The Trainspotting generation

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 15 February 2017 in Comment

Mark McLaughlin looks at the legacy of the 'Trainspotting generation' – and how the drugs and crime figures stack up today

Syringe - Image credit: Fotolia

The Trainspotting sequel arrived in cinemas this month, reminding the world just how warped and wonderful Scotland can be.

Audience reaction has been mixed, with some flinching at its mix of nostalgia, self-parody and pastiche.

But behind the knowing glances at dirty toilets, remixed punk classics and slightly forced reworking of ‘Choose Life’, it is a pretty accurate portrait of Edinburgh in all its diversity.


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There are some light spoilers here so those who have not seen the movie should turn the page, but if you’ve read a newspaper over the last 20 years you probably know the story.

As someone who has spent over a decade covering Scottish politics and the Edinburgh populus, I was enthralled by Renton’s transformation from addict to athlete, Sick Boy’s transition from heroin blagger to coke-fuelled pimp, and Begbie’s new career as a housebreaker.

And then there is Spud, still on the smack, and the flashbacks of Tommy reminding us of the time when Edinburgh was rife with heroin and the AIDS capital of Europe.

In 1995, when the first Trainspotting was being filmed, there were 426 drug deaths in Scotland.

In 2015, it had risen by two-thirds to a record high of 706.

Edinburgh, for all its gentrified charm, had the second highest number of deaths in Scotland behind Glasgow in 2015.

Closer examination of the figures reveals that the most recent deaths are a legacy of the ‘Trainspotting generation’.

Nearly three-quarters of deaths were among people aged over 35, as years of abuse by those who took to drugs in the 1980s and early 1990s finally took its toll.

In reality the Edinburgh that the first film depicted was already receding and the “great wave of gentrification” depicted in T2 Trainspotting was already well underway.

T2 Trainspotting reminds us that affluence can also mask abuse, with people seeking a better life by any means necessary exploited by those with more money than sense.

A recent inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland found evidence of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in Edinburgh.

There were 145 potential victims of trafficking identified in Scotland in 2015 – a 31 per cent increase on the previous year – and a third were forced to work in the sex industry.

And last year prosecutors admitted what everyone who has lived and worked in Edinburgh had known for years, brothels were illegal but tolerated as a “public health measure…to minimise the impact of prostitution”.

And finally, Begbie reminds us that the people who did choose a career, a family and f*****g big television are not immune from the misery of Edinburgh’s underclass.

Deprived estates like Granton – where Tommy spent his final drug-addled winter – sit cheek-by-jowl with affluent areas like Trinity and some attempt their own illicit form of wealth redistribution.

Domestic housebreaking in Edinburgh rocketed from 1,664 incidents in 2012/13 to 2,195 in 2015/16.

MoneySupermarket found housebreaking insurance claims in the Granton/Trinity postcode are the highest in Scotland, followed by the areas around Inverleith, Duddingston and Newington.

This is the Edinburgh that most people do not see, and credit is due to John Hodge and Danny Boyle for bringing it to the fore in a way that also shows the best of the city – with T2’s sweeping aerial views of Arthur’s Seat and its comical cat and mouse through the closes of the Royal Mile.

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