John Player and Joyce Nicholson: Looking Forward; The Recovery Movement and Adult Education


Recovery movement and adult learning: Joyce Nicholson (Glasgow University), John Player (independent scholar and author)

John Player is an independent scholar, author and educationalist.  Having been an integral part of the Frierian learning community at the Adult Learning Project he has been involved in ranging initiatives as a part of the life of Edinburgh.
Joyce Nicholson has been teaching at the University of Glasgow since 2009 across a range of undergradute and postgraduate programmes within the School of Education. She teaches on courses for MSc in Educational Studies, MEduc programmes and BA Community Development.

She has worked for STRADA (Scottish Training on Drugs and Alcohol) until its closure in 2016, lecturing on the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Drug and Alcohol Studies and developed and delivered courses for Initial Teacher Educators on Children Affected by Parental Substance Use. She has also worked as a trainer, specialising in interagency workshops the impacts of parental substance use, and designed and delivered training on intersecting issues such as pregnancy and substance use, domestic abuse and sexual abuse.

With significant experience of practice as a counsellor and outreach worker supporting drug users and their families she has worked in a range of projects developing and delivering services for drug users and their families. To compliment this she has experience in supportive assertive outreach to pregnant drug users and their children. Her PhD study explores the role of school as a ‘safe haven’ or ‘nightmare’ for children and young people and their drug using mothers / caregivers.


John: Thank you everybody for being here, it’s really wonderful to see everybody. We were hoping for 100 people, 100 people signed up, so there’s about 110 of us in here just now, isn’t there? Well maybe not, maybe not. My name is John Player, like the cigarettes. Some of the younger folk won’t know that. But my grandfather died of lung cancer, he is buried in a grave in Glasgow and his stone looks like the John Player Special packet, it’s gold. He died of lung cancer at 55, which was the age that so many men died in Glasgow and the West Coast. I never met him so this is personal, this is personal stuff this. I’ve named it ‘Ghetto Defendant’: it’s not heroin or Buckfast pity; not tear gas nor baton charge that stops you taking the city. It’s heroin pity. So, it’s not by accident after 1919 there was a [quietism 0:01:25], that Dek so ably put forward, this move from Scottish Labour Colleges to the WEA, and reformism really. But it’s not by accident – this is what the proposition really is.

Gemma and Alex and I are involved in a recovery group called [The Sheer Learning for Democracy 0:01:52] and we teach critical adult education, look at the structural issues beyond the 12-step programme, look at the hows and whys, and in whose interests is it. And that’s the question – in whose interests is it that we’re all fucked. Excuse the language but let’s get real. This is a dead anarchist, this is a dead anarchist, a Scottish anarchist by the way. But the thing is that E.P. Thompson, I have to take issue with E.P. Thompson: he called it ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ – a heroic, historic text – because the history of the Scottish working class is different, it’s different, it’s a different class history.

That’s The Clash, getting back to that hardcore punk straight edge and towards a less fucked up society. So, there’s now another movement coming about about straight edge abstinent anarchism, that if we want to make social revolution we’ve got to get clean. This is by Nick Riotfag. Nick Riotfag, I wish you were here, pal. There he is there, ‘Towards a Less Fucked Up World: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggle’, which was really initiated by the Black Panthers. Capitalism plus dope equals genocide, so it’s in the interests of the capitalist class that we’re doped out our heads, especially the Black Panthers, but we’ll come back to that.

Looking back in history, there was a mass insurrection in Scotland in 1820 with the leaders being hung, people being deported and jailed, in an attempt for universal suffrage, for parliamentary reform, for home rule. And it really was the catalyst towards how Chartism moved towards reformism, rather than revolutionary, insurrectionary. Because don’t go playing with the guns, the British Army is waiting out there and it weighs 1300 tonnes, so the British Army moved in and annihilated, really. So Chartism which was after mainly the same demands of the Scottish insurrection of 1820 really flourished, and it flourished with a temperance movement as well. The temperance movement was very allied, because back in these days workers could be paid in beer, you could be paid in beer – beer and alcohol suffused society so much. Chartism really caught up in Scotland when 100,000 people went to hear the Chartist leaders in the 1830s in Glasgow Green. And the Chartists really initiated this idea – it’s almost a Calvinistic Presbyterian self-elect thing about temperance, that you can’t create social revolution, you can’t create social change, if you’re pished out of your head. So it was quite straightforward.

