up blethers.

    Paid fur staying in glesca?
    Fur a year?
    Jammy bastard.

    1. Brian Beadie says:

      Culture has always been used to oppress the poor, from all those madonnas and childs in the Renaissance onwards. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive – but obviously Creative Scotland can’t admit that. As Ellie Harrison brilliantly commented, “That ticked the public engagement box”. I hadn’t regarded what I’d seen of Ellie Harrison’s work highly before, but the more I think about it, the better it is. Her presentation of the history of revolutions as a crappy fireworks show angered me at the time, but the more I think about it, she was commenting on them as damp squibs. And her cannon of confetti that didn’t go off when Scotland didn’t get independence was, in retrospect, the best piece of art to come out of the referendum.

      1. Ivan Coghill says:

        Was it?

        1. Jim Bennett says:

          I don’t know.

          1. Ivan Coghill says:

            Neither do I

  9. Conan the Librarian™ says:

    When you said “humanities degree” I nearly stopped reading… 😉

    I think the point here is that if she had decided to ‘limit’ herself in her home town boundaries, there would have been no uproar whatsoever, because as we all know, London is the centre of the universe.

  10. john young says:

    Working class/middle class/ahead of the class is all superficial,it is what you are within,to quote the great Red Cloud leader of the Ogalala Sioux “the heart of everything that is” greatness/respect/pride/humility all come from within,you can gloss all you want but if you do not have that inner strength then you are but dust.

  11. C Rober says:

    Class = another way to divide and conquer.

    Lower class = What the elite calls everyone under them.

    Working Class= Now fooled into thinking they are middle class.

    Middle Class = The privately educated first line defence of the upper class and wealthy elite.

    Upper Class = Now usurped , by the Oligarch tax avoiding class boughtout or made bankrupt and now living in the gardeners cottages on their ancestral home.

    Class is not the way the downtrodden are kept down , its by them not fighting back , be that fight by education , radicalism or socialism.

    History is though full of tales where the lower classes have been used to get rid of the top rung , and where the lower classes have not duly removed themselves from that problem , be that a dictator or royal family , only to have them replaced with many more of the same.

    The middle classes of today are not by any means middle classes , they dont own huge sandstone villas in the west end , where the housewife has at least a nanny. Its a wordplay enacted by Labour to confuse the electorate during BLAIR/BROWN that they made progress , but didnt , instead they brought in benefits for the working classes , aka tax credits.

    The working class however is still there , they still work 40 plus hours a week , plus another day or two in commutes in unpaid hours. Moulded by the media more than by education , just like the pensioner , into believing they are somehow better and that they should aspire to be the enemy and hate the friend.

    This is shown perfectly with the following sketch. , so how much has changed from the early 60s? Feck all.

  12. Yawn says:

    As if anyone else in the world cares Scotland! See yersel as ithers see ye! A pathetic bunch group of complainers who chose to continue being treated like crap and having any culture you have to offer smothered by britishness! do wan ya fannies!

  13. Alan Munro says:

    The first time I heard that Scotland had a good education system was when I left the country. In my religous education class, in the seventies, In the newly constituted comprehensive school I was warned that Communism was evil. Not in a southern state but in southern paisley. I totally agree that what is inside ourselves is all that really matters, but how can people come to understand that when they are educated that we are more civilised than other parts of the world. Teachers in scotland created greater brutality amongst the working classes by using the belt, violence begets violence. Snobbery was and still is another factor. As for the way you are moulded when you pass through universities…

  14. MVH says:

    Predictable rage over middle class privilege being called out. I mean, how very dare they? Quite funny 🙂

    1. Ivan Coghill says:

      Do you think you’ll get to the opera in time after the fox hunting?

      1. C Rober says:

        No problem here , just had the help bring roon the autocarriage , leased from BMW of course , fuelled by freshly squeezed pheasant liver oil.

        1. Ivan Coghill says:

          Aside from the footman, I believe MVH has hand assistance as well.

          1. MVH says:

            A K Yah

  15. P L says:

    This is pretty wild. I get that it’s supposed to highlight the often confusing nature of class politics in Scotland, but it does so by applying the stereotypes it decries.

  16. Loon says:

    To be frank, this entire episode left me cold, as does most ‘art’ and associated criticism/reverence. Next!

  17. Jim Bennett says:

    I thought that this was an excellent article. Well written with intelligent argument.

    Thank you.

    I’m surprised noone has criticised you for having a double barrelled name yet!

    However, admitting to liking craft beer and halloumi sandwiches has given away your scumbodian class origins. Any middle class person worth their salt would faint away with shock if separated from their cheeky wee red and a dod o’ Lanark Blue on sourdough!


