I RECENTLY came across an article in the Guardian under the intriguing headline “Why coming out as working class was harder than coming out as gay”. The author, an American Professor called Justin Quarry, described the ordeal he had growing up in the Deep South while struggling with his sexuality. But worse still was his experience at an elite university after winning a subsidised scholarship, an environment that made him feel like an alien because of his poverty and his background in a depressed rural community in Arkansas.

The culture in Scotland, certainly in the era I grew up, was different. Going to school in the Gorbals, I seldom met anyone who wasn’t working class. Some of the teachers perhaps, who spoke in the kind of accents we would only hear on TV. We took our social status for granted. If anything, we looked down on those with pretentions to snootiness. Our families and forebears worked in factories and mills, collieries and shipyards.

I left school at 16 in the early days of Margaret Thatcher’s government, who despite her relatively humble origins as a grocer’s daughter from Lincolnshire, seemed to symbolise the power and wealth of those who spoke and acted as our lords and betters.

Times have moved on, and society has changed. The factory horns and the clatter of machinery fell silent as manufacturing industry emigrated wholesale to distant continents. Council housing was privatised en masse along with our utilities and a host of public services. A big swathe of the skilled manual working became self-employed entrepreneurs symbolised by “white van man”.

My personal circumstances have changed too. I now work for pretty much the average salary, but in a profession that I once would have considered the bastion of middle-class privilege. And I live in a village that seems, on the face of it, a world away from the grey housing schemes of my youth.

But while it may seem a bit less tangible these days, the class divide is everywhere – even in this beautiful part of Highland Perthshire, where people work in sawmills, forestry, bars, shops, restaurants, buses and delivery vans. The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers may be long gone but the class divide even in rural areas is as stark.

The presence of class was visible this weekend at the Birnam Book Festival, where the three star attractions were Peggy Seeger, Stuart Cosgrove and Darren McGarvey. Peggy is a legendary American folk singer who spoke about her biography, First Time Ever, its title a reference to the song First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, written in her honour by her late husband Ewan McColl, an old-style communist from a Scottish family who wrote some of the great working class anthems of the 20th century, including Dirty Old Town.

It was a true privilege to hear her speak, sing and play. Her special performance provoked the only standing ovation I’ve ever seen from the usually warm but reserved Birnam audience.

Stuart Cosgrove, who grew up in a Perth council housing scheme is well-known as a football pundit on BBC Radio Scotland’s Off the Ball programme. But he has also written a trilogy about his other passion, soul music. And I although I haven’t yet read any of the books, I know they are highly political, linking 1960s and 1970s black music to major social unrest in Detroit, Memphis and Harlem. And his research, he says, led him to an understanding that the famous riots of these times were as much about class as about colour.

Which brings me to Darren McGarvey and intersectionality, one of the themes of his Orwell prize-winning book Poverty Safari. In the interests of disclosure, I should say I’ve known Darren – aka Loki the Scottish Rapper – and his family for a long time through his aunt, my close friend Rosie Kane.

Intersectionality, I should explain for those unfamiliar with the term that was imported from the United States, is a theory that tries to grapple with overlapping, and sometimes competing, forms of discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. In Poverty Safari, Darren argues that the growing focus on these identities has marginalised class politics and become somewhat self-righteous to the point where it drives working class people away from left wing politics. There are plenty of alternative views around. But there is no escaping the fact that there has been an alarming shift rightwards in many working-class communities across Europe and North America, reflected in the support for Donald Trump in rust-belt post-industrial cities, the rise of the far right in Europe and the landslide vote for Brexit in some of the poorest towns of northern England.

It’s a phenomenon that has had a much lesser impact on Scotland, partly because the cause of independence has aroused hope in marginalised communities and channelled alienation towards a progressive political goal.

But politics can change. Disappointment can breed despair. And despair can provoke dark reaction. Some of the most highly politicised left-wing communities during the year-long strike miners’ of 1984 have more recently began to embrace Ukip, Brexit and the English Defence League after being effectively abandoned by the socialist left. Even Corbynism, which has not yet managed to connect traditional working-class communities because of its association with the metropolitan middle classes.

We can’t go back to the days of Ewan McColl. Much of that society was fractured and hostile to people who were not part of the traditional male labour aristocracy. Sexuality was repressed, women were oppressed, domestic violence flourished.

Even Peggy Seeger has admitted that she now finds some of her late husband’s old songs hard to deal with. She has written, “Ewan was a Marxist, a militant, gut-political product of the tail-end of the industrial revolution. In most of his songs, men are digging, slashing, cutting, building, re-shaping, raping, controlling, humanising the earth and being praised for doing so for the good of mankind.”

Darren McGarvey recognises that intersectionality is here to stay and has much to offer. But he is bang on the money when he states: “Class issues are concealed beneath a progressive veneer as identity politics becomes another vehicle for the socially mobile, to dominate every aspect of public life.”

I don’t agree with everything in Poverty Safari. It’s not a Bible for the left, nor does it claim to be. Some of its ideas might even find favour with some on the right. But for all that, I would recommend it. It’s gripping. It’s thought provoking. And it’s important.

The First Minister has praised it. And it impressed an illustrious panel of literary judges enough to convince them to break with convention by awarding a prestigious literary prize to a working class guy from the backstreets of Glasgow.