In the temperance movement there was a total abstinence society in the 19th Century and continuing into the 20th Century in Aberdeen. This idea about the self-elect, this idea about the autodidact, this idea about adult education being rooted in sobriety because of the horror and the day-to-day indignation people were faced with. The way they dealt with their suffering, the way they dealt with their alienation, the way they dealt with their exploitation, was through the bevvy, really, through whisky in the main for the Scottish working class. So whisky right up until 1919. This is written also, ‘A History of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700’, which is actually a political text and it’s by Anthony Cooke, who wrote the only text on the 100 years or so of adult education in Scotland. I really recommend it because it goes into in a great deal of detail the temperance movement, as he does in the other text.

So how do you create social revolution? The Chartists positioned themselves with the Liberals really and working people found they didn’t have any representation. One of the initiators of this representation was Keir Hardie, and Keir Hardie really represented the Independent Labour Party – and Dek talked a wee bit about it – which again, this is all about subjugation, the subjugation history of our people, the subjugated knowledges that we need to unveil. As adult educators, Wendy, as adult educators in the trade unions, we need to unveil our history, because it’s not by accident, none of this is by accident – I don’t think any of this is by accident. Keir Hardie – home rule for Scotland, this is a founder of the Labour Party, and temperance reforms. So the temperance movement had two ambitions: moral [abstinence 0:07:53] – I’m going to persuade you to stop bevvying so much, I’m going to persuade you, or I’m going to initiate prohibition, and this is where my lovely pal Joyce will come in, the failures of prohibition.

But James Maxton, one of the leading ILP leaders moved in the House of Commons bills for prohibition. The temperance movement did succeed in stopping drinking on a Sunday in Scotland, so the prohibitionists had some success, it wasn’t a failed social movement. But it was very identified with moral judgement, it was very identified with Presbyterianism, almost a Calvinistic approach. Especially Keir Hardie who was anti-monarchist and anti-the ruling class in Scotland, and he was an advocate of temperance reform, that again it’s not tear gas nor baton charge that stops us taking the city – it’s Buckfast and heroin pity. Again, it’s part of the subjugation. The [Proclamation of the Soviet 0:09:49] in 1919 in George Square, they kept Scottish tanks in Pollokshields in case there was a federation between the workers and the soldiers, so it was put down and he was jailed. And I think Harry McShane, who I used to go and see in the ‘80s, he jumped ship and I don’t think Harry was temperant, really. John Maclean was absolutely tee total, he came from the church in Glasgow and was educated through the churches before really getting into a secular and Marxist analysis of economics. And when he was giving lectures, I mean Dek would know the numbers, but it wasn’t just 50 folk, it was packed out in Govan Town Hall and stuff like that. I heard there was a thousand people at some of his lectures. But it was very didactic, I’m being didactic, I have to have an input but it was very the words of the worthy really.

This is the thing about the Independent Labour Party, it was opposed to the war. The irony is that the licensing bodies, the breweries, and this is where [Findlay 0:11:31] is really good, totally supported the First World War, they promoted their staff to go and fight in the First World War, free drink for anybody in the war and they whipped up – what is similar to the continuity and change of right wing populism – they whipped up this antagonism towards the Independent Labour Party who were the biggest tea drinkers in Scotland, they loved drinking tea. So, this really was the important bit to it, the trauma – the body keeps the score – the trauma of the Somme where a million people were killed and they’re not sure how many Scots were killed there. They give you a kilt and some pipes and some whisky and you’re the first over the top, do you know what I mean? The breweries and the licensing board were very allied to the notion of the British state and British patriotism, while the ILP were against it.

So moving on with the ILP, the thing about the ILP, I just have to say it wasn’t just a Christian socialist ‘heaven on earth’ sort of organisation, it had a radical wing that sent volunteers to fight Franco and were allied with the [POUM, the Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista 0:13:03]. And that is Jimmy Maxton up there, and this is the secretariat of the [POUM 0:13:23], whose leader was tortured to death by the Stalinists in Madrid in ’39. So there is this evolution that we’re not told about. Have people come across this stuff, that there’s this link to libertarian communism, link to anarchist syndicalism that Dek talks about, in Glasgow though the Independent Labour Party and through adult education organisations. It’s subjugated. It’s not by accident.

