Glasgow’s Two Nations

The Glasgow Art Club, housed in a Victorian mansion among the offices, wine bars and boutiques of the Merchant City district, was founded at the height of the industrial revolution, in 1867, by a painter who sold his work to cotton and sugar traders. Once a week Scotland’s oldest Rotary Club has a date here with charity, to meet friends, discuss business, repay favours, listen to a lecture about a good cause and perhaps sign a check.

At one lunch this summer, the club president Michael Guy tapped a silver bell with a hammer to mark the start of the meal, with 40 guests – bankers, lawyers and business leaders. Guy, 67, was encumbered by a heavy metal chain engraved with the names of his 98 predecessors. “It’s worth £38,000. It’s gold – hopefully this is something that has not been devalued lately!” He outlined his theory about the poverty that blights this city, particularly in the east: “Yes we know, in Glasgow some people die younger than in Iraq. Lifestyle, deprivation… we know. Glasgow has always been a city where rich and poor live side by side. It’s mainly the Irish immigrants who have lowered the statistics in the east. But these are just pockets of poverty. Overall, Glasgow is a vibrant city with a lot of fantastic museums, extraordinary concerts and great people.”

The World Health Organization published a report in 2008, revealing that the difference in life expectancy between a child born in the wealthier south or west of Glasgow, and one born in a poor area in the east, was 28 years. The report found that some areas of Glasgow had the lowest life expectancy in Europe: 54 for men and 75 for women. Its recommendations included universal access to clean water, food, housing, healthcare and energy; also improvements in education, lifestyle, town planning and working conditions. It should have caused a storm, but it hardly caused a ripple.

Blame it on the fish and chips

I asked Peter Steven, (“one of the richest members of the club” according to Guy): “Why is there such a difference between the rich and poor in this city?” He replied: “It’s because the poor eat badly and have inherited bad habits from their parents. It’s because of education. We at the Rotary Club are very proud of our actions, such as the public speaking competitions we organize in schools in poor areas. Many of those people live on benefits and have no other income. For them it’s cheaper to eat fish and chips than healthy food.”

A few hours earlier, the prime minister David Cameron had announced the UK’s most severe austerity plan since the second world war. To soften the cuts in education finances of up to £3.5bn, the education secretary Michael Gove announced that £4m would be given to the charity Teach First, which aims to encourage the best teachers to work in deprived areas. The government simultaneously withdraws funding, offers charity, and talks about the community responsibilities of the “Big Society”.

George Russell, a retired telecoms executive, stood at the lectern and appealed for generosity in the face of “the coalition government’s attack on public services”. “With the coming budget cuts, David Cameron is counting on charity. To achieve a homogeneous society, we will all need to fulfil our responsibility. People like us who have money will have to give more, that’s for sure,” he told me later, reviving the tone of his socialist youth. Guy wanted to talk about more agreeable things: “We have been attracting quite a lot of business here in the last few years. Mainly finance, call centres, insurance. Recently a new 5-star hotel opened next to the River Clyde. It’s magnificent.”

In the 1980s and 1990s a lot of public money was spent removing the city’s coat of industrial grime. Shipyards, coalmines and steel works had all shut down. Scotland’s most populous conurbation was given a makeover, to become a city of art and culture. “Glasgow: Scotland with style” read the posters throughout the city. “The poor have been pushed out of the city and into the suburbs. The best council houses were sold off, thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who hated council housing. The ‘cappuccino-isation’ of Glasgow, the cousin of gentrification, could then begin,” said Bridget Fowler, a sociologist at the University of Glasgow.

Twenty years after being named European Capital of Culture, the city of Charles Rennie Mackintosh claims to be one of the continent’s top three centres for contemporary art. It wins awards (UK City of Architecture and Design 1999), hosts major sporting events and attracts wealthy tourists, thanks in part to seven private golf courses and five 5-star hotels (1,358 luxury rooms). It’s not surprising that it attracts praise from the European press, which ignores the city’s great divide.

