Freddy Anderson

The Culture of Glasgow

Generally speaking, and with some few exceptions, it is obvious that indigenous Culture in Glasgow is finding it a very difficult struggle to make its way.

Why should this be when there is a wealth of literary and theatrical talent in Glasgow, including its huge peripheral housing-schemes? It is my opinion that the authorities, for all their lip-service to Culture, are very wary lest they open the flood-gates in Glasgow to an immense popular Culture, not Hollywood, Broadway or London-based, that will sweep away within a very few years the hackneyed, time-worn ideas that have been foisted on the people by a servile, manipulated media-machine for decades. I also contend that this suppression and distortion of truth began in Glasgow at the end of the eighteenth century with the appearance of Robert Burns’ works in the Kilmarnock Edition.

These poems of Robert Burns were such a powerful exposure of the wickedness of the Establishment that it sent them scurrying for ways to undo the damage Burns was causing. Burns received not a single review in any Glasgow paper for his Kilmarnock Edition, but two mealy-mouthed letters that might have come from Holy Willie’s pen appeared in The Mercury, signed Amicus by an obvious denigrator of Burns. Such is how the authorities in Glasgow hailed Scotland's greatest literary genius ever. I would not choose to mention this, had, after the great Edinburgh Edition of 1787, the City Fathers and Chamber of Commerce tycoons repented. They never did. Burns presented such a challenge to their philistinism, hypocrisy and ‘North British’ servitude that they erected the highest monument in George Square to the loyalist minion, Sir Walter Scott, decades before the pennies of the Glasgow people paid for the much lower plinth of Rabbie Burns on the grass verge. And despite their sustained verbal accolades to Burns every January, they are still unrepentant. There is scarcely a plaque in the entire city to acknowledge the twenty or so links Burns had with Glasgow.

However, the Glasgow Establishment's treatment of genius and truth extended far beyond Burns to include anyone who challenged their domination by wealth and power. It banned the local radical paper, The Spirit of the Union, and transported its editor in the hulks, in 1819. They gaoled Sandy Rodger, the best satirist in Scotland. His excellent work is still excluded from the school curriculum. James Macfarlan, whose gifts were recognised both by Thackary and Dickens, lived in poverty in a Glasgow attic died of T.B. when he was only thirty years old and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Thus the Rodgers and Macfarlans were neglected and, in their stead throughout the whole of Victorian Glasgow, a lick-spittle, sentimental, pseudo-religious trash was foisted on the people of Glasgow in the name of poetry. Poetry was emasculated of its substance and strength and the rubbish published in Glasgow was a mere mockery of the real thing All this happened at a time when Glasgow was rapidly becoming the greatest slum city in Europe. What you might ask is the connection between poetry and slums? Well poetry is the seminal source of all literature, and can evoke a powerful protest against injustice. But the purpose of a Culture controlled by the upper classes, who were prospering at the expense of the masses in 19th century Glasgow, was to stifle the literature of protest and encourage a petty literature, a literature of escape from reality. It did not enhance reality, it worsened it. The other ‘escapes’ were the wine and spirit ‘palaces’ and the music halls: there were churches aplenty to comfort the pious. Schools and churches and newspapers combined to hide the facts and the real history of Glasgow from the people A Glasgow person searching even today for a real history of his or her city is almost in the same bewildered state of a foster-child looking for its real parents. It is so well concealed. The ‘masters’ of Culture have done their task exceedingly well.

Hugh MacDiarmid (Christopher Grieve), the greatest Scottish poet in the two centuries since Burns, saw through the ‘Culture Game’ and called for a new alertness among the people both in politics and creativity. It was in the 1930s along with his literary friend, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, that the best Scottish novelist of this century matured. Neither of these exceptional authors had a smooth passage among the philistines of Glasgow; MacDiarmid’s worldly circumstances were never very high and Gibbon’s widow (Gibbon died in his thirties) was refused by a Glasgow publisher her offer of the second edition of that marvellous novel, ‘A Scots Quair’. On the other hand trash like No Mean City, a slur on Glasgow, was being peddled in England in tens of thousands of copies without a chirp of protest from our City Fathers or our elevated Chamber of Commerce. This ‘book’ created the false image that Glasgow was a city of thugs, whereas in fact it was a city of radicals and trade unions fighting for elementary rights.

The real Culture of Glasgow has existed not in the upper echelons but in the heart of Glasgow among the tenement dwellers. These created the bands to lead the unemployed during the Hunger Marches of the ‘30s. It lay in people like John Maclean and the Clyde side Workers’ Committee who defied both the Glasgow and the London bosses in the fight against War and the exploitation of the poor. This is the real Culture; though suppressed and hidden by the authorities it survived underground and was orally transmitted from parents to children from the early 19th century in the Glasgow tenements. It was not from the teachers in the schools or the Glasgow Herald journalists that folk learned to seek out the Calton Weavers’ grave of 1787 in Abercrombie Street, or the Sighthill Monument of 1820. It was from their grannies and fathers and mothers, cousins and aunts.

The real culture of Glasgow lay in the poets and writers like Sandy Rodger, James Macfarlan, William Miller, Joe Corrie; in artists like Harry Keir and Tom MacDonald etc., in agit-prop theatres like Unity Theatre Workshop and Wildcat. In recent days it has existed in the great rallies against the Poll Tax for culture too is politics. It exists in the proud defiant songs of Matt McGinn and Hamish Henderson and dozens of others. It lies in the growing fight against injustice imposed by a Tory-elected English Government in London whose laws are administered by a pseudo-socialist gang in the City Chambers and India Street. They have shrunk the noble Red Banner into a diminutive rose, as puny as their brains, and are hell-bent on shrinking socialism to the same size. Both the City Chambers and the Chamber of Commerce join together to perpetuate a capitalism that for all its braying over Eastern Europe’s dilemmas is quite moribund itself. All of you lot will easily afford to see Pavarottis & Co but in spite of your ringside seats you are still on the periphery of real culture and you will ever remain so. For the simple reason that you have always regarded culture, and still do, as a commodity that money can buy. It cannot, no more than love or friendship.