Four Years Ago…

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Four years ago, today, reality collided into our very beings as we realised that despite all the canvassing, meetings and conversations, most Scottish voters had preferred to stay part of the United Kingdom than for Scotland to become an independent country. Despite the grief felt by many, there was a genuine optimism that a new kind of politics had been forged throughout the referendum campaign. I for one was very proud to play a role, working with people of all parties and none to put across an alternative vision for the future of Scotland.

In the weeks and months following the referendum, this hope and optimism turned for many into an adoption of different colours and fierce attacks at any criticisms of roles played in the referendum. Some like myself, foolishly thought real change was possible in helping to evolve and enhance other pro-independence parties to in part remove the stigma that independence was ‘all about the SNP’ While members of smaller pro independence parties were asked to lend their vote in General Elections on the vague assurances that it would be repaid in the PR votes of Holyrood.

When they never came further divide was created. Added to that those who dared to ask for more from a Scottish Government who had pledged in 2015 to end austerity politics were hounded, tarred as unionists in disguise, suddenly the unspoken common charter of decency and genuine debate was torn apart. In what may be an unpopular opinion, the SNP must shoulder some of this blame. In seeking to maintain their ascendancy they have allowed this to tarnish the positive and inviting atmosphere the yes campaign had created. In short, they have placed party power ahead of any chance to improve the route to independence.

Further proof in this was in their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Here at last there was a Labour leader who shared the vision of a society many in the yes campaign had espoused, yet rather than seek to work with him or to convince his many supporters in Scotland that independence was the best route for this society in both Scotland and ergo through successful implementation in the RoUK also. They have instead joined in with the Tory party and media attacks on him and those with an opportunity to transform the Labour Party into the socially just party it was created to be.

To be fair to the SNP their attacks and power grabs are understandable to a degree in that they must retain power in Holyrood to have another opportunity at an independence referendum, however they have by proxy set off the more ardent fringe members of the yes campaign to act in a way that has seriously tarnished not only the legacy of the yes campaign but also future opportunities for a successful referendum result.

It is however not too late to rescue the situation. The re-emergence of local yes groups is a positive step in moving the campaign away from the fringes of social media. The real positivity and creativity of the last campaign came from these groups in conjunction with the smaller yes parties and groups such as Labour for Independence, RIC, BFI, and Women for Independence. While the Common Weal has been in place these last four years and have produced a power of positive alternatives for policy within an independent Scotland, they have with respect fallen into the same trap that many local yes groups had last time out.

Far too often meetings and events were arranged that were preaching to the converted. A reality must set in that if we are to achieve a yes vote beyond 50% we must reach out to those who voted no the last time. Offer to debate them, attend the same groups & projects within the community and engage with them on a more personal basis. I for one am guilty of not reaching out as much as I could to no voters in these last four years.

Finally, Labour are not the enemy, most decisions in the party are made by a select few within the party, most members whether they will agree with a yes vote or not will engage and debate. One of the biggest failings in the last campaign was finding comfort in calling Labour red Tories when really, they just had a differing point of view.

There is still an opportunity to begin to rebuild the bridges which have fragmented the Yes Campaign, I’m sure some will accuse this article, by criticising the SNP, of further fracturing the movement. I respectfully disagree. As we so often repeated during the last referendum, yes isn’t about Salmond, or Sturgeon or the SNP, it is about creating a better society. I believe in that better society, I believe that Jeremy Corbyn can deliver that in a Westminster Parliament if given the opportunity, but will he ever get that chance? That’s a case that needs to be made. It won’t be made without engagement of no voters, nor without self-regulating the content we support on social media. It’s time to mend fences and then regardless of yes or no, we will be back on the road to a better nation.


By Allan Grogan


You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear from a range of left views on our podcast 

Life In The Empire Part 4: Modern Vassal States

Reading Time: 6 minutesVassal states have no place in the 21st century world stage, argues George Collins

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A bed for a recovering alcoholic at the inpatient treatment center I work at is comprised of five layers: mattress pad; fitted sheet; flat sheet; blanket; bedspread. Not a single crease can remain on the bedspread once it’s been placed. Hospital corners must adorn the foot of the bed by lifting the mattress itself, gripping a portion of the overhanging sheets about a foot from the end of the bed and draping it onto the top, tucking the remaining material between the lifted portion and the lower edge flat under the mattress, and letting the mattress back down while allowing the raised portion to drift over the side to form the bed’s wings. I’m in the detox hallway preparing one such bed, as even the most far-gone alcoholic who won’t remember their stay here can still appreciate a soft landing pad during the hell of withdrawal, when Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network informs me that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to push back on the Trump Administration’s tariffs against Canada with retaliatory measures of their own. He ends his sentence by reminding the audience that Canadians “will not be pushed around”.

The good prime minister knows worlds more about running a country than I do, and his hospital corners are probably also superior to mine, but this was one of the most laughably empty threats I’ve ever heard in the geopolitical sphere.

The notion that Canada could inflict any meaningful damage to United States commercial interests without suffering massive losses in its own economy ignores a reality the Canadian left warned about decades ago: Canadian export markets depend on U.S. buyers on an overwhelming scale. Almost three-quarters of Canada’s total export markets cited the U.S. as their primary buyer in 2017, and all but three of the top twenty Canadian export industries ship the majority of their product down south. It’s Donald Trump’s sword against Trudeau’s dagger, and while my heart may be in Ottawa for that fight, my money’s staying in Washington D.C. The Canadian left always understood the liability this schematic could create if the U.S. ever chose to leverage this enormous imbalance over the Canadian economy. They called for Canadian industries to diversify their markets and disarm this ticking time bomb. Previous Canadian prime ministers did not heed the warning, and now Trudeau is stuck in the difficult position of lacking the leverage to push back on the coercive tariffs Trump decided to slap on when he cut himself shaving that morning.

History buffs may recognize this relationship. It echoes the vassal states of the bygone colonial era when colonies relied on their mother countries to build and maintain their fundamental economic infrastructure. For all practical purposes, Canada is a 21st century neo-vassal state of its titanic neighbor. It’s been an unspoken reality since the end of the Second World War. But Canada isn’t the only country waking up to this reality; the nations of Europe find themselves in similar identity crises following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal) and the subsequent sanctions that threaten to close off U.S. markets to any international company that continues to do business in Iran.

The European Union runs a slight trade surplus with the U.S. which increases its potential leverage over that of Canada, but it now faces a crucial decision in its future global trade prospects: capitulate to an arbitrary decision made by the U.S. president, or risk losing access to vital U.S. markets. Similar objections rose across the E.U. when the U.S. Congress passed sanctions on Russia for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. E.U. members felt the sanctions would harm their capacities to engage in commerce with Russia, a core trading partner of several E.U. member nations.

