The independent and ubiquitous STV has managed to raise £2.5m to help alleviate poverty. “Which unfortunates are we feeding and clothing now?” some may ask. Children. In Scotland. One in five. 220,000. More than the population of the whole of Aberdeen. This being the 21st century and potentially the 6th (economically) richest country in the world, yes, a shockingly unfair state to be in.
Leaving the causes of poverty aside and the potential sources of funding to further alleviate this problem, there seems to be a dearth of artistic satire against this austere era that we have been thrust into. Where the dickens is a Dickens when you need one? Scottish penmanship seems to be restricted to independence debate spawned diatribes or violent crime novels-cum-city tour guides. In this age of podge-faced austerity there is nary a whisper of dissent from Scotland’s writers.
Back in Victorian hard times, at least one British journalist-turned-author was not amused and, unhindered by the lack of Word, Tippex, typewriters or even biros, he scratched furiously away at iconoclastic satire disguised as kitchen sink epics serialised in periodicals. The daily gruel fuelled hardship and destitution of Victorian London’s weans was wittily and popularly documented by a man whose childhood was spent partly in a debtors’ prison with his ne’er-do-well father.
“Please, sir,…I want some more.” A plaintiff cry from the protagonist in Dickens’ Oliver Twist: surely a message that should be screaming from the pages of Scottish literature with the poor state of a nation which needs minor celebrities to get on independent television begging for cash to feed the needy. Even with free universal education and the decline in both the chimney sweep and beadling businesses, surely our finest writers could satirise the poor bairns’ plight through contemporary Scottish eyes. Overcrowding in tenements and tousled tykes in the Broons and Oor Wullie books just won’t cut it in this day and age.
Possibly the lack of slums in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the rise of hipster chic and the conception of the term “chav” have led to the silencing of anyone who wants to write about the poor and (economically) unfortunate. The last writer to do this to some effect was Rab C Nesbitt’s godfather, Ian Pattison. However, I always felt that Scotland rooted for Rab C’s philosophy but never wanted him, nor any of his ilk, anywhere near their best china.
Writing about the 220,000 children who are denied the basic human right to physiological wellbeing may be an uncomfortable topic for writers, readers and publishers but it needs a surge of manuscript muscle from possibly a new generation of authors to get decent zeitgeist satire onto the bookshelves or Kindles of this world.
Having grown up in Scotland partly on hand-me-downs, free school meals and household UB40 forms, maybe I should stop writing about what should be written and write it myself. With plenty of Dickensian squalor, villainy and chicanery out there today, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to work with.