High on the rich list

Glasgow may be top of the list for unemployment, drug overdoses, lung cancer and knife crime, but it also scores highly on the rich list. The 2007 map of Britain’s millionaires put Glasgow seventh, with 11,288. Bourgeois Edinburgh only had 9,738, ranking 12th. What is it like to be rich in a poor city? “I’ve just come back from India and I can tell you that the people in the East End of Glasgow are doing fine compared to Indians. The poor in Glasgow are rich compared to the poor in Malawi,” said William Haughey, 53, the multimillionaire boss of City Refrigeration Holdings which employs more than 12,000 around the world. He had just returned from trips to India and Qatar, and was about to go on holiday to Las Vegas to play poker. Sitting in his office surveying his empire, surrounded by some of his trophies (Businessman of the Year, St Mungo Prize, Entrepreneur of the Year), he said the findings of the WHO report had to be put in perspective. “People don’t die earlier in the East End of Glasgow because of sanitation problems or because they don’t get fed. These bad statistics are not because of poverty or social issues. They’re down to the environment. We’ve had these problems for a long time.”

He was born into a family of semi-skilled workers in the Gorbals, yet he knows better than anyone how to talk to the rich: “Entrepreneurs and successful people hate being told what to do with their money. Don’t tax them any more, that would be a mistake. What you need to do is convince them to give a greater percentage to charity.” With an estimated fortune of at least £150m, Haughey is turning his company into a multinational, hoping to build “the biggest house in Scotland” (but he has been denied planning permission) and sets aside around 6% of his money for charity.

“We don’t shout from the rooftops about our charitable work. Through my foundation, the City Charitable Trust, we have given $10m over the years.” The foundation has provided aid for handicapped children, built hospitals and wells in Africa, and funded schools for the poor. Haughey makes it a point of honour to “give back to the community”, whether in Glasgow or Malawi. Every month he gives over his villa in Florida to his “employee of the month” and their family.

In recent years he has become better known for coming to the aid of an organization going through hard times – the Labour Party. With donations of more than £1m, he is its biggest donor in Scotland. The former prime minister Gordon Brown attended the opening of his company’s headquarters in 2009. “Glasgow’s fortunes have risen over the past decade, thanks in part to Brown’s largesse with public finances,” wrote The Times on 14 March 2010. “Inevitably, shrewd business figures such as Haughey stood to benefit from public sector payouts and contracts.”

Everyone carries a knife

On the other side of the river Clyde, in Buchanan Street – which has the seventh highest rents in the world – Kevin McGinn, Michael Manley and William Collhan wandered about eating hamburgers, with copies of their CVs in their bags. They come from poor housing estates on the outskirts of the city – Castlemilk and Easterhouse – and the media would probably call them “gang members”. They don’t deny it: “My gang is the Young Byre Fleeto,” said William, 18, who talked easily about the bloody fights he’d been in. There are some 150-200 gangs in Glasgow.

“Since I was a little boy, all my family’s been unemployed. I’ve never met my dad and my mother’s jobless at home,” he said. He gave up handing his CV into bars and shops, and joined Kevin (18 and a father of two) for a typical afternoon: two whisky cokes and four pints of beer, before the barman refused to serve them more; then valium tablets washed down with cider from the local shop. He had scars all over his body. “They’re from fights with other gangs. This is Glasgow: everyone carries a knife, and we fight.”

Sitting in a pub near the river, Michael said he was determined to get out of the gang culture. “I was in a gang, too,” said his father William Manley, who had just walked in. “That’s what led me to jail,” he said, before downing his pint and leaving to report in at the police station. Michael, too, was on probation after a fight. “Do you think we are bad?” he asked. “Everyone criticises us, because of our clothes, the way we talk, the way we have fun…” He had heard of Haughey, who used to own Celtic football club. At the mention of his name Michael jumped up in his seat: “Now there’s a real gangster!”

