Darren McGarvey's Class Wars

BBC Scotland (4 x 60 mins)

In ‘Darren McGarvey’s Class Wars’ the activist and prizewinning author confronts the existence and impact of social class in Scotland today.

Ep 1: Identity Crisis

Far from his birthplace of Glasgow’s Pollok, Darren finds himself in the stately home of Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh. Beginning with a linguist examining Darren’s accent, this journey quickly spirals out into an authored examination of the impact of social class today and Darren’s own identity crisis.

Along the way Darren tries his hand at Scotland’s ‘secret’ sport, cricket, meeting two diverse teams in Inverness who are doing what they can to remove the image of cucumber sandwiches; nearly comes to blows with a butler who tells him to get his hands out his pockets; and over a game of croquet Darren begins to realise he has quite a bit in common with the upper classes. Later he sits with a voice coach as she helps clients posh up or even change their accents before meeting some people from a 1950s cohort study in Aberdeen that is now being used to examine how people move between social classes. Ending his tour with a researcher who has been examining marriage between the classes over the last fifty years Darren begins to wonder if his own marriage might just have had unintended consequences.

 

Ep 2: Home Sweet Home?

Starting off in Scotland’s oldest housing scheme, Logie Estate in Dundee, Darren discovers that our social class, and where we live, has a massive effect on our destinies. Meeting a group of gambling addicts, Darren begins to see how the desire to be a certain class had massive implications; in Glasgow he meets Erin, an inspiring teenager who helped force the government to change their policy on how exam grades were awarded during the pandemic; comes face to face with two former offenders to find out if there is a link between knife crime and social class; and discovers the hidden truth of one of our big employers: call centres.

Not content with seeing how life on the urban streets is impacted, Darren then sets his steely gaze on one of the most contested issues in the debate about social class and power: rural land ownership. Starting in Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway, he meets some locals trying to buy 10,000 acres from one of the UK’s largest landowners, hoping to reverse years of decline in the town. Shotgun in hand, Darren is an Angus country estate for a grouse shoot only to discover that the answer to land inequality might not be as simple as he once thought.

 

Ep 3: Power to the People?

As Darren sets out to examine the power imbalance that lies at the heart of social class, he begins to wonder if the system is rigged. And, if so, what can be done? Meeting a living history buff, he finds out how class was first militarised by the Roman Army – a legacy which carries through today in the British Army. Returning to his Pollok birthplace he meets two anti-poll tax aristocrats who fought the Thatcher government over their policy; and travels to Inverclyde to witness a community who are battling rampant health inequalities and the legacy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Setting his sights on the workplace, Darren discusses the worrying increase in suicide and meets a campaign group that is trying to challenge the seemingly unstoppable rise of the zero-hours contracts.

Over a gentlemanly game of polo, Darren finds out how the ‘other side’ views things; meets Scotland’s first ever homegrown billionaire to ask if philanthropy is the answer; and touches one of the big live wires in this debate: Corporate Evasion versus Benefit Fraud. Why is one lionised and the other demonised. Is it power to the people? Or does it depend on who the people are?

 

Ep 4: Rear-view Mirror

Why is our social class important to this day? And can we ever consign it to the dustbin of history? In this most personal episode, Darren examines his own social mobility. Can he ever fully transition from his working-class past to the middle-class present he currently enjoys? Why should it matter where he is from? And why does his past continue to impact his present? Using an experiment conceived by Yale University in America, Darren tests the theory that you can recognise a person’s social class by just seven words; visits the further education college he once attended to give a masterclass, and returns to ‘his’ stately home, Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh, to compare his two worlds. Keen to experience what life might be like in the past, Darren tries his hand at being a butler with a man that has served everyone from royalty and politicians, to opera singers and Russian oligarchs.

Later, whilst toasting marshmallows over a campfire, he meets a young traveller in a Bedford van far older than she is to discuss two burning questions: what is freedom? And can social class ever be completely ignored?

Up in Elgin, Darren meets two pigeon fanciers who show him how pigeons can become a way of life and unwittingly unlock a magic key in Darren’s mind. Coming full circle, Darren returns home to see his dad to try and find out if his rear-view mirror can ever be ignored.