That was a month! Exactly a month on from the launch of CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE LEITH, I have taken around one hundred people on the tour  – here’s a link to a comment on the tour (I’m not sure why they call me ‘Mr Cook’) and shifted around fifty books.

Here it is (bottom left) on the publisher’s shelf in the Book Festival shop. I’m very proud that is alongside Darren McGarvey’s Poverty Safari. If you haven’t heard of it yet, don’t worry, you will. In many ways, my book is on the same subject: they are both an account of what happens to people and communities when they are treated carelessly and worse, and the inevitable consequences of persistent poverty. McGarvey’s book is written with lived experience of the subject in hand and in my case the focus is on Welsh’s Trainspotting.

If you have any comment about the book, please put it on The Book page and share it with others. I don’t know how the world of comment and criticism in the press goes; all I know is that there has been one fairly brief comment in The Herald and we’re hoping for more. If there’s anything you can do, please do it.

I’m waiting for Luath to make a link to the e-version, then I will send round an email to all my correspondents.



I’m spending my last weekend as an unpublished author. The final proof is away to the printer, the launch party is on Thursday – come if you can – and August will be busy with three Trainspotting tours a week. If you’ve been on a tour you’ll recognise the front cover.

There was a lot of discussion about it, with the worry that it might be a bit retro. But it puts Leith Central Station up front, where iis in Trainspotting, and where it is in my book. The station itself was huge and useless, and, during Welsh’s life time up to its demolition in 1989, derelict, dangerous, an attraction to trouble. So I invite the reader to re-imagine the line of men and boys in the 1904 image, stretched out between the safe, secure Kirkgate over the photographer’s right shoulder and their access to the outside world as a line of 1980s Leith junkies. For them the Kirkgate is not a safe secure home, and their access to other places is heroin. It’s a powerful and direct way to open my book.

I’ll post details of how to buy the book when more is known.

Of tours and books.

Well, wasn’t that a good Leith Festival? It’s lovely to see everyone out and enjoying the cosmopolitan community that Leith is. On a personal note, thanks to everyone who came on the Trainspotting tours, about forty over three evenings. The tours are different every time – even the content changes, depending on how conversations go as we’re on our way round. My problem is that I have far too much material to fit into two hours, so I have to be very firm with myself and apply strict editing. It hurts every time! – I have this deep deep urge to go on and on.

And special thanks to The Dockers Club, which, as always, has supported this as a local initiative, and we started the tours in the courtyard. This is what they do. We should all be grateful for what they do.

I’m going to be published – that’s official. We’re aiming to have it on the book shelves in time for the Fringe. The publisher is setting up the tour as a Fringe event. Tours will start and end at The Dockers – that’s a real pull, with its strong connections with I. Welsh himself and with Trainspotting the book. When we have firm dates about my book I’ll go public with all details.

Drafting drafts…

On a tour with some young Americans the other day I told them that The Scotsman wonders if Welsh can repeat the trick of changing national discourse in the field of American gun culture (see previous blogs). One bright young girl said she wasn’t sure if it was fair even to suggest it – Welsh was so influential in the drug culture because he had personal experience of it, and she doubted that people who aren’t involved at that intense level could write with such force; and as far as we know, Welsh has not been involved with gun culture. It gave rise to an interesting discussion.

Meantime, I’m going through my drafts again, looking at the excellent comments from the publisher’s editor. There are firm plans in place to have my book out by August. More details when things become clearer.


Slightly to my surprise, The Scotsman published my letter and here:

In your editorial Gunspotting (24 March) you credit Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting with as much influence on public discourse in its subject areas as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath and 1984 were in theirs. Putting Welsh on this roll of honour, you are wondering if he’ll do it again, with his next book, set in the US gun culture. No pressure!