That’s Harry. Harry McShane died in the Church of Scotland place just down the road. When he got away from 1919 he met up with [Raya Dunayevskaya 0:14:12] and they developed a form of autonomous Marxism close to the stuff that Dek talks about. Quickly moving on, myself and Gemma had the delight really to see this and I really recommend it, we need to show it in Scotland, it’s called ‘The Political History of Smack and Crack’, and what Edwards is talking about, and I really recommend it, is one of the first things we should do is get the book called ‘The Politics of Heroin’, how the CIA are involved, it’s not by accident. The thing is it’s not by accident that in times of crisis like the rise of the Black Panthers in the end of the ‘60s and the Vietnam War that heroin floods the streets, it’s cheaper than marijuana and this is his argument. And then Edwards’ argument is after the riots in 1981 or the resistances and rebellions in Brixton there’s a flooding of crack and smack on the streets and the movement is dispelled. It’s not by accident, and the question is, why us? Why do we have the highest drug deaths in Western Europe, if not the world? That is where my friend and colleague Joyce will come in and take up the here and now. Thank you very much.

Joyce: How do you follow that? I hope I manage to make some links between all of these things. I’m Joyce, I’ve been involved in the addiction field for about thirty years. I obviously was a young woman when I started, working mainly with women and children, drug using women and homeless people mainly who were using alcohol at that point. And of course this is the crossover now, is that we don’t have big separate populations, we have people using lots of substances all together at the same time. But yes, how do you follow John, I’m not sure. I’m going to offer you some invitations I think, that is what I’m going to do. And then at the end we’ve got a question and we really want to hear from some people about how we take where we’re at now in terms of recovery and also the real, massive crisis that we have about drugs particularly in this city but specifically in Scotland, and what we do with that and what the role of adult education is within that, and adult learning. I’ll say a wee bit but I hope it’s a hopeful ending of the day. This is about pedagogies of hope and recovery, but it’s also about not leaving folk behind. So that’s what I’m inviting.

John has talked a lot about this, the background. I just love that picture, ’Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours’, what an incredible bunch of women, aren’t they? Where did they get them from? So this idea of temperance and I suppose what this links to in some ways are these paradigm shifts that we’ve made over the last 100/150 years around alcohol, and John has outlined that. Alcohol was itself seen as the demon, wasn’t it? It was the substance itself; the demonisation came from the substance and it allowed people to make this progress into complete destruction. Alcohol, the drink steals children’s food, all these memes and quotes about. John also spoke a wee bit about the attempts to criminalise alcohol, and we succeeded in criminalising drugs but we didn’t quite get there with alcohol. And in America clearly people did, well the American government did, at the same time as cash crop growing marijuana, were actually prohibiting the sale of alcohol. And you can see mass popular uprising against that. ‘We demand beer’. Imagine if that had been done maybe there would have been popular uprising, I don’t know. John has covered some of this so I won’t spend too long because I want to get to where we’re at now. I think the Independent Labour Party particularly saw the drink as social waste, it was a social waste. And it was a waste of the economic, physical, mental and moral elements of all of our lives and it was a deeply political issue.

The invitation really comes from Keir Hardie, he says, ‘The man, who can take a glass or let it alone is under moral obligation for the sake of the weaker brother who cannot do so, to let it alone’. So here’s the invitation that Keir Hardie is making: let’s all not take drink, or in fact any other substances. Now I want you to sit with that invitation because some of you may already be there, because there will be many people here, many of us in recovery who will not be taking drink or drugs and what he’s saying in response to his stepfather’s own drinking – so he’s an affected family member – is we should all not imbibe. So those heading to The Doublet after, I’m just offering you that invitation.

What probably happened is that we moved from seeing the drink as the problem to almost individualising people as the problem, and with criminalised drug use we see individuals as the problem in this neoliberal discourse. I think what has happened is a very powerful revolution, since 2008 really, since our drugs strategy changed, a revolution of recovery. And we have some people here, we’ve got Anne-Marie from the Recovery Consortium as well, I could spend 15 hours telling you what the recovery movement is doing. It’s vast, it’s huge, it’s epic, it’s amazing. There are communities, there are colleges, there are cafes, there are hubs. There’s a new community being established down in Ayrshire about people living together in community. I just can’t begin to tell you the amount of adult education, the amount of learning, that is happening that we probably need to capture much more robustly. What’s going on, what are people doing, we need to capture that really, really strongly. We’ve created experts by experience and we’re literally building communities.


These resources have been archived at the Ragged University.working with Sarah Galloway who works from the University of Stirling the coordinator and curator of the archive. You can find videos, audio recordings and transcripts of the other presentations via the page below: