From teenage delinquent to man of letters: James Campbell’s remarkable career

The great age of the Scottish autodidact must have ended a century ago, but it had a prodigious impact while it lasted. To read John Gross’s The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969) is to be plunged headfirst into a world of kenspeckle lads studying Nietzsche behind the crankshaft and miners quoting Burns to each other as they were winched up from the Lanarkshire coal face. If James Campbell (born 1951) isn’t quite a figure to rank with James Thompson the Younger (1834-82) or the Rev. George Gilfillan (1813-78), to name a couple of Gross’s exemplars, then he is certainly their spiritual heir – a man whose

A bitter sectarian divide: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart, reviewed

Douglas Stuart has a rare gift. The Scottish writer, whose debut novel Shuggie Bain deservedly won the 2020 Booker Prize, creates vivid characters, settings and images without letting his literary skill get in the way of plot. His second novel, Young Mungo, has a similar feel and is in many ways a kind of sequel. The characters are different, as is the Glaswegian housing scheme and the year – we are now in 1993 rather than the 1980s – but the milieu is familiar. The protagonist, Mungo Hamilton, is a frail, fatherless 15-year-old, but appears much younger. His complexion, vocal tic and poor-fitting clothes lead people to think he’s ‘thirteen,

For Glasgow – with love and squalor: The Second Cut, by Louise Welsh, reviewed

Never, never kill the dog. It’s rule one in the crime writer’s manual. Cats are bad enough, as I can testify, having once had the temerity to behead a cat — in a novel, I mean —and then crucify the mutilated corpse upside down on a church door. As a general rule, if you kill a domestic pet in your crime story you should expect a hostile postbag of epic proportions. But rules are meant to be broken. Which is why it’s a pleasure to find in Louise Welsh’s latest novel a stinking, maggot-swarming Jack Russell entombed in a chest with a tightly fitting lid. She’s an author whose stock-in-trade

Some jolly TV artifice and a rare moment of authenticity: C4’s Miriam and Alan – Lost in Scotland reviewed

Thanks to Covid, the days are gone — or at least suspended — when a TV travel programme meant a thespian in a Panama hat wandering around souks and bravely trying some funny foreign food. Instead, we now have shows in which the presenters, often operating in pairs, drive around picturesque parts of Britain cranking up the bantz, with plenty of aerial shots of their car bowling along an abnormally empty road. Take Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland — by my reckoning approximately Exhibit P. The premise here is that Alan Cumming and Miriam Margolyes are seeking to reconnect with their proud Caledonian roots, which is why the first

Six of the most melodramatic warnings from COP26

The COP26 summit in Glasgow reaches its climax today, as world leaders try and thrash out a deal to halt climate change. But as well as attempting to find agreement, politicians and other bigwigs are competing to outdo each other in their dire warnings of what might happen if nothing changes. Here are six of the most melodramatic claims to emerge so far from COP: Boris Johnson’s ‘doomsday clock’: ‘The doomsday device is real,’ said Boris Johnson as he addressed COP26 delegates on the dangers of climate change. The PM said humanity’s situation was comparable to a James Bond film where ‘a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a destination

Glasgow is threatening a rubbish COP26

Glasgow’s bin men mostly manage to avoid being drawn into international relations but that could be about to change. The city’s refuse workers have voted 96.9 per cent in favour of industrial action in response to a pay offer that would have seen local government employees on less than £25,000 gain an extra £850. Unless there is an improved offer, members of the GMB Glasgow branch could go ahead with industrial action, including during the first two weeks of November. That is, of course, when world leaders from the Prime Minister to President Biden will be in town for COP26. As I wrote about in the magazine earlier this month,

As COP26 looms, Glasgow is facing a waste crisis

In just a few weeks, Glasgow will be the focus of the world’s attention for the COP26 summit. For the Prime Minister, however, two major embarrassments await. Firstly, an environmental conference aimed at weaning the developed world off fossil fuels looks set to take place in the middle of a British energy crisis. Secondly, Glasgow — whose council is now run by the SNP for the first time — is a city in crisis where streets are overflowing with rubbish. Pavements strewn with household waste are a common sight. Residents routinely post images on social media of the city centre and its outer-lying suburbs covered in detritus. Glasgow’s bin men

Glasgow gangsters: 1979, by Val McDermid, reviewed

Like a basking shark, Val McDermid once remarked, a crime series needs to keep moving or die. The same could be said of crime writers themselves, who work in a genre that has an inbuilt tendency to encourage repetition, often with dreary results in the long term. McDermid herself, however, has a refreshing habit of rarely treading water for long. Over the past 34 years, she’s published four very different crime series, a clutch of standalones, two books for children, a modern reworking of Northanger Abbey, and several non-fiction titles. And now comes 1979, the first in a planned five-book series set at ten-year intervals up to the present. It’s

Marion Millar and Scotland’s growing hostility to women

Women in Scotland are angry. Yesterday, hundreds gathered by the McLennan Arch on Glasgow Green where their sense of betrayal was palpable. The gathering was precipitated by the ongoing case against Marion Millar, a businesswoman from Airdrie, who came under police investigation after objections were raised about six of her tweets from 2019. She was charged under the Communications Act and faces up to six months in prison if convicted. According to a report by the Times, the messages investigated by officers are understood to include a retweeted photograph of a bow of ribbons in the green, white and purple colours of the Suffragettes, tied around a tree outside the

Joan Eardley deserves to be ranked alongside Bacon and de Kooning

Painting is a fight and few artists demonstrate this more emphatically than the volatile and complicated post-war master, Joan Eardley. Scotland’s great English artist or England’s great Scottish artist, box her as you will, she’s revered north of the border, but often oddly dismissed south of it. The Scottish public have been enthralled by her work for decades, and spoiled in their access to it, with 60 or so pieces in the National Galleries of Scotland collection alone (the Tate has just one). You’re rarely far from an Eardley here, and never more so than in this, her centenary year, which sees some 20 shows and events lined up to

Why is this Labour MP attacking police for enforcing the law?