This is a remarkable change of tune from you, as a leader and reflector of Scottish public opinion. For ten years after the publication of Trainspotting, Welsh was a foul-mouthed glorifier or trivialiser of heroin. The City of Literature scheme, formed in 2004, could do no other than recognise his place in the pantheon of Scottish literary greats, if not on literary merit, then on sheer impact on the reading public. Then, in 2010 Rev Councillor Rt Hon George Grubb, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, hailed Welsh as “an iconic chronicler of our city”.

After 15 years of conducting Trainspotting tours of Leith – which the tourist board initially deplored – I have written my own book which examines how Welsh did indeed change public perceptions of the drug scene, where it collided with the newly-arrived ‘gay men’s disease’, rapidly re-named HIV. It will be out by August, in time for the 25th anniversary of the launch of Trainspotting.

They correctly realised that in addition to making my point it is a plain old-fashioned plug for my book. I love the heading they gave it: Plugspotting! Not every new book has this sort of opportunity for advance publicity.


The “authorities”, or the “establishment”, are really changing their tune about Irvine Welsh. Twenty years ago he was a flash-in-the-pan author with a foul mind who celebrated hard drugs. Now that he has said his next work of fiction is to be in the area of American gun culture, look at a recent editorial with this heading in The Scotsman, no less:

“Our world view is shaped by many factors, but books, films, and other works of art play a significant part. Abraham Lincoln reportedly greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe with ‘so you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this war’ after Uncle Tom’s Cabin laid bare the horrors of slavery for many in pre-Civil War America; John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath exposed Depression-era poverty; and George Orwell’s 1984 remains a powerful warning about the dangers of totalitarianism.

“Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was a publishing sensation that got people talking about drug addicts in a different way. If his draft of a novel about gun violence in the US and the ‘unhealed wounds in American society’ has anything like the same appeal, we may have another title to add to the relatively small list of genuinely life-changing books.”

Having got himself on the Roll of Honour once, he’s being asked to do it again. Nae pressure, then, Big Man, eh?

Leith faces “destruction” and “crass exploitation”.

Irvine Welsh is often asked daft questions, and he’s given some daft answers in his time. But he’s dead right to condemn recent and proposed developments in Leith, generating headlines such as the one at the top of this, in The Scotsman. The old Caledonian Railway Company’s offices on Leith Walk, built in what looks like Glasgow pink sandstone, are part of Leith’s history and part of Leith’s present vitality and versatility. They host a diverse collection of operations, with good internal space at street level on busy Leith Walk. So we’ll flatten them and build student accommodation. At Pilrig we already have exactly this – the “flats” are really little more than pods with “kitchen” space only for a microwave and a kettle. So a supermarket, in thick with the developers, takes space right down below them selling, guess what, you’ve got it, microwavable stuff and hot pizzas.

Welsh is right to call for robust local authority controls over permission for such developments, but the councils’ powers have been much reduced. And they are very strapped for cash. None of this is inevitable; it’s policy choices. Austerity and neo-liberalism make us punters in a market-place, not citizens in a democracy.

As The Man says: “If everywhere becomes a sterile version of somewhere else, then you’ve nothing left to make it special…” It’s the death of meaningful community. The casual and wilful destruction of the best of Leith is continuing beyond the Trainspotting generation.


Here is my reply to my SNP MSP email to me, in the previous blog. Lines from his are in italics.

…you’ve passionately put forward your point of view…
Well, passion may be part of his repertoire, but I prefer stone-cold sober analysis and assessment. The matter in hand here is the use of a referendum; I say it is an ad hoc device of questionable status that undermines our long-established representative democracy. I say a referendum is a throw of the dice which, if you only accept the result you want, is a gamble you can’t lose. My MSP offers nothing to contradict me.

