We've read, enjoyed and reviewed Maggie Craig's books in the past, and know she is equally adept at writing historical fiction and non-fiction. "When The Clyde Ran Red: A Social History of Red Clydeside" is her take on a highly turbulent period in Scotland's history. As she says in her introduction: "This book is about Red Clydeside, those heady decades at the beginning of the twentieth century when passionate people and passionate politics swept like a whirlwind through Glasgow, Clydebank and the west of Scotland. It's also about the world in which those people lived. My aim has been to paint a vivid picture, telling the story by placing the people and their politics within the wider context of the place and the times."
She goes on to say: "These were years of great wealth and appalling poverty, when Glasgow was home to some of the most magnificent public buildings in Europe and some of its worst slums... This Glasgow also lost a thousand young adults each year to tuberculosis... Outside the home, men and women worked exhaustingly long hours for low pay in filthy conditions where health and safety had never even been thought of... Yet poverty, an unequal struggle and lack of opportunity do not always breed despair. Sometimes they breed a special kind of man or woman, one who uses their anger and apparent powerlessness to fuel a fight for justice and fair treatment for everyone. The Red Clydesiders belonged to this special breed. So did my father... Meeting a debt of honour to my family and forbears, I wrote six novels set in Glasgow and Clydebank during the years when the Clyde ran red. This is the history that goes with them."
Histories come in many forms. Some are written dispassionately and at a distance, others are written with both passion and compassion. This book is in the latter camp, and really comes to life as a result. Maggie Craig has underpinned the strong sense of social justice that shines through with what appears to us to be a remarkable depth of research and great care to get the facts right. Given her track record and her reasons for writing the book, that should be no surprise, but it is certainly worth mentioning. What's particularly fascinating about the period covered is that it provides a background to so much that is happening in Scotland today. Yes, all this took place early last century, but factors such as the relationship between the Labour Party and the early Home Rule movement have reverberations that can still be felt in modern Scottish politics.
This is a book that should be considered essential reading by anyone interested in relatively recent Scottish history: or in the background to what we see happening around us today.