Category Archives: Poverty

George Square the Referendum Square

Some flagging waving, chatting and singing. Then back across to Wetherspoons. This routine only punctuated by a visit to Greggs. This seemed to be the well trodden path across George Square for many a YES campaigner in the run up to the vote.

George Square was the referendum campaign in a microcosm. Festive and fun for most of the time but sickening and scary for some of it. The square was at the heart of the revelry in the lead up to the vote and the cathartic centre afterwards.

Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill
Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill

The square was the backdrop for news stories before and after the vote. It made the mainstream news feeds (although when was some simple thuggery in Glasgow at the weekend actually news?) and it is still creating stories as a pop up food bank. It was also the backdrop for some ill advised political point scoring via Twitter:

Eric Joyce - Labour MP

Yes Eric. Have a pop at the location of food backs. Why are they popping in places where people can actually see them and easily donate?

But let’s go back in time. To the day after the vote. I sought out the warmth of the square on the Friday.  I needed its solace. I needed to know that my feeling of loss was shared. By late afternoon the square was busy. International journalists looking for an angle on the city that voted “yes” and forlorn individuals coming to terms with the heart wrenching realisation that Scotland had voted No.

What's going on here?

Everyone’s square

One fella had climbed the Robert Burns statue and donated a tartan tammy and scarf.  Tourists milled around taking pictures of the wake. The Socialist Workers Party‘s stand was busy. This is everyone’s square after all. Their boisterous megaphone man sucking in passersby. “We have to fight for the working man. Just look round this square, it’s surrounded by multinational corporate companies……” What like Gregg’s and Wetherspoons I thought?

In the middle of the square a small PA system sat on the ground. A compere – playing political songs – filled the space between various members of the public who had something to say. Various grief stricken Glaswegians took the microphone with varying degrees of hand and upper lip stability. One after another they let the audience know how they felt about the result.

The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum
The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum

One old guy, shaking like a bartender’s cocktail arm, told of his pain, “knowing that I will never see my country as an independent nation” I felt for him. We all did. He then suggested that a missile sent from Faslane to Downing Street would show them what evil they had placed in Scotland. I moved on.  Settle down there old boy settle down. Controversy comes hand in hand with this square.

 

Glasgow shouted YES

Who makes Glasgow

The bright pink signs sprinkled across the city were incongruous splashes of colour on the morning after the independence referendum. In unison from hotel lobbies, buildings, buses and railway stations the city’s motto proclaimed “People Make Glasgow” The people of Glasgow made me proud.

On Thursday the 18th September 2014 Glasgow stood up and bellowed “YES!” to independence for Scotland. Its wish and desire echoed only by the city of Dundee, West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. 28 constituencies mumbled “no” as the country voted 55% to 45%. A resounding win for the Union but with 53% of Glaswegians in favour of independence they lost Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city: the powerhouse of the west of the country.

Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.
Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.

As a Glaswegian it is from here where I look at the referendum result and start to ponder what’s next for me, my family, the people of this city, this country, this land mass (the UK) and the many other regions across the world looking to pull power closer to their citizens.

Glasgow in numbers

It is estimated that 33% of children in Glasgow live in poverty. This in a country ranked the 14th richest in the world according to the OECD. Of course a massive disparity between the super rich and the poor is not isolated to this island. However in a country that has had a seat of democracy for hundreds of years and ended Universal Suffrage almost one hundred years ago the child poverty figure is nothing short of shameful. Today (as it will be tomorrow, and the day after that) it is impossible to walk for more than five minutes in the centre of the city and not meet this poverty and suffering head on.

Glasgow in the bargain basement

Within two minutes walk from Central Station you will find four £1 discount shops. They open later than most and they are packed, not with people sensing a bargain, but with those feeling the strain of austerity UK. To operate a profit the discount shops pay their shop staff minimum wage but some staff work for nothing: they take advantage of the government work scheme that forces those on benefit to work a full days shift for nothing. With wages so low it’s no surprise that most of the staff shop there too. It’s not just the shop staff on these low paid jobs who suffer. My Uncle works in a warehouse for one of the quid stores. He talks of unbearable working conditions with tales that echo Dickensian workhouses not 21st century work places.

These shop owners as business men have done their research. In 2012, a fifth of households in Glasgow had a net annual income of less than £10,000. With so many people living on low incomes where would you open stack-em-high premises?

This city has the lowest life expectancy in the UK.  In areas in East Glasgow – where I was born – men in their fifties speak of being the last in their class alive. This year the Office for National Statistics found that just 75% of boys can expect to reach their 65th birthday.

Who makes change? Governments or individuals?

The picture painted by the collective groups (some 300 in total) who brought so much colour to the “Yes” coalition was an agenda framed around change. An agenda focused on fairness and equality. It was an agenda built and packaged for Glaswegians and it was backed by almost 200,000 individuals in the city. Glasgow said yes to change; almost blindly to change. When change might just mean that your father lives longer and your kids spend less of their live in poverty it’s not a hard choice.

Glasgow’s collective yes vote included mine and my English born girlfriend. Being part of the process whereby these disgraceful poverty and life expectancy figures could change was one of the main reasons to vote yes. Unfortunately that process didn’t start on Friday morning but that is OK, say it loud “yes” voters, that’s OK! Change is driven by individuals and there are as many of us now as there were on the 18th September.

If the referendum proved one thing it is that when people unite for a common cause or share a common vision they have real power. George Square was packed in the lead up to the vote as where many other squares across the country. But look to Spain’s second city and the proud capital of Catalunya for real inspiration of people power. As a nation of activists we are only starting.

The ultimate destination for most Scots is not independence per se – that is simply a moniker that places you on a list at the UN – but what independence may lead to: the crumbling of the shameful statistics that shame this western democracy and its people.

Glasgow and Glaswegians, Scotland and Scots do not need to live in an independent country to re-write those figures. We need only one thing: the collective will for change to continue. People don’t just make Glasgow: they make change happen. Any even without independence every Scot can make that change a reality.