Michael Gray: 5 articles on CommonSpace that really mattered


Reporter Michael Gray – one of the original members of the CommonSpace team – reflects back on some of our most important stories

SINCE CommonSpace launched in January 2015, we've made an impact on the news landscape not just in Scotland, but in the rest of the UK.

We are funded by the Common Weal think-tank – although we are editorially independent of it – and Common Weal is funded entirely by direct donations from supporters. With that support, we do our best to make sure we create quality, original content and distribute it as far and wide as possible.

Here, CommonSpace journalist Michael Gray takes a look back at five stories he feels made a difference.

All of this is possible with your support. Scotland needs a new media free from corporate shackles and brave enough to hold power to account. Be part of it today by making a contribution.

1) Liam O’Hare: 'Migrants on hunger strike for better conditions at Dungavel'

"Dozens of migrants have been on hunger strike for over a week at a controversial detention centre in Scotland," former CommonSpace reporter Liam O’Hare reported in March 2015.

On this story, CommonSpace collaborated with The National newspaper.

The story had an immediate response with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and the Church of Scotland demanding access to the UK Home Office deportation centre.

Dungavel already had a controversial reputation over reports of the mistreatment of detainees. While some focused on Home Office denials, O’Hare led the way by reporting from inside Dungavel itself, and linking up with asylum claimants close to the hunger strike. 

2) Jen Stout: 'Glasgow has upset 'pickup artist' RooshV' 

"Several protests have been organised in Glasgow, where 'Roosh' supporters were planning to meet in George Square on Saturday [6 February] at 8pm. Facebook events show several thousand planning to attend, with similar events planned in Edinburgh. Jen Stout said on the protest build-up against sexism," Jen Stout reported on the protest build-up against sexism.  

What started as a local story grew to national and international prominence. Glasgow campaigners were among the most vocal in standing-up to RooshV’s style of aggressive masculinity. 

Stout followed the developments closely as tens of thousands of people mobilised online, while misogynistic supporters targeted progressive journalists. A resulting debate was reignited over hate crime, gender, and free speech. 

Rather than a gathering implying support for rape culture, there was a feminist demonstration which toured the city’s nightclubs with a disco sound system. 

3) David Jamieson: 'Scottish Conservatives consulting with controversial Hometown Foundation on education policy'

"The main author of the Scottish Conservative party's new education policy is working with a controversial think tank – one of whose leading figures the party once dismissed as 'fascist' – in drawing up its education policy," reported David Jamieson in the year of the 2016 Scottish election.

The Hometown Foundation has courted community campaigners in Milngavie, who want to save their school from closure. Jamieson revealed that the group had a far wider agenda to remove council control over schools. One of its key architects, Robert Durward, is a serial wealthy sponsor of rightwing causes.

The revelations remain relevant as education reform becomes the top issue in the new parliament. 

4) Michael Gray: 'Scotland's largest aristocratic landowner holds land in offshore tax haven'

"The Buccleuch family, owners of over 240,000 acres of private land, use a shadowy Cayman Islands tax haven firm to control and sell land, it has emerged," CommonSpace reported earlier this year. 

The story broke the day before the final Scottish Parliament debate on the need for radical land reform. 

This was another story we collaborated with The National on.

In parliament government ministers recognised the story as a reason for action, and backbenchers said it highlighted the need for a full ban on offshore tax haven land ownership. 

While votes for a full ban failed, a year of CommonSpace coverage of the land reform movement contributed towards a consensus that more land reform action is needed in the year ahead.

5) Michael Gray: 'UK military doesn't know the number of people it has killed in airstrikes'

"When asked how many people had been killed in UK airstrikes, a ministry of defence spokesperson responded: 'What do you mean by people?'," CommonSpace reported months after the UK had officially joined the bombing of Syria. 

Reports at the time said 2,104 civilians had been killed in western bombings, with logistical barriers making it difficult to judge the full scale of bloodshed and military chaos.

We worked with The National on this story as well.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was challenged in the UK Parliament on the story, and conceded that people had been killed in UK airstrikes.

CommonSpace reported further details of civilians killed in bombing attacks. The UK Government refused to investigate.

Picture courtesy of Michael Gray

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.