  18. Fiona Fleming says:

    I’m an artist, I live and work in Govan (I’m from here) and find it truly fucking depressing that I’m somehow meant to pick a side. I either have to know my place, and snarl about west-end trendies and their kale eating ways OR be a poncey, parasitic fuckbag who is trying to insult/shake down the economically disadvantaged of our fair city. Hmmm.

    1. C Rober says:

      Art fur arts sake , naebidy mentioned income , then art isnt art , its bizness. There is another artist of merit from Govan , used to do sculpture and heavy handed oils , but fur the life o me his name escapes me. Mibbe its because of the class struggle , mibe its bacause he never thought aboot pickling sheep or shitting his bed and sticking it in the national.

  19. AGG says:

    Very good. Thanks. No doubt he’ll be responding in due course.

  20. Redguantlet says:

    Methinks we are getting sidetracked from the main issue…

    …Loki´s piece was provocative and this piece is too, in its own way (though well done to Katie for replying).

    It´s capital, friends, capital which seeks to divide us and make us weak and poor and turn art into a commodity…

    The Labour Party in Scotland will be laughing into their bunnets about this exchange….

  21. Alf Baird says:

    There is an entrenched and very longstanding form of institutionalised discrimination against Scots in our own nation. This is, I believe, a function of our long-term colonial status. It manifests itself in a number of ways, which are much more obvious to Scots, and especially to Scots from humble backgrounds. Those coming here from other countries often do not ‘get’ Scots or Scotland’, and many never do. Similarly, those doing the discriminating, the ‘higher orders’ (i.e. the ruling class, many of whom do come from another country), continue to treat us with contempt, and ridicule; insults to our historic languages and culture are prime examples, as is the ongoing exploitation of Scotland’s major resources. These are the essential characteristics of colonisation.

    Think of any former British colony, and then think of Scotland. They are one and the same.

  22. Brian Beadie says:

    I once phoned an acquaintance who worked with the National Theatre of Scotland to enquire whether there was any point in me applying for the job of assistant press officer with them – a post that, if anything, I was overqualified for. She was almost aghast that I’d even asked her – she knew that I was a white heterosexual working class man, and I think was genuinely disappointed in my naivety. I wasn’t trolling her – I was genuinely desperate for a job. And the fact that she’s English is entirely irrelevant.

    1. C Rober says:

      Hinting towards a gay bias in the dramatic arts , not really a bias or indeed a new thing , its somewhere at a young age that gay folk are around more of the same , feeling less threatened even today in the worlds liberal legislation , and has been that way for 100 years or more.

      Once read about an established newsreader off camera , complaining that the London Beeb was now controlled by minorities , considering the numbers then just why has the beeb dragged its heels then about a Gay tv station? If they are so in numbers , and so in control , so liberal , then surely the community would have done it already? After all it cant fail , it wont be advertisement funded.

      But then again he may have a point , the beeb refused my freedom of information request on just how many English born staff are employed by bbc Scotland as a percentage of overall employment , perhaps they just couldnay dae the maths. I perhaps should have also done the same request to BBC proper about the same for Scots born staffing levels for a level.

      1. Brian Beadie says:

        I am not hinting at a gay bias in the arts – generally there isn’t one, although obviously the theatre has traditionally been a haven for gay men, especially in the dark days when they couldn’t openly express their sexuality. The elephant in the room as always is social class – ‘white heterosexual working class’ isn’t on the boxes to tick for social inclusion, although I know men who have killed themselves at the age of 24 because they (correctly) realised that they had reached their glass ceiling. I have no problem with English people working in Scotland -the best person should get the job, as so many of the best Scots have gone to London (or Berlin, or wherever) to get better work opportunities.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          “I have no problem with English people working in Scotland ”

          This issue is a little more complex than that. It is specifically the leadership of Scottish public/semi-public institutions that is in question, the vast majority of which are not led by Scots. One would not expect Germans to run most of Denmark’s 200+ public institutions, for example. I should think that would simply not be acceptable to most Danes. Likewise it might seem odd if Scots were leading the vast majority of the thousands of public institutions in England, which is not the case of course given that our population is less than 10% of theirs. Scotland’s ‘issue’ is to do with the fact that top level jobs in Scotland (£100k+) are advertised in London and the rest UK and managed by executive recruitment firms in the south, and therefore such positions attract a UK-wide response which, given the population differences between our nations, means that perhaps ten times as many applicants for the top jobs in Scotland come from south of the border, also taking into account many of these posts come with relocation expenses. Hence, the majority of Scotland’s public institutions are not led by Scots, this incl. universities, police, the arts, endless other quangos, NHS, civil service etc. Some would say this is an acceptable outcome, and Scotland gets ‘high quality’ leadership (albeit from another country), while others might suggest this inevitably discriminates against Scots and significantly limits the opportunities for Scots to take leadership roles within their own nation. I tend to think the latter is the rather obvious outcome. There is also evidence of top jobs in a number of business sectors in Scotland (e.g. retail, finance, logistics) following a similar general trend. To a large extent Scotland seems to have effectively ‘outsourced’ much of its overall management and decision making.