The most outlandish political joke of the moment is the idea that the Labour party believes in strong border controls. Keir Starmer gave it a run out in PMQs yesterday, berating Boris Johnson by observing:  ‘Our borders have been wide open pretty much throughout the pandemic.’ Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs select committee, has also been unleashing her trademark owlish looks of disapproval at ministers over an alleged lack of stringency in Covid-related immigration measures. During the Queen’s Speech debate she complained:  ‘For months on end there were no public health border measures in place at all.’ Labour presumably hopes that to be seen outflanking the Tories on

Glasgow’s immigration raid stand-off is nothing to celebrate

The rule of law is very simple: it means ‘everyone must obey the law’. Last year, much hay was made by a variety of politicians claiming the government might breach the rule of law over Brexit. It had not. But even the idea that the rule of law might have been broken was given rightful attention. We should take from that a comforting truth that breaches of the rule of law matter to society. This week, a large group of people physically obstructed immigration officers in the proper conduct of their office in Glasgow, preventing them from detaining two men. This was a breach of the rule of law. The

Makes me nostalgic for an era when music was more than a click away: Teenage Superstars reviewed

In Teenage Superstars, a long and slightly exhausting documentary about the Scottish indie scene of the 1980s and ’90s, there was a moment when a man revelling in the name of Stephen Pastel — his real name is Stephen McRobbie, and he must be pushing 60 now — was described as ‘the mayor of the Scottish underground’. Such a position — even one, as this, necessarily unelected — would be all but impossible to occupy today. With the internet and democratisation of music — its creation, its distribution, its consumption — has come the fallowing of what were once its most fertile fields: the local scenes created and inhabited by

Welder, banjo player, comedian, actor, and now artist – Billy Connolly interviewed

We are in a basement gallery in London’s West End, and Britain’s greatest comedian is doing what he does best — sharing his delight at the daft absurdities of daily life. He remembers seeing a little boy wading into the freezing waters at Aberdeen. ‘You make a certain noise when the wave comes up. It’s a noise that you can only repeat by shoving a hot potato up a donkey’s arse.’ He is making this empty gallery feel as though it’s full of people — and a bunch of strangers laugh like old friends. ‘A lot of my stuff doesn’t have punchlines’. He doesn’t need them. ‘It’s lovely just making

A river runs through it

It sounds like something out of Dickens or a novel by Thackeray, a classic case of high-minded Victorian philanthropy, but the Glasgow Humane Society was actually set up much earlier, in 1790 (just after the revolutionary fervour in France demanded liberty, fraternity, equality), to protect human life in the city and especially on the river Clyde. It still exists and Glasgow claims to be the only city in the world to have a full-time officer dedicated to rescuing people from drowning. Back when it began the river and its banks were hectic with shipbuilding, trade and manufacturing. Now the city is almost ashamed of its river; no big ships, hardly

A soldier’s-eye view

The first world war paintings of Paul Nash are so vivid and emotive that they have come to embody, as readily as any photograph, the horrendous, bitter misery of the trenches. His blighted landscapes represent the destruction of a generation of soldiers, men who were blasted apart as carelessly as the bomb-shattered mud in ‘The Mule Track’ (1918) or the reproachful twists of blackened wood and pocked land in ‘Wire’ (1918/9). These works are fixtures in our visual understanding of that war. It is strange, then, to see an exhibition of first world war art that excludes Nash, his brother John, and indeed any of the other artists we associate

Why dismiss a Catholic priest for being Catholic?

They’re just kids! What’s your problem? This has become the default reaction of a whole raft of clever people to anyone who gets hot under the collar about the fashion for students banning things in universities: speakers, ideas, books. It was ever this way, they say, and besides, sometimes the kids are right. The little episode of righteous vandalism at Manchester last week was a case in point. Students painted over a mural of Kipling’s ‘If’ in the newly renovated union building, on the grounds that he ‘dehumanised people of colour’. Kipling was a racist, they insisted, a man of Empire. Out came the whitewash and on top of it

On the buses | 12 July 2018

When did you last take the bus? If you don’t live in London, probably not for ages. In her two-part series for Radio 4, Mind the Gap, Lynsey Hanley set out to demonstrate just how difficult it is to access public transport outside the capital. In Skelmersdale, billed in the 1960s as a place of opportunity, a new town where everything would work better to make life easy for everyone, rich, middling and poor, no rail connection was built into the plan and now there are very few buses to get around. So bad is it that the council has had to set up a subsidised taxi scheme (euphemistically known

Glasgow School of Art is much more than just an art college

Let’s be clear. This is not Grenfell. The word ‘tragedy’ may be all over the news, Twitter may be full of despair, but no architectural loss can compare with the deaths of seventy-two people. Nevertheless, the response to the latest devastating fire at Glasgow School of Art really is visceral and profound, just as it was four years ago when part of the building that included Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s world famous art nouveau library, first burned down. The Mack, as the old section of the art school is known, is more than a building, more than an institution; it’s one of the cultural threads that runs through Glasgow, or at

Low life | 12 October 2017

Early on Friday morning I flew from the north of Iceland to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Heathrow, then I hopped aboard the night sleeper from Euston to Glasgow Central to attend the wedding of Catriona’s eldest daughter, held the next day at the Winter Gardens of the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green. Three years ago, Catriona separated from her husband after a 30-year-long union. The separation was not amicable and is as yet unsettled. Apart from a glimpse at a graduation, the wedding was the first time they had been in the same room for three years. I was invited to the reception but not to the ceremony. As the