The post-Second World War global economic structure has created a string of scenarios in which a single country’s decisions force its allies to comply or else risk potentially catastrophic economic blowback while the country making the decisions faces none of the consequences. German historian Philipp Ther documented the spread of U.S. economic dominance in Europe in his book Europe Since 1989: A History. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet economic models throughout eastern Europe, neoliberal economic philosophy seeped into the consciousness of the former communist states throughout the 1990s. Poland was the first to fall to such influence due to a hyper-inflated currency and obscene amounts of accumulated debt. The former Yugoslavia followed in short succession. The floodgates of free market fetishism burst open from there to infect not just the former communist states but also the welfare states of western Europe. Take a look at the meteoric rise of right-wing nationalism in the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Italy, and so many other nations and you will find yellow brick roads leading back to the twenty-year wreckage of neoliberal policies radiating into these countries from the cancer that is U.S. global economic dominance.

The fallout also spreads into relations between European states. Greece’s 2013 declaration of bankruptcy prompted a series of austerity measures that cut government programs and raided Greek citizens’ retirement funds. International media spun the crisis as a battle between Greece and the French-German coalition tasked with negotiating a settlement to reconstruct the Greek economy. However, as explained by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in his book Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment, this was never an accurate depiction. The insistence on austerity measures came not from France or Germany, or even the European Central Bank, but from the mouth of the International Monetary Fund, an institution serving as a group of economic hitmen addicted to slaughtering whole economies. No country exerts more influence over IMF policy than the U.S., and ordinary Europeans act as lightning rods for the whimsical decisions made by American-backed fat cats in suits. Sure, let’s try austerity measures in Greece; see what happens. Not like our retirement pensions are the ones being gutted. And hey, they’ll just blame Germany and France when the deal goes south. The Greek financial crisis was never a matter of France and Germany versus Greece; it was always a product of international private interests serving U.S. goals while turning European nations against each other. A textbook process of privatizing the gains and socializing the losses.

Vassal status extends beyond the economic sphere into military alliances. Donald Trump’s criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sparked a bizarre infatuation with the conglomerate among the American left. My hot take: NATO is an outdated relic of U.S. imperialism that needs to be dismantled in the interests of maintaining peace across Europe. Confused? Bear with me.

Think about the official NATO military interventions, all of which occurred after the fall of the Warsaw Pact it was created to oppose. What European interests did the 21st century interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya serve? What country in the NATO alliance benefited from the waves of migrants fleeing the carnage in desperate efforts to reach havens in Europe? Tony Blair talked a big game about the importance of destroying the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and fractured the U.K.’s relationship with continental Europe in the process, all because then-president George W. Bush told him to. The U.S. couldn’t care less about this blowback; there’s a whole ocean to keep migrants and international tensions at bay. This is another central characteristic of vassal states: the use of military resources for the mother country’s interests regardless of the consequences for those on the frontier.

Like most 21st century mechanisms of colonialism, the vassal status of U.S. allies is not as explicit as the colonies of old. It’s also not as clear-cut as American installation of a series of dictators in the Philippines to crush the rising indigenous socialist movements there or the continued exploitation of Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, and other islands as “protectorates” with limited sovereignty. The vassal status of U.S. allies in the Western world sounds outrageous, as how can countries on relatively equal standing be locked in such a dynamic? Answer that yourself by asking what realistic strategy Canada can implement to push back on the Trump administration’s tariffs, or why European governments cannot convince their largest private companies to continue operations in Iran in their efforts to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal, or why a crash of the U.S. dollar set in motion by greedy halfwits that the U.S. government refuses to prosecute mangles the global economy in a way no other currency can dream about doing. While you’re at it, ask yourself what benefits any European nation reaped from any U.S.-led NATO intervention of the past twenty years, or how escalating tensions with Russia over yet unproven election interference increases safety for any E.U. citizen.

The picture that emerges isn’t a pretty one for any European sovereignty enthusiast; it’s painted with blood on a canvas of skin.

As the world barrels towards a new multi-polar horizon with the rise of emerging markets like China and the formation of Russia, China, and Iran as a new and albeit unstable Eastern Bloc, many in the Western world are also reevaluating their desires to stay hitched to a bloated abusive partner in the United States. The Canadian left’s warnings of the dangers of unilateral dependency on U.S. markets have finally reached a mainstream audience in Canadian politics. China’s explorations into alternatives to U.S. dollar dependency and announcements of possible investment into Iranian markets has encouraged E.U. member states such as Germany to consider shifting their own international commerce towards the new Eastern Bloc. Resistance to military budget expansion among NATO states and the bizarre addition of Colombia to the mix has created skepticism of the alliance’s relevance in a post-Cold War world. It’s high time Canada and the countries of Europe break from their status as neo-vassals serving the interests of the American Empire over their own.

Vassal states have no place in the 21st century world stage.

You can read part 1 of Life in the Empire here,  part 2 here, and part 3 here

By George Collins

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

The Profit Murders

Reading Time: 3 minutesThe silence of the left should shame us all, says Neil Scott

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Scottish Television investigative Reporters have produced a programme, “The Dark Side of Dairy.” For a wee bar of milk chocolate, or milky tea, male calves are put to death almost as soon as they are born. Their lives are almost totally worthless in our for profits capitalist system. Same with eggs. Male birds are worthless, so when they hatch, they are thrown into a grinder for feed.

I find veganism difficult for only two reasons. One when I’m in Northern Ireland, restaurants and cafes rarely have good vegan alternatives. I’m waiting to be offered a cabbage sandwich. And two, if its in the house (I live with an omnivore and a vegetarian) my resolve can melt. I’m getting better at that though.

My veganism is for many reasons. But primarily because with all conscience, I couldn’t kill an animal myself, so I don’t feel anyone should do it on my behalf.

This is the same regarding war. I won’t support anyone sent on my behalf to kill people if I can’t do it myself. And I couldn’t.

I’ve been wrestling with Syria and what is going on there. There are many reasons why a British or American led force to stop Assad and Russia from slaughtering people in Idlib can or can’t be deployed. The left are pretty adamant as a semi cohesive group are against military intervention. But something MORE needs to happen. And those like me on the left, should be talking about it. It’s time to ignore the conspiracy theorists and Assadists.  I feel the left, by almost ignoring the slaughter in Syria (and the Yemen) have shown really, how weak we are. How incohesive we really are. How scared we are in the current onslaught by conspiracy theorists, the alt right and the likes (and how the Venn diagram of these groups, and the left overlap, as Sheridan for example, here in Scotland issues a series of idiot conspiracy theorist tweets and takes ultra capitalist Russian gold with a contract with the propagandist broadcaster, Sputnik).

