The Great British Mortality Race

New statistics have shown that Glasgow continues to sit at the top of British league tables, the city’s residents have the shortest life expectancy in the UK. It’s about the only competition Scotland gets to win under the Union, although the Great British Mortality Race – the team who can cough up enough Great British phlegm win a union flag bedecked coffin – isn’t a programme you can expect to see on the BBC any time soon.

Scotland’s health indicators are an indictment of the Greatest Partnership of Nations Ever TM.  We’re unhealthy. We die young – and not in a glamorous Jim Morrison sort of way. 307 years of Better Together and we’re not getting any better. We die of diseases of poverty and the stress it causes. We die from self medicating on alcohol or drugs.

In Glasgow, average life expectancy for males is 72 years, the lowest anywhere in the UK. A quarter of men in the city will not survive to the age of 65. Women typically live longer than men, women in Glasgow can expect to live 78 years, the lowest life expectancy for females in the UK.

Scottish health statistics are on a par with those of some of the poorest communities in the developed world. In the USA, Native American people confront appalling problems of social exclusion, racist abuse, the trivialisation of their cultures, an epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse, unemployment, and poor housing – on top of issues of loss of sovereignty, broken treaties, land rights, mineral wealth which does not benefit local communities, the destruction of traditional ways of life and the loss of their languages. All of which sounds unsettlingly familiar in Scotland.

Native American people typically have lower life expectancy than other Americans. And in another familiar Scottish echo, the average life expectancy of Native American men in the USA is 72 years, and that of Native American women is 78.

In 2012, the UN published a report severely criticising US policies towards its Native American population. The report, writen by Professor James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, noted : “Along with poverty, Native Americans suffer poor health conditions, with low life expectancy and high rates of disease, illness, alcoholism and suicide.” Which could just as easily be a description of the situation in some of Scotland’s housing schemes.

Calling on the US to address the problems faced by Native American communities, Prof Anaya and the UN urged the USA to take “determined action to secure their rights, within a model of respect for their self-determination and distinctive cultural identities”.  So devo max then, although Native American reservations do have more tax raising powers than Holyrood already.

The report also cited US government statistics showing that Native American life expectancy is 5.2 years lower than the national average, a smaller gap than the 7 years between average male life expectancy in Glasgow and the UK average of 79. Despite 307 years of what is supposedly the greatest and most successful union in the history of unions, relatively speaking the people of Glasgow have poorer life expectancy than Native Americans.

That is the product of the choices and priorities of successive Westminster governments which have treated Scotland and her people as resources to exploit. The outcome is systemic ill health, disease, disability, and shortened lives. Our hearts are being buried in the wounds of a knee to the groin.

But it’s an even sicker joke. In some parts of the city, life expectancy is lower than in India, and lower than that recorded for some of the poorest and most marginalised Native American communities. By quite some margin. Calton in the East End, just up the road from the Commonwealth Games jamboree, was reported to have a male life expectancy of just 54.

Devolution has helped. Scottish health statistics are showing signs of improvement. But as long as Westminster retains control of the fiscal and economic powers which can bring about the structural and systemic changes necessary to remedy the deep rooted reasons for Scottish ill health and shortened lifespans, all devolution can do is cover the wounds with a slightly bigger plaster. It can’t protect us from the cuts of an axe wielding Tory Government or a Labour party that’s equally hell bent on austerity. It’s like saying that the answer to air pollution is a better gas mask instead of taking action to prevent the pollution.

Of course Scots are not descended from genocide survivors, like modern Native Americans. We are not an oppressed people who are greatly outnumbered by colonists in our traditional land. Scotland’s problems are largely the product of a minority of other Scots. But that’s no argument against independence. The Scots who have dispossessed and exploited other Scots have been operating under the rules of the Union and with its protection and blessing. If we were independent that minority would not have a remote and unrepresentative parliament to fix the game for them, and the rest of us would have the voting strength to ensure that they could not continue to abuse and exploit us in the same ways. We could parcel up the rogues in our nation once and for all.

