Friday, 8 April 2011
Pat Kane - The Election Blog 2011
Pat Kane is one half of Hue And Cry, and runs the Scottish ideas blog Thoughtland
For a while, I've thought that independence politics should be reoriented on a red-green axis - and that the challenge of collectively responding to low-carbon living is one that really gives a purpose to the aspiration towards a Scottish nation-state.
There is a fascinating parallel between discussions in the green community, and among independence-supporters in Scotland, about how each of them bridges the “imagination gap” in their political appeal to the public – the gap between things as they are, and things as they should (and need to) be.
The great sustainability guru Tim Jackson speaks of the “huge abyss” between our current consumerist lifestyles, and the systemic changes that are required for a planet-friendly economy and society. An abyss so huge that “the distance that needs travelling can engender so much fear that it actually acts as a brake on change… The difficulty for most people is that they don’t believe there is a complete system which we can jump ship to”.
So a “safe bridge” is needed: “it is imperative that we are able to give indications of what it would look like and to create a spectrum of strategic interventions that develop resilience and create a vision of a sustainable future”.
Independence-supporters in Scotland have constantly attempted to construct their own version of the “safe bridge” that Jackson talks about. Surely the history of sovereignty activism in Scotland, conducted under Alasdair Gray’s phrase “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”, has been precisely about trying to create that “spectrum of strategic interventions” (demonstrations, publications, Claims of Right, constitutions, and the endless books of essays.
Through these interventions, independistas try to engender a belief that the “complete system” of Scottish independence is a ship people can enthusiastically jump on to – and not a fearful abyss, needing a long rope-bridge. The more patient among us would doubtless claim that, no matter the Holyrood result in May, the imagination gap between Scotland now and a Scottish nation-state is less than it ever was. Bide your time; let the increments of change build and build.
I’m not that patient, and never have been. Salmond characterised Scotland in his party conference speech as the “lucky” country, in terms of our natural, structural and human resources. But we might be lucky in an even bigger framework. It seems to me that the practical project of a green and meaningful Scotland, with the macro-power of a nation-state to set new incentives and direct new funds towards that end, is exactly the kind of governmental “safe bridge” that Jackson hopes for.
Wouldn’t an independent Scotland, in which (to paraphrase the US columnist Thomas Friedman) “green is the new blue and white”, provide exactly the kind of policy zeal that’s needed? A sustainably oriented patriotism, fuelling the spirit of innovation and sustaining the hard discussions required to get to Tim Jackson’s “new territory”?
A territory which, as Jackson says, “…entails being more sensitive, open and transparent about environmental limits, a stronger sense of social justice, fixing the basic aspects of an economic system that is now demonstrably broken in its own terms and a shift in the underlying sense of what the good life means and the consumerist base of modern society.”
In terms of political sentiment – which also means, yes, separating large numbers of Scottish Labour supporters and activists from the Unionist mind-manacles of their Westminster party – isn’t there a clear and historic consensus for such a national project?
We need to be clear, also, about what SNP slogans like the "green reindustrialising of Scotland" might mean. For one thing, it can't mean going back to a "work ethic" which disconnects economically useful activity from personal purpose.
Green critique of current working practices, as exemplified by think-tanks like the New Economics Foundation and writers like Juliet Schor and Jeremy Rifkin, has the urgency of carbon-reduction and global warming at their backs. "Meaningful work" - which could as easily be fully-engaged, hacker-like play, or absorbed, intrinsically-motivated care - is what they hope will substitute for the planet-crisping satisfactions of lifestyle consumerism.
In a low-carbon economy that takes itself seriously, "flourishing" in the form of participation, self-provision and conviviality will have to compensate for "growth", "wealth" and its mountains of stuff. But no party will be able to preach the benefits of plenitude-without-trinkets, the happiness that comes from relationships, mindfulness and autonomous labours (see the five virtues extolled by the NEF's Happy Planet Index), while financial plutocrats cavort freely and unemployment rolls burgeon.
A Scottish independence agenda should be about bold proposals on labour-market regulation, new networks of public goods, visible restorations of income equality - but also an honesty about how our indicators of progress and prosperity will have to change. An SNP victory - ideally with Greens as coalition partners - will be the beginning of a decade-long reset of Scottish economy and society towards "one-planet" living. At least, that's my aspiration.