And worse still, how scared we are of the Puritans on our own side. In my opinion those who wave their analysis like some street corner Preacher points his Bible at passers by, and name call and tell those of us debating and discussing some kind of intervention, “You are supporting Imperialism,” are tacitly supporting the murder of tens of thousands of children, women and men.

The shutting down of conversation about what we as the left should call for, or we as the geo-political entity currently called the UK can do will be a defining moment in 21st century history. This current period will shame the left for decades to come. 

Have I got a solution? No, I haven’t. I don’t know all of the options. As an individual I can do nothing. I cant take up arms, and me boycotting the arms trade in the UK in order to try to stop the state sanctioned murders of Yemini families has no impact. Making statements on social media has absolutely no impact – it only draws the conspiracy theorists, the Vanessa Beeley fanboys and girls and the ultra left manic street preachers. The coalition to stop the war is no longer campaigning to stop war. Only some war. So I feel I am no longer part of a coalition, I am part of a group of people effectively silenced while all around me, for my consumption, people are sacrificed. I am -we are- silenced. We are unable – incapable – of discussions on stopping the war, stopping the state sanctioned murders for profit.

I salve my conscience regarding the meat and dairy trade. I do my best not to take part. But my silence and my fear regarding what is happening in the Yemen, Syria, Palestine and other theatres of war, allows the capitalist forces of the USA, the UK, France, and Russia to slaughter human beings in order for billionaires to create new markets for whatever crap they want us addicted to.

When will I find my voice again? I fear never. Because we are shamed. What can we ever say on a world wide stage that should be taken seriously? We’ve given the stage to Putin, Trump and the corporations they oil the wheels for.

And they gladly send people to slaughter others, because the lives of daughters, sons, mothers, fathers are almost worthless in their profit driven, capitalist system.

By Neil Scott

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Brexit Fightback: We must demand a better future

Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Maggie Chapman

I’ve hesitated to write much about Brexit: there is so much uncertainty, so much chaos. But we on the left need to get ourselves organised, if we want to prevent this chaotic uncertainty from blighting our future for generations to come. I want us to work together to stop Brexit from happening.

Scotland voted remain by a clear majority. As a nation, we understand the importance of being part of something bigger … not in a ‘being shackled to’ sense, but in a sense that while our own small country is beautiful there is a bigger world out there that we want to look out to, not close ourselves down from. I am, unapologetically, an internationalist.

I can’t not mention the disdain with which the UK treats Scotland: SNP parliamentarians being told that suicide was the best option open to them when they were not given a say in changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement; the wishes of the Scottish Parliament being completely ignored. Westminster is a farce, and it has been for some time. But it is a symbol of just how broken British democracy, is. Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken.

And this should matter to us. The 2016 EU referendum was called in order to hold the Tory party together. But there was then NO attempt to explain what it would actually mean. We were sold a completely false prospectus by the leave campaigns (still waiting for the £350 million a week for the NHS). There was no attempt to articulate what was good about the EU. No one talked about what sovereignty or “take back control” actually mean. And there was no real opposition to Brexit in Westminster. The Labour Party failed to argue either that that the EU was worth fighting for (given it has secured workers’, women’s, LGBT, environmental and so many other rights, freedom of movement, and a consolidated economic force) or that Brexit was a good idea because the EU is an anti-democratic structure that needs to be defeated in the interests of human and environmental rights.

In Scotland, we have an opportunity to offer something a little bit different to the debate. We are used to talking about politics, about how decisions should be made. We understand, here, that local power and local decision-making matters. So let’s lead the charge against a British Empire 2.0 Brexit!

Because none of the three prospects for Brexit that I think are possible is very palatable.

First, we have Brexit in name only, or BINO. This looks like an EEA sort of relationship that brings with it contributions to the EU budget, requirements to abide by Commission decisions, access to the single market, freedom of movement of people. However, it also means no say in EU policy development and implementation. And it brings with it the very real – and quite terrifying – risk of a right wing rebellion at Brexit denied. I am sure that none of us wants to see the fascism of the far right gain any purchase in our politics … we certainly don’t want a deeply racist anti-immigrant, racist backlash.

Second, we have what we might call Tory Brexiteer Brexit – “Global Britain” – signing trade deals, reorientation away from the EU and towards other markets. But this brings with it a period of deep economic reorganisation once we’ve moved to WTO rules and before we’ve negotiated any other trade deals or relationships. The economy in this context will be low wage, low regulation, no worker protection, increasing inequality (the removal of all social protections) – privatisation and full charging of NHS like US model, privatised education, road user charging, marketisation of all local government services (rubbish collections, environmental wardens, etc.). This is the Jacob Rees Mogg model. If you disliked TTIP, this brings a TTIP with every trade deal, only with even more loss of sovereignty because our negotiating weight is substantially less than that of the EU.

And thirdly, we have what we could call the Jeremy Corbyn model – Britain insulated from the global economy, much less access to global goods, the replacement of some of those with domestic industries, but the move away from having as many consumer goods, because they’ll become much more expensive. This is a much poorer country, but probably more equal and more solidaristic. But, it requires a massive reorientation of what people’s life expectations are. It’s also not really clear that it is deliverable, possible, desirable, or what anyone wanted.

I don’t want any of these futures for Scotland, or the UK, for that matter. The reason the UK government is making such heavy going of Brexit, though, is that none of these scenarios is desirable to anyone other than small groups of people. It is very hard to derive a national interest out of all of this.

So where does all of this leave us?

The truth of the matter is this. We need immigrants. We need reforms within the EU (because it is obviously far from perfect as it is). We need to make the case across Europe that the Brexit experiment is one that has failed and should not be repeated. We need to make the case that it is the idea that is bad, not simply the execution of the idea.

We are in an awkward position, however. If the question is “how do we get to where we want to be?”, the most accurate answer is “I wouldn’t start from here”. But we are here. We are here because of decades of an ideology that destroys community and creates a political elite that seeks to strip power from the people it is supposed to serve.

These are the same reasons that I argued, and still do so, for Independence for Scotland. The case for independence is stronger than ever; not because of Brexit, but because of the things that caused Brexit. Brexit is, I believe, the culmination of three important, and completely intertwined, crises: a crisis of the British state, a crisis around the collapse of a political consensus, and a deep industrial crisis.

And I firmly believe that a solution to these crises lie in transforming our democracy. We need a radical shake up of our representative democratic structures. AND we must have a new and invigorated participatory democratic society. So that is where we must focus our energies: in getting people involved, in making a noise, in demanding democracy. The fight back must be of our making, because it is our movement holds the key to a better future.

