Glasgow was an industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, noted for its engineering prowess, shipbuilding and other manufacturing. Glaswegian mechanics and engineers spread across the empire, building roads, building ships, stringing telegraph, etc.
As so often is the case, the cycle of prosperity led to the killing of the goose that laid the golden egg of productivity. The increasing prosperity of the city matched the era when communism still seemed not just feasible but morally compelling. So much so that the epithet Red Clydeside was settled on the shipbuilding district and Glasgow became a by-word for obstreperous, recalcitrant and militant labor unions.
All cities in the developed world have struggled with post-World War II competition and trade. Given the labor circumstances of Glasgow, it was one of the earlier victims. But it wasn't the only one. All cities whose prosperity was solely or dominantly founded on manufacturing and transportation suffered reconfiguration and realignment to the modern services and knowledge economies. In the US, Akron, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Boston, Trenton, Paterson, Gary, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Birmingham, etc. have all struggled in the transition from predominantly manufacturing to services and knowledge. Newark, Patterson, Detroit have all pretty much failed to make the transition but the others, sometimes rockily, have.
The transition road Glasgow has had to travel is not unfamiliar. What made it far worse were the cultural and political constructs.
The Guardian begins the article painting a scene.
Robert Preston takes the grainy photo – just a few square centimetres and yellowing with age – from his wallet and with a careful thumb and forefinger holds it up to the light.Urban governance and planning and transitioning from manufacturing to services and knowledge economies are very much human processes no matter how much we treat them as abstract matters of the mind.
In the picture he is just seven and his three brothers are aged three to 11, the youngest grave-faced and chubby cheeked. His 14-year-old sister, her dark hair perfectly coiffed, peeps over the tops their heads.
It’s the Glasgow Fair holiday circa 1947 and they are in Dunoon, a coastal town that sits on the Firth of Clyde and a popular “doon the watter” destination for Glaswegians escaping the urban sprawl.
“I’m the only one left now.” The 76-year-old Preston’s tone, who was born in Govan, icon of Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage on the River Clyde, is matter of fact. Two brothers died of cancer, one of heart complications, and his sister dropped dead in the street after a brain aneurysm.
“I don’t think that’s unusual,” says Preston. “We die young here. But you just take the hand that life deals you and get on with it.”
What he calls fate, some researchers have labelled the “Glasgow effect” – excess mortality that cannot be accounted for by poverty and deprivation alone, and it impacts on everyone in the city.
Glaswegians have a 30% higher risk of dying before they are 65 (considered a premature death) than people in comparable de-industrialised cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. They die from the big killers: cancer, heart disease and strokes, as well as the “despair diseases” of drugs, alcohol and suicide.
And though they have a higher chance of dying prematurely if they are poor, deaths across all ages and social classes are 15% greater. Economic advancement alone will not save your life here.
The catalyst for the article is new research.
The mystery of Glasgow’s “sick man of Europe” status started to rear its head more than half a century ago. But now, for the first time, researchers from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) claim to have found hard evidence of a number of key factors that explain it.There's a lot of good material in the article.
In a new report, History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality, they claim a combination of the historic effects of overcrowding, poor city planning decisions throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s and a democratic deficit – or lack of ability to control decisions that affect their lives – are among reasons why Glaswegians are vulnerable to premature death.
What is striking is what is missing. The Guardian is famously a newspaper of the socialist left. They have some great reporting but it is often blinded by their ideological orientation. This is one of those occasions. There is no mention that virtually all of Scotland has been Labour Party since World War II and the cities were governed by the hard left. Politicians who were quite proud to identify themselves with Communism, Maoism, Socialism, etc. Scotland in general and Glasgow in particular has been a case study of the national effects of leftist policies. Much like contemporary Venezuela. Aside from the leftism of its politics, perhaps the greater issue for Scotland and Glasgow has been the virtual absence of real political competition.
The Guardian has a pro forma swipe at Thatcher but largely the article is simply a chronicle of political governance failure. Indeed, story after story is told of failures in urban planning without ever a comment on the fact that all that planning was done by the supposed best-and-the-brightest with the sincerest intentions of doing good. It all failed. No freedom, no competition, no choices.
Glasgow today is the natural consequence of a series of deliberate policy decisions arising from a political culture and civic institutions mired in pathologically altruistic and coercive central planning.
The Guardian wants to make this an issue of simply choosing the wrong policies. The root causes of Glasgow's condition today is only indirectly a result of bad policies. The systemic root causes are an absence of competition, freedom, and respect for individuals as individual agents of their own decisions.