How Irvine Welsh's Youth Shaped His Politics
Irvine Welsh grew up in Leith, Scotland. The son of working class parents, he spent his childhood in government housing, a milieu he gave voice to in his hugely popular novel and subsequent film, Trainspotting. The book was an international success and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 1993. Welsh moved to London in his twenties and played in local punk bands but returned to Edinburgh in the late-80s. Drawing inspiration from the the rave culture there, he began writing seriously and submitting to literary journals. After Trainspotting, he published Ecstasy, Glue, Porno, The Acid House and The Bedroom Secrets of Master Chefs. His books’ themes range from the Scottish identity, sectarianism, classism, immigration, unemployment, AIDS and drug use. Recent works are The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), a play, Babylon Heights (2006), written with Dean Cavanagh, and If You Liked School You'll Love Work (2007). His latest novel, Crime, was published in 2008. He has taught undergraduate creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago and currently divides his time between Miami, Chicago, Dublin and London.
Irvine Welsh: Well, you realize what a rough deal kids have today. They have such a crap time, basically kind of totally have to achieve, you have to go on, you have to sort of be a certain kind of level by the time, at a certain age and all that sort of thing. I think we just had that kind of freedom we could… we did all [issues] in the best way, but we had that kind of freedom that we could express ourselves we had the opportunity to do that. And it was just… I think that, I kind of think it does kind of… it doesn’t [police] your politics because I think, in the ‘80s, when you saw that whole thing being built up, kind of being taken away by Thatcher who kind of basically stopped all the grants for students, sold all the council… the high [amenity] council houses.
We had the fist ghettos start to be formed in Britain in the old council schemes. Basically kind of introduced [massive] employment and, at the same time, kind of heroin was imported into Britain in a massive scale and other drugs. So, you saw everything just falling apart around the seams of it and I think that things like the miner’s strike, and particular sort of the [framework of the miner’s strike], these were kind of pivotal things. And basically what happened was that the ruling classes actually just won the class war in Britain. That’s what really happened.
And you actually saw it you can see it happen before [IB] and during the miner’s strike, you saw this was basically a kind of, a way of life that the working classes in Britain have fought for over the years and it just wasn’t seen as sustainable by the powers that be and a kind of… an economy and society, it was gearing up for globalization. So it was basically smashed by fairly violent means with a state that was kind of tooled up to a degree that have never been before and that’s continued now. The State in Britain is such a powerful kind of mechanism. And the Unions was smashed and Britain became, basically, the Labor Party, which was kind of had a radical socialist element was completely circumvented and has become very much the same as it’s… because ever a party just a mark to sort of part of your business. And so, you saw all that happen, and so I think, I think that does influence your politics and that’s kind of very influenced my politics as well. But the weird thing was that so many people from my social [IB] and class and all, they actually thought we’re one of the people that would kind of go to the wall when all this happened, all this kind of Thatcher like stuff that I could… ‘Cause I was virulently opposed to it, and still am, but I was… The embarrassing paradox for me, that I was this sort of person who thrived in that kind of thing.
And it was strange because I found that I got on all right and I kind of made a lot of money, I made a fair bit of money in property development and I kind of I got a few promotions at work and I kind of got into kind of well paid managerial jobs. So it was strange that I actually kind of swam rather than sunk, and I didn’t think I would. I didn’t think I had that kind of view of it, but I thought my kind of world view would hold me back, but it actually enhanced… I think, coming from that socialist background I think gave you a kind of, having that kind of world view, I think, was a bit of strong thing to have going into the ‘80s.
It kind of equipped you for success rather than failure from it because most of the people that were kind of the hardcore punks tended to be the ones that did quite well, I think, in the ‘80s.
Recorded on: September 8, 2008
Irvine Welsh saw Thatcher and the ruling class win the class war.
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