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Drag-Opticon at the Panopticon

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The oldest surviving music hall on the planet, entered down a wee inconspicuous lane, just off the Trongate in Glasgow city centre. First opened in the 1850’s, the Panopticon (then called the Britannia Music Hall) was an escape for the industrial workers of the booming Glasgow mills and forges. The Glasgow crowd was renowned for their heckling, which sometimes included ship building rivets being flung at the performers.

The performers ranged from comedy acts, singers and of course dancing girls. One of the most famous acts that is still celebrated today was none other than a young Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame. The Panopticon was also one of the first music halls to get wired into the electricity grid. This meant that the hall could also show movies. Although in the end, the rise of the cinema is what sealed the Panopticon’s fate. Unable to compete with the growing number of Picture Houses in the city, the building was sold in 1938. 

The new owners rearranged the layout of the building, converting the front entrance and box office into a shop and sealing up the balconies and upper auditorium. Effectively preserving them to be found in 1997.

Fast forward to today and the music hall has so much charm, it is the perfect place to host a drag show. A little bit quirky, a little bit weird, awkward and battered, but done up and making an effort, charming and with a specific aroma. The theatre is as fabulous as any drag queen I’ve seen.

And Drag-Opticion did not disappoint. These were queens I had never seen before. Usually when you go to a drag show, you will be familiar with who is performing, you know the routine they will do and their style of drag. I went into this show totally unaware. I was so excited to see the building I didn’t do my usual internet searching for the performers. I was pleasantly surprised.

I have seen some of the best drag performers on the planet and some of the worst. The amazing thing about drag though is how varied it is. Some folk who aren’t into it presume it is just some guys dressing up as women and lip syncing, it is not. It is an art. High artistry is required to conceptualise, produce and perform several acts on stage, all while in stiletto heels.

And having Drag-Opticon at the Panopticon couldn’t have been a better fit. A venue as beaten as the queen’s contours, with just as many highlights. The shabby sheek of the building just emphasised the fabulousness of the queens. Dark and gloomy corners were brightened with fairy lights and rainbow flags, original features of the music hall peaked through as high fashion garments swirled on stage with performers.

The performers were a range of clearly young queens and experienced seasoned professionals. The compère was a Drag Queen called Alana Duvey, she was as expected, fabulous and funny. Charming and chatty. She made the audience feel at ease, went with the flow and kept the camp flowing.

There was fabulous high fashion from Dharma Geddon and an especially “wow that’s amazing and like nothing I’ve seen before” second act. There was a lot of comedy, it is a drag show after all, CJ Banks delivered humour on so many levels and made me cry tears of laughter. Soofae SooFierce was beautiful and quirky. Lucy Stewpid was a refreshing new take on drag with a big Anime flavour. Clare S. Fully brought a clear Sasha Velour flavour. And I would be amiss to not mention the ever present stage hand, Pebbles. 

The outfits were fabulous, there were some who needed a little bit more attention to detail, but I’m sure they will learn with experience. The make up was varied and each look was appropriate for their wardrobe changes. I was particularly impressed with Dharma Geddon’s fencing outfit. I want, nae need, her brown leather shoulder cuff and collar.

Overall the whole show was superb, we have already purchased our tickets for the next show. Downsides include accessibility, however this is to be expected in any historical building. There are three short flights of stairs, there are handrails and it isn’t too steep. There is also no accessible toilet and the auditorium can get a bit chilly. But the show is worth it. The Friends of the Panopticon are currently trying to raise money to install some central heating, please go visit the website to find out more…

Drag-Opticion is a clearly a grassroots show, produced and performed by the people who love the art of drag. It was heartfelt and engaging, set in a majestic building steeped in history of performance in the city. There were some technical sound issues, but I feel it was minor. Nothing detracted from the fact you felt you were in a secret club, a speak-easy vibe with a small bar and few patrons. 

This for me was an amazing show, I laughed, I awed and was most definitely entertained. I would recommend this show to anyone, but due to lack of access to the old building I can only give it a 4/5* review. This does not reflect the quality of performance.

by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear from more left voices on our Podcast

Stop telling women what to wear and how to look!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I remember being in high school and having to wear a skirt. You could wear colottes or a pinafore, but not trousers. No matter how smart. It was infuriating.

Fast forward twenty years and still, society wants to enforce fashion ideals on women. Women in the media, in sport and in general. Stop it, really chuck it up!

The biggest story on the issue right now has to be that of Serena Williams, one of the most successful female tennis players of all time. A woman who has reinvented the women’s game and is an icon of awesomeness. The French Tennis Federation banned this tennis superstar, hall of famer from wearing a specifically designed biotech garment because they deemed it “disrespectful”.

This is the garment: 

Nike specially designed the medical catsuit 

Just so we are clear tennis fans, Anna Kournikova picking her knickers oot her bum, is ok and worthy of world wide promotion (see iconic poster below) but full body coverage on Serena Williams, not ok? 

This image used to be above entrances to sports shops and gyms

To make matter worse, Alizé Cornet was penalised at the US Open for reversing her inside out top. She was wearing a well supporting sports bra which is more like a crop top than a sexy under garment. The organisers have since apologised but lets consider the male players who frequently sit topless basking in their multi-abbed glory and regularly change tops during their breaks. 

It was an apparent violation for taking her shirt off on the court, even though she walked to well behind the baseline, practically in front of the ballboy. Who by the way reacted more maturely than the commentators on that clip.

Novak Abs
Murray Moobs


Here are some male tennis players also apparently violating some dress code I presume?

To be fair to Andy Murray, he has come out against this sort of shit, wow, when Andy Murray is more of a feminist icon that you could ever thought to imagine, we know the world needs a changing.

But is it just the archaic rules of an old fashioned, traditional sport? Well no not really. Take a winner of a singing competition who now hosts different telly programs. A young woman who was body shamed by a celebrity gossip magazine. Called “boring” and “desperate”. Ah but to be expected from gossip rags you may say, they too have since apologised. That doesn’t take away the hurt and anger that must have had an impact.

What about a less publicised sort of event. A chess meet in Iran? In June, Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan refused to wear a head scarf and withdrew from the competition. This wasn’t the first time she had refused to be told what to wear. 

An 18 year old Malaysian football freestyler defends wearing her headscarf saying “the headscarf is not an obstacle.” She also refuses to be told what to do and what to wear.

When women are being encouraged to stay active and keep fit, why should it matter what we wear. If you can wear an ass cheek revealing short dress but not a medically tight full length cat suit is that right? When you can be penalised for displaying your midriff on court but men not penalised for baring full moobage and abbbbs, should we care? When we compete, whether in a chess competition, a sports ball event or a singing competition, why does it matter what females wear or how we look? When women are going about their daily business what difference does it make to anybody what we wear? 