          1. Derek says:

            Let’s take just one counterexample: Alex Poots. Born in Edinburgh. Educated in Musselburgh. Was artistic director of the Manchester Festival, and recently moved to the Culture Shed in NY. In fact, founding chief executive and artistic director of both. Let’s dance on the head of a pin over whether he’s counted as Scottish or not. He’s the first name that came to mind. I suspect there are plenty others, worldwide, from both Scotland and England. At a certain level art becomes international and locals are seen as parochial.
            So do we appoint the best person or the best Scottish person?

          2. Alf Baird says:

            Poots is not a very good example: French mither, Irish faither, studied London and worked in England. “Educated in Musselburgh” – let me guess – Loretto?

            “So do we appoint the best person or the best Scottish person?”

            Seems almost like a colonial distinction. I take it yer a No voter then?

          3. Brian Beadie says:

            I can only speak for the arts sector Alf, which is the only one I know. The arts, in my opinion, should be international in outlook, not parochial, . I make an exception for specific instances such as Gaelic culture, for instance. However, I can think of at least two instances of Scottish arts institutions being run by Scottish philistines – I would welcome their replacement by more cultured English (or German) people. English people aren’t stealing my job any more than immigrants are. a lot of the outrage over this is due to the artist’s nationality – yet it is a truism that very often an outsider or emigrant can see a culture more clearly than a native. A Pole (Joseph Conrad) became the greatest English writer of his generation, a statement the English have no problem with. I do admit we do get kind of second class people coming here ie if they’re smart enough for Oxbridge, they go to St Andrews. I do recognise that phenomenon – but again, is that not more to do with social class?

          4. Derek says:

            Poots is (in some ways only) a good example. Born in Edinburgh, so he’s Scots enough to be able to vote yes or no in the next referendum, in the unlikely circumstance he will be resident here at the time. More qualified than others who came from other airts of the UK to Scotland in the last few years?
            Educational background: I presume you would prefer that everyone who went to a private School is no longer eligible for an arts post in Scotland? Does that apply if an applicant has solid Scottish ancestry for a couple of generations at least? Do we ask that on the job application?
            Racial background: when I read arts blogs, it sounds a lot like like ‘blood and soil’ arguments for Scots management of Scots organisations. If you take classical music or major art collections as two examples, they are international in outlook. If you then take Scottish Ballet, they have gained an international reputation by including some excellent international dancers in their line-up. They take works choreographed by Scotsmen/women to an international audience. Unlike when they started up, and their dancers were pretty much Scottish only.
            For these types of organisations, I’d say appoint the person most capable of giving that Scottish institution an international reputation.
            For smaller institutions, unfortunately, it comes down to funding. If a drama or music group outwith Edinburgh or Glasgow has funding withdrawn, they will understandably blame the management behind that decision. And hence to its non-Scottish management, despite that funding will go to other Scottish groups instead. Surely at least some of this comes down to “If we managed arts funding in Scotland, we’d give money to OOR pals, not the Arts Cooncil’s pals”?

            PS “I take it yer a No voter then?” You’re 100% wrong, Alf. I voted yes last time around, and I’ll probably vote the same again if and when another referendum comes about. I simply have a different perspective on Scots culture, one that largely excludes the Krankies 🙂

          5. Alf Baird says:

            Derek/Brian, thanks for getting back to me. Both of you refer to the need to have an ‘international outlook’.The Scots have always had an international outlook. We might see this reflected in the forthcoming EU referendum, with Scots being mainly pro-European, giving perhaps a stark contrast with the rest of the UK. My own experience has involved many years of professional collaboration with experts from many different countries. But these people do not expect to be invited here to head up institutions in this country. When they do come here, they tend to be rather schocked to discover that there are so few Scots leading and/or doing high level work in many of Scotland’s institutions.

  23. Shona Craven says:

    Great piece. I’m very, very suspicious of a lot of the outrage about this supposedly on behalf of “the poor”.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      On what grounds are you suspicious, and why do you place a harsh reality, like “the poor”, in scare quotes?

  24. howauldzyergranny says:

    few points here:

    The dodgy facebook comments do not represent the totality of the online response, just as the Scottish resistance do not represent many Yes voters.

    In the midst of a lot of ‘cultural commentators’ weighing in on the issue Loki appears to be only one not speaking fluent bullshit – THAT’S WHY HE SOUNDS SO REPRESENTATIVE.

    If you thought the indyref disdain for bullshit was going to begin and end with Scottish Labour being wiped out – you might just be in for a shock.

    A 19 year old reporter for the Daily Record just walked into the gaping void that is the collective critique of Creative Scotland.

    It’s not very good, is it ?

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