Glasgow: Putting the pieces of an alternative economy together

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An apprentice at Galagael, a boat-building social enterprise in Govan Photo: Heritage Lottery Fund

Glaswegians are unconventional and often disrespectful of power. But can they bring together the disparate pieces of the city’s emerging alternative economy and challenge the status quo?

All these planks somehow go together and make a boat. And that boat somehow can hold us, take us all on a voyage. The voyage of a busted-up community to a better future.’ Colin MacLeod

In a forgotten corner of Govan in Glasgow you can glimpse how regeneration could be if it was driven – not by spreadsheets and buildings – but by trust, empathy and strengthening the individual and collective agency of people.

Galgael is a social enterprise set up by Colin Macleod after his failed attempt as leader of the ‘Pollak Free State’ to stop the M77 motorway being constructed through the park in the neighbourhood he grew up in.

Here, in the former shipbuilding capital of the world, men – and some women – who are long-term unemployed, suffering from mental health problems or otherwise battered by life can come to learn the skills needed to build the traditional wooden boats that once sailed on the Clyde.

‘The old ways of doing things – paternalistic, centralised, focused on the

physical and financial – are no longer working for places like Glasgow’

MacLeod learnt his own woodworking craft among native Americans, and Galgael is imbued with the reconnection to land and to native culture that they taught him. When he died in 2005 at the age of 39, many who had railed against him as a protester celebrated his powers as a chieftain and community builder.

We don’t know what MacLeod would have to say about the Clyde Waterfront regeneration plans that are now transforming the city’s riverfront, but a recent report from the Centre for Population Health suggests such regeneration – big and distant from local needs – is doing more harm than good to the people of Glasgow.

History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality in Scotland and Glasgow is the latest attempt to try to understand why Scotland – and in particular Glasgow – have such high levels of ‘excess mortality’– rates of death that are above and beyond that which can be explained by socio-economic deprivation alone. The so-called ‘Glasgow effect’ is increasing and can be observed across all adult age groups in the country.

The new report suggests that the displacement of people from inner-city neighbourhoods from the 1970s onwards made Glasgow more vulnerable than similar post-industrial cities to poverty and deprivation. The city suffered more than places like Liverpool and Manchester, with larger-scale slum clearances, a greater emphasis on high-rise development and fewer protections for its citizens, the report said.

That the Commonwealth Games, held in the city in 2014, planned to include in its opening ceremony the demolition of the Red Road flats suggests that few of the mistakes of regeneration past have been learned. Typifying public policy of the 70s, the demolition of the Red Road flats was seen as symbolic of the city’s rebirth. But for those living in the neighbourhood, their destruction was seen as another example of regeneration ‘being done to them’.

And the motorways that now criss-cross Glasgow city centre and which Colin MacLeod and other citizens protested about have created a city with poor connectivity and outlying estates cut off from economic opportunities.

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine
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2 Comments

  • Edgar Cahn

    There are two major issues we face in the future:
    1. What is the future of work as we co-exist with robots, 3-d printers and artificial intelligence?

    The work of the future that will not vanish is raising children, building strong families, caring for the elderly and disabled, making safe, vibrant neighborhoods, holding officials accountable, making democracy work, protecting the environment and preserving the planet.

    2. How do we enable the work done rebuilding and renewing the core economy to earn a sufficient share or allocation of the abundance that the monetary economy generates (sustenance, housing, health care, education, opportunity) and that is necessary to live, develop and contribute.

    My effort with TimeBanking is predicated on the belief that the work of the future must somehow entail strengthening what I call the Core Economy. That involves finding a way to value people that the market does not value and types of labor that the market does not value.

    The Core Economy is our species’ “ecosystem” – and we can no longer neglect it, exploit it, extract functions from it or ignore its present state of fragmentation any more than we can ignore the hole we have created in the ozone layer. Right now that work rebuilding the human “ecosystem” tends to be invisible, unpaid, undervalued. And it is largely carried by women (or minorities) in ways that perpetuate past subordination.

    The question is how to bridge two worlds – the Monetary world and core economy world – so that those who rebuild, restore and renew the core economy can share in the abundance that the monetary economy (with all its technology coupled with new social media) has the capacity to produce and distribute.

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