Why is any of this important? Why does any of this matter? Why do you think?



by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear from more left voices on our podcast 


Reading Time: 5 minutes


By Stevedore McCormack (sic)


Kenneth Pringle took a long drag on his cigarette, exhaled a mighty cloud of smoke and delivered his coup de grace: ‘I am now 100% certain that Stephen Kinnock is a mind-controlled asset. His wife, Helle Thorning-Schmidt is his de facto handler; just as Glenys was his father’s mind-control handler. It is generational; they like to keep it in the family.’ He registered my open-mouthed expression.
He sighed, crushed his cigarette out on the Formica table-top and leaned back.
‘You remember the Westland Affair?’ He asked, patiently
‘Vaguely’, I replied. ‘Wasn’t it something to do with helicopters?’
He chuckled. ‘Thatcher was on the ropes, it was up to Kinnock to merely pick his spot and bury her. By all accounts the Iron Lady was ashen as she took her seat on the front bench. But somehow, miraculously, Kinnock blew it. It was an open goal and he managed to hoof the ball right up into the gallery. He waffled on and on about nothing – it seemed to onlookers like the mutterings of a madman. It made absolutely no sense. That is until – until – you realise this: Glenys, his erstwhile wife and handler had suggested a game of cards to calm his nerves beforehand’.
He sat back triumphantly, and waited. Unfortunately, once again I had absolutely no idea what he meant.
-‘I’m sorry, a game of cards?’ I shook my head, really none the wiser. He sighed again.
‘I take it you’ve never seen the Manchurian Candidate, with Angela Lansbury?’ I had to admit I hadn’t, so that night I downloaded and watched it again. I now believe I understand why Kenneth Pringle placed so much importance on that seemingly innocent ‘game of cards’

(Above) Glenys Kinnock, 1986

But why would Glenys Kinnock want her husband to fail? …

Ultimately Kenneth Pringle is in no doubt that Kinnock’s one and only job as Labour Leader was to put all the ‘cards’ in place: expel militants; float the idea of ditching Clause 4; and hold the seat until the right ‘candidate’ was put in place. For all this to be accomplished the country had to be allowed to lurch further to the Right, this was in order that Labour’s rightward lurch would seem lesser in comparison. Ultimately Thatcher had to be allowed to remain in power for as long as possible.

(Stephen Kinnock and father Neil; pictured with their respective handlers)


One ex-Camden Labour councillor I was introduced to claims he witnessed, on several occasions, magickal rituals taking place in the basement of Camden Town Hall. These ceremonies, he insists were often presided over by Frank Dobson, who was regarded as a kind of ceremonial high-priest.

(Above) Frank Dobson: High-Priest and chaos magician?

“Initially Camden was a very socialist borough”, explains the ex-councillor. “The ceremonies were power-rituals, but they were generally intended to further the socialist cause. Then one day Frank wasn’t there and in his place, wearing Franks’ robe was this younger, slimmer man. Suddenly the candles were darker, the whole thing was darker: the energies I mean. We were being steered away from these gentle Wiccan ceremonies and toward something far darker and insidious.
“Who was the young man?” I asked.
“He soon went on to be communications director for Neil Kinnock, that’s all I’m saying”

(Above) Neil Kinnock receives instructions from his Communications Director.



Whilst all of this was fascinating I was still no nearer to cracking the enigma that is Jeremy Corbyn, and neither, it seemed, did either Pringle or Meeks.

Kenneth Pringle did however permit me an afternoon to trawl through his extensive notes whilst he was attending the Truth-Seeker Expo at Chelmsford. Having tried to make sense of his extensive notes on the Labour Party-occult connections (Barbara Castle as the Scarlet Woman anyone?); eventually I stumbled across this intriguing piece of paper:

It seems Pringle was indeed at some point following up some intriguing leads, but for some reason they seemed to have been halted (or maybe he had become distracted; there seemed to be an inordinate amount of research into Hazel Blears for instance). To my untrained eye his ideas did appear a little far-fetched, but then again I was by this time so far through the looking-glass I had no idea of what the truth of anything was anymore.


The question I started out seeking to answer somehow got lost along the way. The question was, am I part of the Cult of Corbyn? It is after all, an accusation bandied around by various worthies such as Dan Hodges; Julia Huntley-Brewer; and even esteemed authors such as J K Rowling.

– In truth I feel I am no closer to a definitive answer (and I worry that this may be due to my successful brainwashing). Yet upon reflection it now seems more likely that I am, (along with so very many other Labour members) merely a hapless pawn, a pawn like so many others who is caught in the crossfire between two eternally warring camps.

Perhaps I need to turn to metaphor to get closer to the truth. So, with that in mind, imagine this:

Two shadowy wizards are perched high upon facing mountaintops. No one knows how long they’ve been up there. In different guises, perhaps they’ve been up there forever; throwing magical lightning bolts at one another. Currently upon the right-sided mountain is the wizard Mandelson; steeped in the dark magic of Crowley; his thunderbolts are composed of media spin and soundbites. Upon the left is the wizard Lansman; versed in the arcane magic of the Kabala; his thunderbolts are comprised of social media memes and carefully targeted cyphers.

Ironically the faction once known as New Labour employs the devices of Old Magic (via old media), whilst those who are decried as representing old and hopelessly outdated Labour, conversely use the devices of New Magic. Each side are wedded to their own visions; both camps are immovable; each accusing the other of encouraging cult-like devotion.

We each pick our side; we each employ our own trusted, if lesser weapons.
Yet all the while, as this unseen and eternal war rages, there is a man who engenders both hatred and devotion. He is a bearded man, and he looks remarkably like David Nellist.

Now finally, picture this:

It is night-time, and in a relatively modest kitchen in North London, the bearded man screws shut the seal on yet another pot of jam. He slowly and carefully wipes his hands upon his tracksuit trousers and crosses the kitchen in order to turn out the kitchen light, but he does not exit. Instead he walks back into the now darkened kitchen, cups his hands around his face and peers out of the window. He allows his eyes to adjust awhile, until he can see the few remaining stars not quite obliterated by the glare of the sodium streetlights outside.

He hums a tune; the tune is unrecognisable at first.

Dum tum-te-dum …
He starts to sing softly at first, and now the song becomes evident….

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here

He pulls his face back from the window, lowers his arms and smiles secretly to himself.

He exits the kitchen.

All is quiet and still now within the darkened kitchen, until -the solitary jar of jam is briefly illuminated by the flashing lights of a passing police-car, or maybe an ambulance. Upon the jar there is a sticker, and upon that sticker is written one word.

And that word is…



You can read Part One of My induction into the Cult of Corbyn here, and part 2 here

By Steve McAuliffe

You can read more from the collective here, or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

Downfall Redux

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve always found hero worship odd. I’ve never had rock n roll/pop heroes, religious heroes or political heroes. 


