'The true wealth of a nation is in well-employed people,' said Alasdair Gray, so I wonder what he'd make of BBC 2's From Scotland With Love which was packed with footage of Scots working, labouring, producing, fishing and sometimes kneeling to float paper boats down the gutter.
Commissioned for the Commonwealth Games, this programme is an hour of film, mostly drawn from the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Screen Archive, which brilliantly evokes the flavour of 20th century Scotland.
The fragments of film are loosely woven together into the broad themes of work, leisure, war and protest. All of Scotland's recent past is here, from the sinister grey footage of tanks in George Square, to jerky little crowds of men leaping onto trams, to the lurid colours of the 60s as people shuffle and twist on the chalky floor of the Barrowlands.
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The programme opens with the cheery postcard-style title scrawled on screen: From Scotland With Love but, despite the chirpy title, it never dips into sentimentality. If you do feel your bottom lip begin to tremble at the sight of ruddy-faced weans floating paper boats, the image might shift to a young girl whose thin legs are encased in steel callipers and you're swiftly reminded that this is no celebration of the twee. This is a Scotland where paper boats existed alongside polio.
The footage which cascades past you is free of any intrusive voiceover or talking heads. Instead, it is accompanied by an original soundtrack from the Scottish musician, King Creosote. His music here ranges from spirited and humorous to melancholy and bleak. Sometimes, it just falls away completely to silence, leaving you face to face with a stark image. This is used to best effect when we're seeing abandoned rural Scotland: old farmhouses and huts, once packed with hearty, industrious people, now lying open to the sky. But the music packed its most brutal punch when confronting Glasgow's industrial decline. Footage of the Clyde with its cranes and chains and massive ships is set to music which dwindles and then fades out to vague submarine echoes accompanied by the slow toll of a heavy, muffled bell.
On a brighter note, the film showed lots of communal activity. There were marches and protests and colourful banners held aloft by smiling people. There were factory workers clubbing together to make everything from toffee to lightbulbs to rifles. There were families massing together for the trip to Largs or Troon. There were mobs of children playing together on the beaches or the back greens or - as I remember doing - squatting by the kerb and holding their thumbs up to drivers, seeing if they'd get a cheery beep-beep or a scowl. There was a pervading sense of there being a common purpose.
And is it not work which binds us in a common purpose? This programme certainly suggested that there was a dignity to work - and certainly more to it than simply earning a wage - with its acknowledgement of the factories and farms and shipyards and workshops and classrooms of Scotland. There was a pride in production, as Adam Smith realised so long ago. To be able to point to something - whether it was a ship or a bar of Highland Toffee - and say 'I made that' would enhance your day's work and lend dignity to your labour. The thing you made was used by your fellow countrymen, binding you all closer in a common purpose.
Surely, when Scotland's young people are facing unrelenting unemployment, or when so many of the jobs on offer are paltry, slack and dull, in call centres or in supermarkets, or on shaky temporary contracts, that sense of a common purpose is eroded?
From Scotland With Love showed workers smiling and busy, glancing at the camera and waving. This may be due to the sheer novelty of a camera but, nonetheless, their cheery reaction was obvious. I've seen camera crews in my old call centre, and the reaction was horribly different. The people around me were awkward and embarrassed. We manned lots of government health and information phone lines and often a politician would come in, trailing a film crew, to boast about how many illiterate adults or cold, old folk we had given advice to. Once, I appeared on the evening news, sitting hunched in the background, my hand cupped to my face, because I was ashamed to be there. I didn't want anyone to know I worked in that terrible place, for a low wage, never able to get anything better, doing maddening, repetitive work and having to ask permission to go to the toilet. So you cannot beam at the cameras. There is no dignity in such labour.
Alasdair Gray is entirely correct when he says the true wealth of a nation is in well-employed people, so what will viewers of a hundred years hence think when they see footage of today's young people packed, row upon row, into these places, ducking away from the camera, embarrassed to be there, but with no other prospect before them?