TV series Darren McGarvey’s Scotland heads to the Borders

Darren McGarvey and the landscape from Scott's View. (Photo: BBC Scotland/Tern TV)
Darren McGarvey and the landscape from Scott's View. (Photo: BBC Scotland/Tern TV)

Activist and prize-winning author Darren McGarvey takes a tour of a Scotland he knows only too well in this new six-part series.

Known to many as the rapper Loki, his book Poverty Safari – chronicling his childhood and teen years in Pollok in Glasgow and the issues he saw around him – won the Orwell prize in 2018.

For this series, rather than a keyboard, he takes TV cameras across Scotland to highlight issues and confront what he sees as the rampant rise of poverty and inequality.

As he says directly to viewers in the opening titles of the series: “I want to immerse you in the world I grew up in…A world defined by poverty!

“By the age of 18, I was just another statistic…Another angry, confused young man with alcohol and drug problems.”

Over the course of the six episodes, it is a very personal take on the ground level reality of poverty in Scotland and how the effects play out and impact on so many lives in a desperate range of ways.

The series has already taken him to look at drugs issues in Dundee, crime in Edinburgh, review, in West Dunbartonshire, how poverty impacts on women’s lives and in his home town of Glasgow reflect on people dying young through poverty and its related issues.

In this fifth episode, Darren McGarvey travels to the Borders. The terrain may not be familiar to him but the issues are.

As Darren observes: “You could be forgiven, when immersed in such idyllic scenery like this, for thinking that poverty is not an issue here in the Borders. It actually is, it’s just that it isn’t visible in the same way as some of Scotland’s urban areas.”

Along with poverty, there is an issue with mental health problems, and Darren meets a range of people to understand how this impacts in rural areas.

As he walks around the streets of Melrose, he reveals how he has struggled with mental health problems, coming very close to the edge.

His own story is reflected in an interview in Galashiels, where he meets lorry driver Glen, who found himself homeless and jobless in the wake of a relationship break-up - a situation which came to a head when Glen attempted suicide. He was saved by a passing policeman.

Darren also meets Steven, who has Tourette’s, and hears how ongoing benefits assessments are stressing Steven and worsening his condition, causing full-blown attacks where he effectively has seizures sometimes lasting more than an hour.

He meets up with Julie Cameron of the Mental Health Foundation, who has done a review into the health provision in the Borders and finds that rural isolation can also add to the problem.

Children living in poverty are twice as likely to develop a mental health disorder, but an initiative in Eyemouth is providing some therapy through horse-riding.

It is led by Dani McKinnon, of Eat, Sleep, Ride, and Darren also meets Johnny, who has ongoing anxiety and confidence issues after a childhood being shunted around the care system, but is now getting experience doing some building work on a big estate.

Darren McGarvey’s Scotland, Ep 5/6

Tuesday 1 October

BBC Scotland, 10.00-10.30pm