Ian Jack

Ian Jack worked on the Scottish Daily Express and the Sunday Times, edited the Independent on Sunday and Granta, and was a columnist on the Guardian. His pieces were collected in Before the Oil Ran Out, The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain and Mofussil Junction: Indian Encounters 1977-2011. He was working on a book about the Clyde at the time of his death in 2022, and his last piece for the LRB was on the decline of shipbuilding on the river and the CalMac ferry debacle that was in part a result of this.

From The Blog
18 October 2022

More evidence of secret dealings and irregular conduct has emerged in Scotland’s celebrated ‘ferry fiasco’, to add to the details I described last month in the LRB. A BBC Scotland documentary, ‘The Great Ferries Scandal’, broadcast on 27 September, revealed a remarkable level of co-operation between the Scottish government and the shipbuilder, Ferguson’s, to make sure that the Port Glasgow company won the contract against competition from shipyards in Germany, Poland and England. On the evidence of hundreds of documents leaked to the BBC, the principles of transparency and fair-dealing embodied in the procurement law of Scotland and England – and of the European Union, to which in 2015 the United Kingdom still belonged – look almost certain to have been broken.

Few of those involved emerge well from the story, but the charges against the SNP government in Edinburgh are the most serious. Accused of incompetence, evasion and the misuse of taxpayers’ money, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her colleagues have responded by talking about ‘learning lessons’, ‘saving jobs’ and ‘moving on’. Compared to low life expectancy, the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe and the near total foreign ownership of aquaculture and renewable technologies, the ferries are a minor failure. Only the thinly populated peninsulas and islands of western Scotland are directly affected; a resident population of at most seventy thousand. What makes the ferries so potent politically is that they concretely encapsulate government ineptitude. The Scottish government commissioned and funded the ships; the Scottish government now owns and manages the shipyard: the Scottish government will subsidise the ships when (though ‘if’ still can’t be ruled out) they are in operation.

Diary: Class 1H

Ian Jack, 15 July 2021

‘The golden generation’ is the way Selina Todd describes us in Snakes and Ladders: The Great British Social Mobility Myth (Chatto, £25). We are the children born between the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s (1945 in my case) who, in Todd’s words, ‘were more likely to be upwardly mobile than any generation before or since’. More than 50 per cent of us, if we were...

The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack, 7 January 2021

On​ a wet and windy Saturday in October a few regulars of the Ian Allan Book and Model Shop gathered inside the premises for the last time. The shop – on Lower Marsh, behind Waterloo Station – would soon be a memory, like many things to do with the railway hobby. One or two customers chatted to the soon to be redundant staff. Others encouraged a yappy terrier to chase a tennis...


It’s coming yet

22 December 2019

In her study of political failure on Red Clydeside, Jean McNicol mentions Harry McShane, a close colleague of the revolutionary John Maclean (LRB, 2 January). As McNicol says, radical socialism had more or less died as a popular movement in Glasgow by the end of the Second World War. Personal convictions, however, were a different matter. In 1984, more than sixty years after Glasgow’s insurrectionary...

Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

The item which seems set to stay longest with me from Ian Jack’s alert and precisely-written record of British life in the Seventies and Eighties comes from the opening memoir of his...

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