…the SNP campaigns for an independent Scotland…
We should get rid of this word “independent” for use in this context. We all form alliances, come to arrangements, do deals, sign treaties, all that, in our personal and political lives. There’s no such thing as “independence”. The question is which alliances, arrangements, deals and treaties we want to make. The mature thing is to form such alliances… etc that get the best out of ourselves and our neighbours and partners. It is impossible to imagine that Scotland could have a better relationship than we have with our immediate neighbours on this crowded archipelago of islands. We have completely frictionless trade and one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. The SNP has to persuade us that if we departed from the UK we would be better off. They don’t even try. It’s all down to rhetoric and bombast for them.

Let’s call this what it is: it is a separatist agenda. Or, to give it a more immediate and recognisable context, let’s call it “Scexit”. If they deplore the conduct of the Brexit referendum and the inevitable chaos of trying to make good on unachievable promises, the SNP has to explain how a Scexit referendum would be different. They pretend it wouldn’t be like that. But referendums are always like that.

…People in Scotland were erroneously told by Better Together in 2014 that independence would result in Scotland being taken out of the EU…
Oh dear, I really thought we had got past that. But, for my MSP’s benefit, let’s go over it again. Political developments didn’t stop on the day of the referendum. What he’ll find as life goes on is that things keep changing.

The price of oil, on which so much of the separatist “White Paper” (it was a wish-list) was predicated, crashed before the Brexit ref. If they were being honest, they would have to concede that it was a material change of circumstances, a significantly different state of affairs from the one they were imagining and promoting during the campaign, such that another referendum would be justified. But they’re not being honest.

They cannot say what would be the nature of the border with the rest of the UK (rUK), just as the Brexiteers cannot resolve their promises both to come out of all things European yet have a soft border in Ireland. They can’t have both, and the Scexiteers would have the same problem. How would it be possible to have different immigration policies, for example, yet keep an invisible border?

There is no guarantee that a separated Scotland would be permitted to join the EU, and a condition of membership may well be adoption of the €. These are very serious matters. Since it is impossible to know before separation negotiations are concluded, there is no clear prospectus on which a sensible decision can be made in a referendum. Just like Brexit, we would be voting for a pig in a poke with no chance of changing our minds if we don’t like the pig.

I will vie with no-one about how appalling the present UK government is, indeed, that we have a dysfunctional parliament at Westminster. Major electoral and constitutional reforms are desperately urgent. Similarly, I am under no illusion about the EU. I voted REMAIN and REFORM. Sadly, the last element wasn’t on the ballot paper. The basic question is: do we walk away from a union, forged by geography, history and economic realities, or do we stay and fix the problems? The geography, history and economic realities won’t change. Trade unions were formed to protect individuals and communities from the worst effects of capitalism. Capitalism has morphed into corporatism, and unionism has to keep pace. There is safety and strength in union; danger and weakness in isolation.

At Holyrood SNP social and economic policies are chaotic, with a strong and highly unfortunate centralising tendency, though I don’t say they get everything wrong. And at local level, they have nothing to say. This is because the SNP in office has no principle for government other than to manipulate things towards their sole aim. The Labour party’s principle is collectivism; the LibDems’ is human rights; the Conservatives’, at their best, is responsible free enterprise; the Greens’ is for ecological living; all honourable positions which can be applied to any aspect of government at any level. The SNP’s dismally small-minded, mean-spirited ambition is to separate Scotland from rUK. For the greater glory of… what, exactly? The SNP is basically an opportunist single-issue party. We deserve better.

On the face of it, we need fear the SNP no more: it seems highly unlikely that the 2005 and 2011 elections, which gave them an absolute majority at Holyrood, will ever be repeated. The electoral arrangements are designed to produce coalitions and minority governments. They didn’t have the cojones to make a unilateral declaration of independence when they could – they threw everything into a referendum and they lost.

However, we shouldn’t be complacent. The SNP is not Hungary’s Jobbik, nor Germany’s AfD, and Nicola Sturgeon is not Marine le Pen. But it wouldn’t take much for the ideologues to tip it into something not so far from the above-mentioned. It trades in identity politics, which always needs a bogey-man, and we know where that can go.