Back in1979, friends of mine flocked to Knock, Dublin and other places to see John Paul 2. Although I was 13,and not from the community the Pope came to speak to, I saw a spotlight on our place, shone by the entourage of journalists and commentators he brought with him. As I write this, a smaller crowd are greeting the present Pope, who is busy apologising for child abuse meted out by his church, but not apologising for the incredible male-ness of his permanent entourage and decision makers. 


As heroes topple, most of them men, its the behaviour of those around them that fascinate me. 


Many friends of mine were absolute hero worshippers of Morrissey and the Smiths. As the working class pseud sang about the plight of the “his community,” and their culture in the eighties, millions dressed like him, had their hair cut like him and quoted his lyrics almost as I imagine fans of 18th and 19thcentury romantic poets did. He was of that lineage. 


Cut to the late nineties and two thousands, and Morrissey’s increasingly anglocentric, British nationalism and seemingly uninformed sexism was brushed aside almost as “mistakes, flaws,” by their still heroised bard. His more recent behaviour, praising alt-right tropes etc, hasn’t pushed his back catalogue to the back of the record collection, yet. The Smiths and early Morrissey are still untouchable in a way Gary Glitter’s back catalogue will never be. He still has a stage in front of thousands, no, millions of people to whom he can spout his message of “Viva Hate!” Unfair? I don’t think so. Like all monsters, the monster in Morrissey must be denounced. And someone with the huge power of a public voice should be humbled. The price if not, is that more politically vulnerable fans are not given clear messages of what is acceptable politics and unacceptable fascism. How the fans/ex fans react is hugely important. 


In the seventies and early eighties, Fascist imagery, lyrics and speeches from the stage were made unacceptable by the superb “Rock Against Racism.” Eric Clapton, has spent years apologising for his drunken racist outbursts, and many fans, radio DJ’s etc, to this day body swerve his music. If you find some of his outbursts on YouTube, fans can be heard booing him. Bowie and others from the avant garde school of pop/rock were forced to abandon fascist imagery and nowadays, no right wing music or bands get beyond backstreet pub gigs. 


The fans spoke. They condemned and they refused to buy tickets. Rock Against Racism changed the rock and pop industry every bit as much as Thatcher, Stock Aiken and Waterman, Island or Simon Cowell. An unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between ego-ist, and at best, niave pop stars and unacceptable symbols and politics of hate, was averted by major bands, fans and record labels signing up to Rock Against Racism principles. 


Back in early 2005, branches of the then thriving Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was a member, were called to extraordinary meetings in which we were told that our then heroised by many, “Convenor,” Tommy Sheridan, had badly erred. Tommy, at meetings some of us attended, apologised. In those days, Me Too, the movement of support for those who have been victims of abuse, did not exist. Powerful men were the norm. Heroes out to save us from the enemy. There were no subtleties in public discourse. To many of those in the SSP, Sheridan was a hero, and although he had more subtle options, he was going to “fight The News of the World,” which had published details of a visit to a swingers club in Manchester he, some friends and a reporter had made. Sheridan’s behaviour, and those who then sought to gain politically within the Socialist movement were crucial to what then happened in Scottish (and subsequently, UK wide) socialist politics. 


Sheridan pursued a tactic of outright denial-which on its own could well have seen this issue blow over. To add to the denial, Sheridan decided to sue the Murdoch empire. Most of the rest of the SSP disagreed with this tactic–to throw our at that time sizeable forces at this would ensure we were caught up in something for years that was far from why activists from across the left had come together, volunteering time, money and energy to the SSP. Activists would burn out totally, if the raison d’etre of the party became the sanctity of “The Great Hero Leader,” who, in fact, was a very naughty boy. But it was those who saw political capital for them and their small factions who turned a small body blow into the destruction of, until then, Europe’s most successful socialist alliance. I won’t go in to detail about what followed, Alan Mccombes book, Downfall does a pretty good job of telling what happened, as does this Thousand Flowers article.

The thing is, during all of this, naively, I thought politics could continue as normal. We could continue to fight the Blairist Government, and fight for amazing socialist reforms. I remember, clearly, going to a small SSP Regional Council meeting in The Piper Bar, in Glasgow City Centre. The main protagonists were there, including Sheridan, and his until this point in time, best friend Keith Baldassara. I was there to ask Sheridan our MSP, advice on a proposal our branch had discussed regarding education, but the entire meeting became an argument between Baldassara and Sheridan about Sheridan’s stance on suing the News of the World. After a long time of intractable argument, I asked could we turn to other business, to which Baldassara told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about here, Neil. This is more important.” And clearly it was, to them. To me, as someone who had joined the SSP in spite of not liking Sheridan’s insincere rhetorical style and obvious ego, the most important thing was politics, not the preservation of the great leader, from whatever side you took.


Subsequently, Sheridan pulled together groups of people whose egos he stroked and factions that hitherto had tried their best to take over control of the alliance. Such was sectarian socialist politics. And those groups and fans who felt Sheridan was a hero or a ticket, wrecked a movement. Sheridan dragged people through the courts, and using his influence in the press, dragged the reputations of women who had been comrades in arms, and innocent bystanders through the mud. Many of us built a group within the party to try to save it, and to support those comrades Sheridan had decided to try to destroy. It had limited success. After 2007, the SSP and the Scottish Socialist movement  went into a decline it still has difficulty pulling up from. And that tarnish went on to infect the Independence movement as Sheridan flapped about trying to find income streams and ego stroking crowds. 


I watch the current left heroes across the UK, two in particular, through the lense of  experience of the SSP and that of Rock Against Racism, and know that if the worst aspects and mistakes of what has become known as “Corbynism” are not called out and addressed, the Labour Party will flounder in its attempts to pull the party left yet again.  And here in Scotland as people line up in solidarity with an alleged abuser and victims in the SNP, I can only hope the lessons of the past become the voice of the majority.


One “hero” is not a movement. The refusal of men to admit their fallibilities will wreck all that is good about what has been built. Defending one man should not be our raison d’etre. Change should be. Let’s hope these current heroes and their fans understand that.


By Neil Scott


You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our podcast

One in Five challenge Starbucks

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One in Five disability rights organisation in Scotland have written to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson. International organisations representing over 500,000 disabled people have supported the letter. Ungagged are pleased to be included. 

The campaigners have challenged Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that will satisfy environmentalists and disabled people.

Jamie Szymkowiak co-founder of One in Five said

“Our letter shows the strength of feeling from disabled people around the world. Starbucks must listen to their customers, including disabled people and environmentalists, and commit to investing in the research and development of a straw that doesn’t harm the environment for future generations and ensures the needs of disabled people are met.”