Scots are dying to be part of the Union, but we don’t have to. Scotland can make its sovereignty real and meaningful. We can take the future into our own hands, and seek solutions to the long standing problems of Union which are killing us. Because if these problems have not been addressed in 307 years of the Union which created them, they never will be. We’ll continue to die young, we’ll continue to suffer ill health. And we will never get better together with Westminster.

Vote yes, it’s good for your health.


36 comments on “The Great British Mortality Race

  1. […] The Great British Mortality Race […]

  2. macart763 says:

    Moving, scary and hopeful all in one post.

    I’m fed up doffing my cap on this site, I’m just going to stop wearing it.🙂

  3. Iain says:

    I was interested you mentioned life expectancy rates in Calton in Glasgow Central constituency for Westminster, because that ties in with the 49% of children in the area already living in poverty, as downloadable from the endchildpoverty website. Local Labour MP, Anas Sarwar, recently saw fit to vote in support of the Westminster Tory-Liberal government’s cap on benefits spending. Sarwar’s legacy as MP isn’t quite as glorious as that of his Tory-Liberal supporting neighbouring Labour MP, Willie Bain, (Glasgow North-east) who presides over a child poverty level of 51% in the Springburn area of his constituency. Better Together! UKOK! No!

    • IF it’s a NO vote we really need to encourage all these people in these areas to vote against Labour in our next elections. Many vote labour because they always have, many don’t vote at all. We need to mobilse them to vote differently. I’m really hoping we can get them to vote Yes in the referendum tho.

  4. bjsalba says:

    And did you see the headline: Scottish Tory leader: ‘Comprehensive school system to blame for education failures’.

    What absolute drivel! It is poverty that causes poor educational attainment.

    What an absolute pillock that woman is.

    • Iain says:

      Anas Sarwar, Labour MP for Glasgow Central constituency, confirms his agreement with the Tories on this. He doesn’t trust the comprehensive school system for his children. I wonder if many of his constituents send their kinds to private schools like Sarwar does. Better Together!

      • andygm1 says:

        If you want to improve comprehensives, then ban private schools, the middle class will then ensure that standards are driven up in the ‘bog standard’ comprehensives.

        • Iain says:

          I totally agree. Sarwar is only doing what his Labour (at the time) predecessor, Shirley Williams, did during her spell as Education Minister for England during the 1970s. Comprehensive for the plebs, Private for the Labs. Plus ca change in Labour…

  5. Eilean says:

    Even under devolution Labour in Holyrood have been a shameful. Their stance on minimum pricing of alcohol was a disgrace. The Willie Bain principal. “If the SNP propose it then Labour will oppose it!”

    Never mind that it could save some lives. Making life difficult for “The Nats” is far more important. What a way to run a country!

  6. Capella says:

    There’s an excellent lecture given by Sir Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer of Scotland at the time, given to the Faculty of Actuaries (who have an interest in these things!). He looks at life expectancy in Glasgow and shows how social conditions affect the growing brains of babies and lead ultimately to their reaction to hopelessness, poor health and early death. It’s a pity it isn’t more widely available.

  7. Fine article, Paul. It makes me so angry to read about poverty, especially child poverty, in what is one of the richest countries in the World. I wonder what the “proud scots”, in particular the ones who have their noses in the Westminster trough, have to say about these statistics. Not much I expect, since they don’t give a jot about their constituents, only when it comes to voting them in for another five years at our expense. I don’t know whether I’m missing something, but how anybody can think that we are better being ruled over by a self-serving Westminster elite, because that is what they are, no matter what political party is in power, is beyond me. We have 15hrs on the 18th, September to change things for the better, and if we don’t take that opportunity, we will never, ever, get another chance, because the establishment will make sure of that, either by abolishing the Scottish Parliament, or by introducing legislation to make it impossible to hold another referendum.

  8. Eilean says:

    In 1922 my Dad, born and bred east end of Glasgow left school at the tender age of twelve. This was so he could get a job to help support the family. He drove lorries all his life including five years in N. Africa during WWII.

