George Souvlis: By way of introduction, could you explain what personal experiences strongly influenced you, politically and academically?
Neil Davidson: I was born in Aberdeen, the regional centre of the North-East of Scotland, in 1957. Of all the major cities in Scotland, it was the one which retained the closest links to the surrounding countryside well into the twentieth century. The greatest of all North-Eastern novels (and an outstanding work of Marxist Modernism), Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song, is essentially about the end of the local peasantry in the aftermath of the First World War – and in many ways it tells the story of my family. My maternal grandfather, Wullie Farquhar, was a farm servant on the estate at Monymusk who migrated to the city in the late twenties where he got a job as a mechanic on the trams and then on the buses. My grandmother Helen was always too ill to work. My mother Margaret was born in the thirties and went to school during the War: she was one of the brightest girls in her year, but Granny and Granda Farquhar obviously couldn’t afford to pay for further education, so she went to work in a bank as a typist, then as a secretary. My paternal grandfather was an industrial worker on the Donside paper mills, but I never knew him as he contracted a lung disease from breathing in paper fibres (this was before the tyranny of Health and Safety) and died during the War – an end hastened by pre-NHS experimentation with radiation treatment which burned off large sections of his skin and required my Granny Davidson to change his bandages twice a day. My dad Doug was also academically talented and won a state bursary to go to one of the private schools (Robert Gordon’s) he couldn’t possibly have gone to otherwise – one consequence of which was that he always knew professional middle-class people who were much better off than we were. Dad trained as a radiographer while doing his National Service in the army during the early fifties and that became his job at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary once he was discharged.More