One in Five co-Founder, Pam Duncan-Glancy added

“Starbucks have the power to help disabled people and the environment at the same time. Big companies like them can lead and others follow. It’s so important for our human rights that they act now. After all, what is environmental justice without social justice?”

Commenting on release of the letter, Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said

“The companies responsible for distributing masses of single-use plastic items have the resources to innovate products which are truly sustainable and fully fit for purpose – suitable for everyone including the disabled community. Straws and other throwaway plastic items, that can’t be easily recycled, must be phased out and replaced with alternatives that don’t pollute our oceans and are suitable for everyone. In the meantime, plastic straws should be easily available for those who need them.”

We also asked Jamie how he felt about the excellent response, he said

“Too often the plastic straw debate is framed as disability rights versus environmentalists. With this, One in Five is trying to show that the two arguments are just as valid as each other and more pressure should be put on companies to act responsibly. In this regard, it was so refreshing to coordinate an international response and have support from Greenpeace.”

The letter:


Kevin Johnson

President & CEO

Starbucks Coffee Company

22 August 2018

Dear Mr. Johnson

Plastic Straws for Disabled People

It has been just over one month since your announcement of Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020[1] caused considerable anxiety among the disabled community. Furthermore, the ambiguous follow-up statement[2] has done little to reduce these concerns and has led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain.

One in Five have been working since the start of this year to bring the needs of disabled people to the public’s attention in the plastic straw debate. The average plastic straw is cheap, flexible, can be used for drinking cold and hot beverages, and is readily available. For some disabled people these attributes are vital for independent living. It’s worth pointing out that the umbrella of ‘disability’ includes people with different needs and impairments, and that it’s the universal accessibility of the plastic straw that makes so many disabled people anxious about an outright ban.

As you may be aware, most paper and plant-based alternatives are not flexible or suitable for drinks over 40C (104F). Not only does a soggy straw result in a poor customer experience, the deterioration increases the risks of choking, as some of us take longer to drink. Hard straws, made from metal for example, act as heat conductors and present obvious dangers for disabled people who cannot control their bite or who have neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Reusable plastic straws present hygiene concerns to people with specific health conditions and can be very difficult to clean.

It’s not acceptable to have straws ‘available on request’ for disabled customers. This is unnecessary gatekeeping that contributes to feelings of guilt for wanting to enjoy – or needing – a drink. Nor is it acceptable for non-disabled people to expect disabled people to carry a straw everywhere we go just in case we get thirsty. Passing yet another cost onto disabled people isn’t suitable if you accept that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone. After all, environmental justice without social justice isn’t justice at all.

Starbucks have a successful track record when it comes to access and disability inclusion: where your organization leads, others follow. Unfortunately the straw debate is no different, as local coffee shops across Europe and North America abandon plastic straws without considering the needs of disabled people. However, you’re in a position to change that.

It is our view that the only solution that will rid our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics and meet the needs of disabled people is for organizations such as Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that is accessible for everyone, including non-disabled people.

Our question is simple. Will you work with us, and disabled people around the world, by committing to sourcing an environmentally friendly solution that meets our needs?

This letter has been co-signed by disabled people’s organizations, disability charities, notable disabled commentators and political representatives from across Europe and North America.

We look forward to your response.

Jamie Szymkowiak and Pam Duncan-Glancy

One in Five

The signatories:

Disabled People’s Organizations & Charities

Center for Disability Rights

Inclusion London

National Disability Rights Network

Glasgow Disability Alliance

Facial Palsy UK

Inclusion Scotland

Ruderman Family Foundation

Raul Krauthausen, Founder of, on behalf of Ability Watch

Michel Arriens on behalf of BKMF e.V.

Disability Agenda Scotland

  • Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
  • Capability Scotland
  • ENABLE Scotland
  • RNIB Scotland
  • SAMH
  • Sense Scotland

Embla Guðrúnar Ágústsdóttir and Freyja Haraldsdóttir, co-Founders, on behalf of Tabú

Health & Social Care Scotland (The ALLIANCE)

Cumbria Down’s Syndrome Support Group

WOW Campaign

Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project

Ian Langtree, Director, on behalf of Disabled World

People First (Scotland)

Notable disability rights activists and political representatives

Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson

Jeremy Balfour MSP, Conservative Party

Johann Lamont MSP, Labour Party

George Adam MSP, Scottish National Party (SNP)

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Liberal Democrats

Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Green Party

Míriam Nogueras, VP of the Catalan Democrats (PDeCAT) and MP in the Spanish Congress

Robert Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company

Debra Torrance, on behalf of Ungagged

Cllr Dennis Robertson

Cllr Robert Mooney

Sandra Webster, on behalf of the SSP Disability Network

Susan Douglas-Scott, Chair of Independent Living Fund

Trade Unions



Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)



Translations of the Letter 

  Plastik-Strohhalme für Menchen mit Behinderung

  Pailles en plastique pour les personnes handicapées

   Pajitas de plástico para discapacitados

   Canyetes de plàstic per a persones amb discapacitat 


You can read Ungagged articles on the straw ban here and on the suggestion of a baby wipe ban here 

by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

Reflections on Poverty Safari

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Two of our Ungagged team, David McClemont and Victoria Pearson, review Poverty Safari; Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass by Darren “Loki” McGarvey.


I really enjoyed reading Poverty Safari. I found I related to a lot of what Loki said both in a personal, professional and political capacity.

On a personal level I found I related to Loki’s book aversion growing up.  This would puzzle many people who know me as I was always a child that liked to learn facts (The 10 year old me definitely knew Ankara was the capital of Turkey) and I was known to read “serious” books about politics and history.  But the fact I read “serious” books was because reading always felt like a rewarding chore than a fun activity so I was going to trudge through 300 pages I wanted to come out having learned more than a story. 

Being from a working class background I could also relate to the quiet undercurrent of potential violence working class boys face particularly in their teenage years and how inhibiting it is.  I remember it just wasn’t the done thing in class to voluntarily answer a question unless you were directly asked by the teacher and even then the answer shouldn’t be good enough to raise eyebrows.  I remember being sat next to another boy for two years in a Science Class.  I didn’t know much about him except he had a reputation for being able to handle himself, was from one of the rougher corners of the catchment area and rumoured to be head of a gang.  Over the course of the two years we got to know each other and got friendly although I wouldn’t have dreamed of approaching him outside of the science class setting.  One day I was walking along a corridor and saw a group of boys lined up either side leaving not much room to get passed.  I knew they had already clocked me so if I turned back they’d have saw I was intimidated, and that would’ve invited future trouble.  So I tried to walk past as briskly as possible without making eye contact.  As I did they started barging me and tripping me up.  While I was doing a quick calculation as to the safest course of action, run (they’d have caught me), ignore it (would’ve been the same as turning back upon first seeing them) or square up to one of them and get a doing.  All three options seemed risky and none particularly palatable then at the last minute I felt a pair of arms wrap around my shoulders and a voice say “fuck off, he’s awright”.  I realised it was the boy from my Science Class! I muttered something to him and continued down the corridor.  I realised he was the undisputed top dog of that group, if he hadn’t been he would not have helped as it would’ve left him exposed and a possible target but he was in charge and was able to dictate the internal culture of that group.  A couple of years after school I heard he’d have been stabbed to death.  I never heard the specific circumstances but I remember feeling that there was a tragic inevitability to it.