    He didnt smoke and drank very little. To my knowledge he never had a day off sick in his life. One evening he went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and never came out. Heart attack! Dead before he hit the floor the Doctor said. He was aged sixty four years and ten months.

    About six months ago I had occasion to pass a few hours in the Alexandria Road area. My car was getting some work done and I had to leave it for three hours. I had my wee ginger dug with me so we went for a walk to Alexandria Park and the surrounding area. The poverty of life is there on display for all to see. Lots of tired and weary little old ladies. No men! they were standing at bus stops laden with their bags of messages. Alexandria Parade is part of Margaret Currans constituency. If anyone doubts what Paul has written above just take a drive around the East End of Glasgow you can’t help but notice the poverty on display. (Thats unless you are a Labour MP obviously!)

    • hektorsmum says:

      Your Father’s life so mirrors many in Scotland, my Dad died in his own bed but of a heart attack, he made it into his early seventies but he should have made into his nineties or even the hundred, his Aunts did, his Dad made it to eighty five. My Father in Law mirrors it even more, died outside the shop he was waiting on his wife coming from one cold November Saturday morning aged just sixty three. The one who hailed originally from Glasgow, was the one who died earliest.
      There is a great deal of poverty in Scotland, not just that of lack of money, but of ambition, stifled often at a very young age and yes I blame the Union for it. Things got much worse in the eighties with the removal of industry which had given people a reason for pride in themselves and their work. Now so many are immediately on the dole and see no reason for trying. Those MP’s filling their boots at Westminster should be hanging their heads in shame rather than going on about being better together. Sadly many of those who are waiting at bus stops with the messages will be voting with them.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I live beside Alexandra Park. It’s not actually THAT bad – there are nice areas in the East End. Next time you’re going to be in the area you should let me know. You can come round for a cuppa.

      The boundary between Curran’s constituency and Wullie I-stey-wi-ma-maw Bain’s is just off Cumbernauld Rd. Our house is actually in Bain’s constituency.

      • Eilean says:

        Thanks for your kind offer I might just take you up on it one day. Allow me to reciprocate the offer.

        I live in Bothwell village. (Not only is it a village it is an desirable conservation village. As any estate agent will tell you) Just a short walk from the David Livingston bridge which “surprise” takes you across the Clyde to Livingston memorial and museum. A favorite destination for Sunday School trips. Lots of good dug walking along the Clyde to Bothwell castle. The bluebells will be out soon. Thanks to the EU and dare I say it Thatcher (for closing the Craig. Heresy, I know!) but the Clyde here is pretty clean now. Unlike when I was a wean. Plenty of guys fishing some Herons around as well. I saw what I thought was an Otter the other day. I had heard rumours about them. It was jet black so it turns out that it was a Mink.There is a small herd of deer around as well. I do try to avoid them but I go to places well off the beaten track. Or should I say the Dug drags me well off the beaten track.

        Talking of Deer I remember seeing some near Cumbernauld Rd. While commuting to Balmore Rd. via a rat run along Avenue End Rd. I used to watch out for them alongside Hogganfield Loch.

        Bothwell gets slagged off because of its “Up market appeal” and its celebrities but I like it. It has its dangers though. Dodging the Range Rovers at school run time is a bit like the Pamplona bull run with the bulls talking on mobile phones. .

        Referendum wise it is going okay. I was leafleting in Uddingston Main St. a couple of weeks ago and was impressed by the positivity from some of my up-market neighbours. I wish I could say the same for some of the hard core local “Labour” supporters. The MP is Jimmy Hood (Lab) MSP is Michael McMahon (Lab) and Siobhan McMahon (Lab) as a list MSP. Ach well at least they are easy targets.

      • dennis mclaughlin says:

        Weegingerdug it’s not the area ,it’s the state of the populace around Ally Park….my 1st school was Alexander Parade school for boys😉

  9. bringiton says:

    The situation of Native Americans in Canada (known as First Nation people) could not be more stark in comparison with their treatment in the USA.
    Because the Canadians have decided to allow First Nation people to largely govern themselves as well as giving them access to free health and education many Canadians are trying to determine whether they have ancestral links to the native population.
    Self determination and universal access to basic social services make all the difference to life outlook and expectancy.

  10. […] The Great British Mortality Race. […]

  11. smiling vulture says:

    Housing,dampness will cause lower life expectancy, but smoking,drink,food is up to the a big guy,i know about 5 veg,5 fruit,but I like my fish supper,indian,crisps,jerry icecream,,it makes my daily life more enjoyable,if I stopped I would feel 105,life would pass slow,i do walk 1 hour a day,not sure where that gets me.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I walk at least an hour a day too, usually more. It gets me round the park with the dug. So the dug’s happy, if nothing else.

      • Eilean says:

        I am about one and a half + in the morning and a half hour in the evening. (See above)

        As for the smoking, drinking and overeating. When your life is totally shit and has little chance of improving shortening it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Sadly that is how bad it has got in some areas of Scotland.

        End the poverty of hope. Vote Yes.

        • Eilean says:

          smiling vulture. I wisnae suggesting that your life is totally shit by the way. We all like our wee comforts / vices.😉 I am no exception!

      • smiling vulture says:

        more enjoyable with a dug,i think

    • Alastair Ewen says:

      About two miles on the average….

  12. Alastair Ewen says:

    “Our hearts are being buried in the wounds of a knee to the groin.”

    Clever one Paul, I saw what you did there….

  13. Geoff Huijer says:

    Another excellent article.

    I will send this to my American friends to give them some perspective on
    poverty in Scotland. The comparison with Native Americans is in no way
    erroneous as your examples clearly indicate.

    Thanks Paul for your work and dedication!

  14. liz says:

    It makes me sad when I read about our the low life expectancy in Glasgow – my dad died at 59yrs old from a heart attack, he supported independence – but it makes me even angrier at Lab Scottish branch because they keep the whole thing going.

    How can the likes of JoLa and Mags Curren live with themselves – I really don’t understand it and I also don’t get why so many folk still vote for and believe in them.

  15. SCED300 says:

    What gets to me is Labour politicians and activists know all this and all the other ‘nasties’ in the woodshed but are either ignoring it or actively colluding.

  16. K1 says:

    I have always had an affinity feeling with Native American history. Have often said in recent months when talking about our Independence that it’s the same fundamental story that has played out here in Scotland. It’s also the same narrative that runs through all former indigenous peoples’ history; subsumed into the dominant imperialist countries, (created by invasion, colonialism, missionary zeal) stripped of their lands and value system, disempowered, reduced to become the underclass.

    The ‘elite’ simply cannot comprehend the ramifications down through the generations of these crimes that were committed, because make no mistake these were crimes.

    They can’t comprehend because being the legacy holders of a value system that infers them with an unquestioning sense of their own superiority, they have no developed sense of compassion for the suffering that their ancestors committed in the name of ‘progress’.

    It’s our time and I do feel strongly that our ancestors ‘see’ us. We will have our Independence and we will be a shinning light in this world.

  17. edulis says:


    I was born and brought up in Uddingston, but I now live in the Highlands. Here is something to cheer you. I travelled along the Mailaig road today and somebody has peppered it with ‘YES’ stickers and to cap it all, I saw more than one car with ‘YES’ stickers prominently displayed. We are going to win this because we have motivated people which the Bettertogether can’t match.

    As for Uddingston, I still have family there. Most of them are ‘Yessers’ but breaking the mould of Labour domination will be hard.

    • weegingerdug says:

      You mean an EVIL NATIONALIST had VIOLENTLY ATTACKED the poor defenceless road with VICIOUSLY AGGRESSIVE stickers. Why hasn’t Alex Salmond condemned this?

      Sorry, I was just translating in case Guardian leader writers or Labour MSPs ever read this.

  18. Eilean says:

    I have a friend from Uddingston who moved up north some years ago. According to him Kyle of Lochalsh is Scotland’s answer to the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

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