In the Rogano restaurant in Royal Exchange Square, round the corner from the Club 19, Sir Tom Hunter told me the story of his success. He started out with £1,000, selling trainers from the back of a van. In 1998 he sold the company to his competitor JJB Sports for £290m, earning £252m for himself. Ten years later this venture capitalist, who believes there should be as little state interference as possible, was Scotland’s first billionaire, with a fortune estimated at £1bn. He was knighted in 2005.

“I made a good deal of money. I then took the next two or three years to kind of educate myself. I had more money than I ever needed for myself or for my family.” Not knowing what to do with it, he went to see Vartan Gregorian, director of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. “He introduced me to the Carnegie philosophy: a man who dies rich dies disgraced. That resonated with me. Why wait till you’re dead to put your money to good use? Because it’s very fulfilling and it’s great fun, so why would you let somebody else have all the fun?”He has other things in common with the American railway tycoon and “robber baron” Andrew Carnegie, who left 2,500 libraries and a concert hall to the people of the US. His private equity company West Coast Capital has led to deals worth more than £4bn buying, restructuring and selling off failing companies. “Directly and indirectly, through our investments, I employ 10,500 people all over the world.”

But the “collateral damage” of his investments – principally jobs lost – faded into the background once he started talking about his big projects: “So far, through the Hunter Foundation, we’ve donated about £50m. Always for education or economic development.” These include hospitals and factories in Malawi and Rwanda, funding for schools in Scotland, setting up a centre for entrepreneurship at Strathclyde University, and patronage of Glasgow’s museums. “I expect maximum return from my investments in charity just as I do from my private equity funds.” He is just what Cameron is looking for: a multimillionaire philanthropist who will help compensate for cuts to health and education. The £50m he has given to good causes is the same as the price of his house in Cap Ferrat in the south of France, which he sold to some Russians a few months before the 2008 financial crisis. “We weren’t immune,” he said, adding that “there should be more control of financial institutions.” When his fortune was reduced, he had to put his philanthropy on hold, and sell his yacht.

The clichés of the Victorian era – that the rich are beautiful, wise and generous, the poor lazy and alcoholic – persist, but what political force is making an effort to end them? The idea that one person’s wealth might be linked to another’s poverty seems inconceivable here. Even educated people blame the poor.

Invisible class hatred

I met David Boyle, Viscount Kelburn, 32, son of the Earl of Glasgow, in his kitchen in Kelburn Castle. He complained that “people see the aristocracy as the enemy and businessmen have become the great heroes”. He says he is not very rich. “It’s not about having champagne breakfasts, or staff waiting on us on their hands and knees!” All he has is his title and his inheritance: a castle worth around £4m, and 3.5 hectares of land.

Boyle believes “money and celebrity have created a new class in society. We aristocrats inherit our parents’ wealth, but when a rich businessman passes on his wealth to his children, it’s the same mechanism.” He is cynical about philanthropists and huge charity-raising events such as the Live 8 concerts. “It’s really about how great they are and how much they care for African people. They organize big shows where they raise a lot of money. It’s hard to criticize them but in some ways they make things worse. When you’ve got so much money it’s not hard to give a small percentage.”

He describes himself as a liberal humanist and supports the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. He often feels misunderstood. “Of course people in deprived parts of Glasgow wouldn’t understand, but for us this castle is a long-term worry. We live in a cold castle without central heating and it costs us £60,000 a year just to maintain the building. We could sell it, but the family has been here since 1140.”

Boyle decided to get a group of Brazilian artists to paint graffiti all over the outside of the castle – colorful murals with a mix of cultural references. “They were inspired by the atmosphere in poor areas of Rio, but it could be anywhere. Somehow, they are social paintings. We’re living in a class society and the gap is made worse by the ignorance between the classes. You know, the hatred between different groups when they might not come in contact very often.”

But class hatred has never been made more invisible in Glasgow. The gap in life expectancy has been removed from politics and the public domain, and geographical segregation ensures the wealthy remain sealed off from the poor. That social apartheid is allowed to exist without comment illustrates how class struggle has been redefined in traditional, almost reassuring, terms over the last 30 years. Just as in the 19th century, the wretched poor live alongside the philanthropic rich. “The refusal of the bourgeoisie to be studied, and the denial of class in the 1980s and early 1990s explains the lack of sociological study into Glasgow’s bourgeoisie,” explained Paul Littlewood, a retired sociologist from Glasgow University.