In a professional capacity I could relate to a lot in Poverty Safari.  I used to work with people who had a history of homelessness and alcohol abuse many of whom had been in and out of prison.  Loki’s stories about working with offenders was very familiar.  When discussing group facilitation I often espoused the importance of “using silence” in order to encourage people to open up.  The theory being that a group of people can’t abide a shared silence and if you as the facilitator can fight your own instinct to speak then someone else will fill the void with their own words.  It’s a solid tactic and it works but it’s also true that most of the time I deployed it because I didn’t know what to say.  I can also say that my anecdotal experiences of working with homeless alcoholics absolutely corresponds with Loki’s view that most offending stems from a history of experiencing/witnessing violence as I never met a single Service User who had not experienced extreme trauma of one form or another.  People talk about the “Demon Drink” but from my experience the demons proceed the drink and they used alcohol as a form of temporary exorcism.

Loki’s thoughts around responsibility and poverty reminded me a lot of things I though about while studying addiction.  In John Booth Davies “The Myth of Addiction” he talks about the fact that progressives created the concept of addiction because the prevalent view at that time was that addicts were just weak willed deviants.  This attitude did nothing to foster change and so the idea of addiction as a “disease” was born to allow a more sympathetic view of addicts that would give them the space and motivation to change their lives.  However today, in the world of huge paternalistic third sector organisations this has lead to a narrative that often disempowers people and tells them that they have no control over their lives.  This isn’t true, of course there are bigger sociological factors at play but that doesn’t mean individuals are powerless to improve their lives.  I always found it a difficult balancing act, trying to get people to realise they were in control of their drinking and had the power to stop while trying to keep them from being crushed under the guilt they felt for everything that had happened as a result of their drinking.  I do worry about how we do that balancing act in a political context.  If those of us on the Left open that discussion  around taking responsibility we’ll face a stampede of reactionary forces eager to blame addicts for their addiction and poor people for their poverty and use that as an excuse to cut and starve valuable services of funds and resources.

 I would recommend Poverty Safari to anyone and I get the feeling my friends and family will soon be sick of hearing me talk about it. I think Loki has a valuable perspective and I hope he writes more books as he definitely has important things to say.


I’ll preface this review by saying I expected Poverty Safari to make me angry. All I knew about the book was the title, and I wasn’t familiar with the author, so I was expecting yet another poverty porn-esque, poorly disguised gawp-fest at the working classes, in the same vein as TV shows like Benefits Street. I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time i reached chapter 3, I had started texting friends to tell them to read it.

This is obviously written from the perspective of someone who has lived what he is talking about – a perspective that is desperately needed in any kind of political or solution seeking debate around poverty, a perspective that, as Darren points out, is sadly lacking. It’s raw, unflinchingly and unapologetically honest, and at times darkly funny.

My overriding sense when reading this book was one of recognition and kinship. Darren shares anecdotes that might seem shocking to many, but that to me seem familiar, authentic and almost self evident. This is refreshingly so clearly not another intellectualisation of working class behaviour from someone outside of the community, this is obviously an account from someone who has lived these experiences, who understands the nuances of the community he is talking about, and I think it is one of the best texts I have read about the culture of violence and vigilance in the forgotten class.

“This is the other deficit we rarely talk about or acknowledge…It’s the belief that the system is rigged against you and that all attempts to resist or challenge it are futile…A belief that you are excluded from taking part in the conversation about your own life. This belief is deeply held by people in many communities and there is a very good reason For it: it’s true.”

Poverty Safari

Although it is set in Glasgow, Scotland where he grew up, and most of the reminiscences he shares focus on that area, many of the anecdotes and experiences he shared reminded me of my own childhood in Luton, England. My overwhelming sense when I finished this book was that it doesn’t matter where we are from, there are certain experiences the forgotten class share, that the more privileged among us would struggle to understand. I found a lot to relate to in it.

“At the age of ten I was well adjusted to the threat of violence. In some ways, violence itself was preferable to the threat of violence…you become detached from the violent act as it is being perpetrated against you…Acts of violence are terrifying, but a sustained threat of violence is sometimes much worse”

Poverty Safari

Adjusting and adapting to living in a climate of violence is something I think a lot of working class people can relate to. We all know someone from school who passed on far too young, through violence or drugs, or general rough living, and we weren’t surprised when they did. That’s something I think people with a different kind of upbringing would struggle to understand.. This book attempts to bridge that understanding gap and explain working class anger, but I like that it doesn’t apologise for it. It delves into the roots and causes of that anger, the psychological effects of the environment working class people live in, and pulls no punches when it comes to discussing the inadequacies of support services in place, who, after all, are only trying to contain symptoms of what are perfectly reasonable human responses to trauma and deprivation.

“People end up homeless for all sorts of reasons. However must like those who end up in prison, one recurring factor in the lives of those who become residually challenged is family breakdown and dysfunction. Issues like child abuse, addiction and homelessness are often discussed in isolation but as anyone working with homeless people, addicts or victims of abuse will tell you, the problems are often interconnected”

Poverty Safari 

My own anecdotal experiences working with (and being close friends with) people struggling with addiction match the sentiments in the above quote. Every addict I ever knew had a backstory of abuse, deprivation, or trauma, and they all related it in such a deadpan way. To a whole class of people, having to be constantly hypervigilent, constantly expecting violence, constantly worrying about survival in some form or another, is perfectly normal. It’s easy to judge people from a position of comfort, particularly if you’ve no experience of those issues within your family or friendship group. Darren manages to foster understanding, and provoke empathy for the people effected by these sorts of problems, but without making excuses for people, which I think is a fine line to walk, and one he does well.

Poverty Safari is well written and thought provoking, and it left me thinking about the issues raised – and more importantly the people who are effected by those issues – for a long time after I’d finished it. If you’ve an interest in sociology, politics, changing the world for the better, or you simply want to gain a deeper understanding and empathy for people struggling with anger, mental health problems, or addiction of any kind, throw your textbooks out and have a read of this instead.

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast