On Thursday morning, I wrote a piece for the Scottish Review challenging the idea being put about, to the Press Complaints Commission among others, that Mr Purcell was a sick man being harassed by sections of the media, although not by the respectful Herald.
I suggested, perhaps a little daringly, that Mr Purcell was just having a terrible week and that the true harassment in Glasgow was being experienced, year after year, by the poor and by asylum seekers. After I finished writing this, I decided that HM Revenue & Customs could be avoided no longer: that I had better pay up what remained of my tax liability.
On 23 February, I had received a letter from 'London South' (Officer in charge: Mr Rowland Harding) which began:
Nine out of ten UK citizens pay their Self Assessment tax on time, funding the public services that we all benefit from. Our records show that your tax payment that was due on 31 January 2010 has not been paid.
Miss Brotherton, my favourite teacher at Bonnybridge primary school, a tall, serious young woman with striking jet-black hair, would not have approved of these sentences. She communicated her knowledge and love of the English language to her pupils; I am influenced by her teaching still. As a tribute to Miss Brotherton, I re-wrote London South's sentences in my head:Nine out of 10 UK citizens pay their self-assessment tax on time, helping to fund the public services from which all of us benefit. Our records show that we have not received part of the tax which you were due to pay on 31 January.
This may not be perfect, but it is grammatically more graceful and has a higher regard for accuracy. I then telephoned London South and paid by debit card, including £5.42 interest.
There was a delay of a few seconds while we waited for bank authorisation. Finally the young Scotswoman at London South announced:
'You've been successful'.
I am not sure that anyone has ever uttered these words to me before. Successful people are the clients of Levy & McRae, 'the go-to firm for intricate matters regarding defamation, reputation management and privacy'. The rest of us, who cannot afford the services of Levy & McRae, travel on one of Mrs Gloag's buses and endure the indignity of barely literate letters from London South.
But there are, of course, many degrees of un-success. The indigenous poor of Glasgow, and the asylum seekers who share that city with them, are so unsuccessful that they are spared the correspondence and demands of Mr Rowland Harding's staff. They pay no income tax. They pay no council tax. They are abjectly dependent on the state. I have, theoretically at least, contributed an extra £5.42 towards this cause. Yet I do not seriously believe that my donation of £5.42 will go to the poor of Glasgow or to asylum seekers. It will go to some money-lender somewhere, and not be noticed.
I cannot speak for the poor of Glasgow, but I have some experience of asylum seekers. After Firsat Yidiz, aged 22, was stabbed to death in the Springburn district of the city in the early hours of a Sunday morning in August 2001, there was a sense of communal shock at the apparently racist motive for the murder of an asylum seeker. Some weeks later, I chaired a public meeting in the debating chamber of the old High School. It was packed, intense, self-questioning. The people present – good, concerned, intelligent people – wanted what they called 'a positive response'. To some extent they got it. Projects and schemes for helping the newcomers in our midst were established. I was proud to be associated with one of them.
Fundamentally, however, nothing has changed. Asylum seekers continue to live in uncertainty and fear – fear of the dawn raid; fear of Dungavel detention centre; fear of deportation; fear of what would happen if they were returned to their country of origin; fear for their children; fear for their lives. For some, this uncertainty and fear is prolonged. It can last years. Yet asylum seekers are denied the right to work. The deprivation of this basic human need is the main cause of their despair and depression, especially since many have come from societies where the work ethic is strong. Most asylum seekers I have known would love to receive a complaining letter from Mr Rowland Harding. Most, however, would pay up with an alacrity that would put me to shame.
But there is not the same public interest in asylum seekers. The common will, such as it was, has been exhausted by a decade of political inaction, the hostility of the disingenuous media, and the routine exercise of authoritarianism in their treatment.
When I wrote last Thursday's piece on the harassment of asylum seekers and the non-harassment of Mr Purcell, it did not enter my head that three people on the 15th floor of some God-forsaken, half-derelict tower block in Glasgow Springburn had 72 hours to live. Were they planning what was about to happen, or was it an instinctive act, the result of a collective surrender of the senses?
They took some of their furniture with them. How grotesquely appropriate. It is always the arrival of the furniture – the pathetic bits and pieces arranged for them by the social services – which inflames local sentiment. It is sadly true that, when people have nothing, as the indigenous poor of Glasgow Springburn have nothing, the only people left to envy are people with less than nothing. When I have talked to the poor of Glasgow, it is always the furniture of the asylum seekers which is mentioned first. The thought of a refrigerator going through the front door angers them more than anything else, but most furniture seems to be too much to bear. So when furniture ended up on the streets of Springburn on Sunday morning, along with three crushed bodies, a statement had unwittingly been made.
At 8.45 on Sunday, as the furniture and the bodies fell 15 floors to the foot of the Red Road, I was on the internet looking at a front page in the Sunday Herald headed: 'The fall of Steven Purcell'. The story informed me that the former leader of Glasgow City Council was no longer in Scotland; that he had gone and would be away some time; that, in the words of his advisers, he was 'recuperating in the sun'.
Meanwhile, back in his native city, the police issued a statement that there were 'no suspicious circumstances' in the fall of three asylum seekers.
Read Kenneth Roy in Scottish Review