Wha’s like us?

Rural cycle paths and even the busy tourist harbour town of Hornbaek are noticeably litter-free

As a long-term immigrant in someone else’s country there are things that you become accustomed to. In Denmark, one of those things is the absence of litter. It does exist, but on the whole, city streets and rural areas are remarkably free of garbage. 

Visiting friends and family always comment about how clean everything is, and they’re right. 

Cycling a lot, as you do, in a country with dedicated bike paths everywhere, you get the chance to observe hedgerows, verges, and city infrastructure close up. Yes, you’ll see the odd beer can, coffee-to-go cup, and even (worst of all) McDonald’s takeaway bags bursting with plastic cups and paper waste strewn by the roadside. However, on the whole, these are few and far between. And they’re never there for long. If not removed by council workers, concerned citizens will pick them up and bin them. 

Last time I was home in Scotland I took my teenage kids around the country. We were based in Ayr – in a nice flat overlooking the beach and Firth of Clyde. Spectacular. It was an attempt to share an ‘exotic’ childhood holiday location wi ma ain bairns who are ‘Danish’ first, European second, and Scottish a distant third. 

They saw with their own eyes the seafront and beach every evening. An ocean of litter by the sea. They were bemused that such a beautiful location could be turned into a tip. The local council does what it can to treat the symptoms but it cannot cure the disease. Littering is an anti-social virus and it’s endemic to Scotland. 

Another childhood haunt on the nostalgia tour was Millport. A lot better than Ayr, litter wise, on the sea front, but the harbour area is a magnet for sea-born rubbish. Perhaps it’s the result of currents or tidal changes, but for a tourist destination to have this amount of concentrated litter on the rocks and beach is just awful. Is it beyond the wit of man or woman to create a capture net that can be lifted at low-tide and emptied? Were we Scots not once great innovators and inventors? 

Probably the most unexpected discovery was on a wee sandy beach north of Luss, by the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond – a song son my loves. Wild campers or day-trippers had attempted to tidy up by digging a hole and burying their non-biodegradable rubbish. It was all visible and sticking out. Those tin cans and plastic objects (including a broken camping chair) will still be there in fifty years time if my kids ever visit the same spot. You could weep. 

We made an early Sunday trip to Glasgow. A braw breakfast at the wonderful Coia’s Cafe followed by a wee visit to my late maw’s church on Whitevale Street. Early morning is still the best time of the day in Dennistoun. The city is benign. Even the hideous football pub on Duke Street looks harmless.

A walk past the still derelict remains of Whitevale Baths was followed by a visit to Celtic Park and the impressive Velodrome. But, once again, you don’t have to look very far before you discover years-old litter stacked up behind greenery and bushes. 

Aye, the dear green place, like so much of Scotland, is an open litter bin. It’s enormously sad. The impression given is that people don’t care about their local or national environment.

Foreign tourists are generally polite, but they do notice. They talk about it. They wonder about us. Where is Scotland’s civic pride? 

The nation that could not bring itself to vote for its own national self-determination appears not even to care about its own self-image in the eyes of the world. Wha’s like us?