This is the best they can do…

Somewhat unexpectedly, a reply has come from my SNP MSP, given here in full (omitting only some courtesies). It came almost two weeks ago, just before I was leaving home, or it would have been up earlier – no disrespect intended. I will post my reply in the next few days.

As I’ve come to expect, you’ve passionately put forward your point of view on the use of referendums. I note your comments on the use of a confirming referendum or other mechanisms to qualify a referendum result.

As you are aware, the SNP campaigns for an independent Scotland in order to create a more socially just and economically prosperous nation, that makes decisions based on our priorities decided democratically here by our elected Parliament. It has been party policy for many years now that the people of Scotland should have a say on the issue of self-determination through a referendum. That policy remains the position of the SNP. It was of course also part of the mandate that we sought at the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.

Much has changed since 2014 when the last Scottish Independence referendum was held. The EU referendum was, in my view, based on slogans and overblown newspaper headlines. This was in contrast to the comprehensive White Paper that the Scottish Government put forward in 2014. The result of the EU referendum contradicts what the people of Scotland were told in 2014 during the Scottish Independence referendum. People in Scotland were erroneously told by Better Together in 2014 that independence would result in Scotland being taken out of the EU. However, voting to continue as part of the UK in 2014 has instead resulted in Scotland facing the isolationism of Brexit against our democratic will. As a result of the EU referendum, where Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the EU (78% in the local constituency), the people of Scotland are now faced with being taken out of the EU against their will.

Having discussed the issue of referendums with you before I know that we will disagree on their use. However, I want you to know that I respect your view and thank you for taking the time to inform me of your views.

Kind regards,

The gamble of a referendum

Oh dear, I just can’t used to how bad the SNP really is. The persistent calls for the right to call a referendum when they want to inspired this letter to the Herald, and it was published last week. I was hoping to start a rammy, but there’s been no blowback yet. I sent it to my SNP MSP and SNP MP for comment; by chance I ran into Ben McPherson MSP over the weekend, and he said he would read it to see if “it’s worthy of a reply”. He has a week, or I’m entitled to conclude that there is no principle for government other than pursuit of their sole aim, and they remain committed to referendums as a means of government. I’ll post any reply here. Don’t hold your breath.

Repeated indications from the SNP that it aims to call for another referendum when it thinks it can win tells us three important things. Firstly, that they regard a referendum as a throw of the dice, a gamble which, since they only respect the outcome if they win, they can’t lose. Secondly, that, in office, its guiding principle for government is not good politics but the manipulation of politics towards its sole aim. Thirdly, both to upgrade Scottish politics, national and local, to a serious level, and to protect ourselves from another ad hoc referendum of questionable status, a Referendum Act is needed.

This is not a Unionist stance; it is in support of our well-established system of representative democracy which a referendum undermines. A referendum is the perfect vehicle for liars, bullies, fantasists and neo-liberals who don’t care for democracy.

Here are some start-points for a Referendum Act. If the subject of a referendum is a single piece of legislation then it must be fully drafted and debated in the campaign and, if approved, the parliament is required to enact it without delay or changes.

Constitutional change requires a super-majority; that could be 50% of the entire electorate or 66% of the turn-out on the day. 50%+1 of the voters on the day could be sufficient to start negotiating constitutional change, but secondary safeguards are required.

One possibility would be that the outcome of negotiations must be put in a final draft and submitted to a confirming referendum; another is that the parliament must endorse the final draft; in either case within two years and by a specified margin. Rejection of the final draft returns the situation to the status quo ante, and the matter may not be subjected to another referendum within, say, twenty years.

If there’s one thing the Brexit referendum and its aftermath has taught us, it is that the outcome of a referendum that is not secured in law can be a decision made in ignorance of the implications with far-reaching unintended consequences, is incapable of giving adequate authority for anyone to properly deal with towards an agreed outcome, and no-one is held to account. In Scotland we were within a whisker of all this in September 2014. Never again!