One person’s blocked horizon is another’s glittering future. “The luxury market in Glasgow has been growing quite fast,” said Summera Shaheen, director of The Diamond Studio, a shop selling precious stones. “The city is just fabulous. All the famous brands are here: Rolex, Ralf Lauren, Versace. Glasgow is the UK’s second city for shopping after London.” In March Shaheen launched Love Luxury Glasgow, an association of businesses working in the high end of the market, such as spas, luxury boutiques and golf courses. “Most of our clients are from Scotland, but there’s a huge market among other European clientele, such as the newly wealthy Russians.”

When I mentioned the WHO report, she said: “There’s crime in Glasgow but isn’t there crime in every city? Mostly it’s outside the city, and there is very little chance our clients will go to Easterhouse or Calton. And anyway Glaswegians are very kind people, volunteering and giving a lot to charity. This week, for example, there are at least three charity events.” To be rich in a poor city, it seems that all you need do is close your eyes and open your heart, preferably in front of the cameras.

Britain’s coalition government contains more millionaires than any previous government: 18 of the 23 members of the “austerity cabinet” have seven-figure bank accounts. According to The Sunday Times, their collective wealth is £50m. After announcing those budget cuts, perhaps they will reach into their own pockets.

Afterword: Thatcher’s legacy

Jim Doherty is an exceptional man. This 62-year-old pensioner lives in Parkhead in Glasgow’s East End, where men’s average life expectancy is 53.9 years. He gets £560 a month disability allowance following an accident at work, and chainsmokes. “Look,” he says, opening the curtains, “over there, there used to be a steel factory, where 8,000 people worked. Just behind it was a factory making car parts employing 3,000 people. Behind that, another steel works: 7,000 workers laid off. The companies all left for Asia and eastern Europe in the 1970s.” Doherty spent his life working in an area that has seen no such decline – demolition. “I’ve knocked down whole neighbourhoods, workers’ ghettos that became ghettos for their unemployed children. I’ve demolished entire assembly lines in factories that shut down one after the other. That was my life.”

The ruins of the post-industrial world can be seen all around his house: neighborhoods infested with gangs and drugs, where the few shops have security grilles and intercoms. In Glasgow, Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s policy of destroying industry succeeded.

A few years ago Doherty set up the Gallowgate Family Support Group: around 30 volunteers giving moral and financial support to the families of drug addicts. “Over the last ten years, we’ve buried up to 5,000 of our young men.” They died from drug overdoses or violence, he said. “If you include the wages of health workers, psychiatrists and prison staff, the cost of methadone programs and syringes, social workers, specialist drug workers, chemists, prisons and shelters, not counting the money made by the dealers, the drug industry is by far the most profitable in Glasgow.”

Doherty knows as well as anyone the damage that widespread unemployment can cause. “My two sons have been addicted to heroin for more than 25 years. Now I’m trying to save my grandchildren,” he said, as he rolled another cigarette. Doherty was the man who moved the Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith (2001-03) and inspired the slogan “Broken Britain”.

The Conservative think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, got many of its ideas from Doherty. Duncan Smith came to Parkhead in 2007 after talking to Doherty, without inviting the media, to attend the funeral of a young man. He wanted to see what lessons he could learn from the dereliction of parts of Britain, and ended up calling for an end to “benefit culture”, a call that has been recently renewed. But Doherty says the present “situation is the consequence of Margaret Thatcher’s actions as prime minister. If businesses hadn’t relocated, if the factories hadn’t closed down and brought massive unemployment, we would not be in this mess today. I’m a Labour man, even if I do talk to Duncan Smith. He may be a decent man but he’ll never get my vote.”

Translated by Stephanie Irvine.

JULIEN BRYGO is a journalist.

This article appears in the September edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, the excellent monthly, whose English language edition can be found at This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features one or two articles from LMD every month.