By Christopher Harvie
I leave it to the Hootsmon to explain how I came to semi-evict the royal couple from its front page; though (who knows?) reading the draft of my ‘Salmond Parliament’ chapter – neither fulsome nor negative – may have contributed to the FM’s recent feisty performance. But two other factors influence the argument that follows.
Read through newspaper accounts of the Financial Services Authority’s failure to produce a history of the collapse of RBS and HBoS in 2008. Realise that this was a London/megabank/tax-haven-generated – not a Scottish-generated – disaster.
We must also see that ‘eco-high-tech’ is also evolving its politics within mainland Europe. The new green-red government in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Europe’s biggest single industrial region, is as important as Holyrood. It needs clean energy; we will need it as a partner.
If a SNP success means that we put a positive spin on the renewable energy that’s part of Alex Salmond’s programme, we can move in an important direction through several interlinked policies. A sensible London government will adapt to this, reckoning that constructive partnership, not control, will count in the longer term.
The room for manoeuvre that outright independence gives is, in this context, probably our best chance of long-term prosperity and civic rebirth. Read on!
We should concentrate on:
One: reindustrialisation through ‘new generation’ renewables.
Wave, tide and current energy is more constant than wind. The water turbine has been in its familiar shape for over a century but recent developments in blade shape and fabric, channel and inflow design and lubrication, and subsea electronics, offer great increases in life and efficiency: not just for tide/current generation but for pump storage.
This technology is evolving in our universities and laboratories, and we are also well situated to import and export given our proximity to new trade routes – for example the North-East passage to China and Japan – created (good fortune coming out of misfortune) by climate change. We can’t do this on our own, but we can factor a mutually-acceptable deal with the European nations and regions that can.
A Scottish Sea Energy Authority – call it Statewave or Scotwave? – is essential, taking over UK powers which currently favour the ‘predominant partner’ and nuclear power.
Two: co-operative systems of control in industry and finance.
To use this to grow SME operations – upstream and downstream – we need green investment institutions, such as the local savings banks which were hi-jacked by groups like Lloyds TSB. In large areas of the public domain (e.g. teaching, healing, caring) these could finance co-operatives to replace bureaucratic/profit-oriented control.
We need a ‘new localism’: for example through Energy and Environment Boards organised by communities, with research/policy links to regional committees in Holyrood. This isn’t any longer utopian: much of new technology depends on institutions like Wikipedia which are effectively co-operative.
Three: innovation that combines expertise and empathy.
Scotland has a distinct tradition of innovation. This depends on a balance of expertise and empathy, making use of inherited experience as well as specialist education. Sir Patrick Geddes used to emphasise ‘head, heart and hand’ as continuous and positive multi-tasking, combating overspecialisation, taking exercise – he wisely used the example of the garden – and broadening sympathies through social work. I have seen the ‘social year’ used in Germany as the quid-pro-quo for free or low-fee universities. It works.
Four: training and allying with our ‘temporary Scots’
We are a major educator, well-regarded in Europe and among the new industrial states – 20,000 Chinese students have been guesstimated – and ought to use this situation to import technological equipment and expertise and export the experience we gain through invention, instructional development and practice.
Five: saving resources for economic reorientation
We must anticipate Peak Oil and shift transport- and livingspace-engineering to low-carbon, collective modes. We can’t pump new fuel into the old system. It’s already failing America. Central-belt Scotland should have the same public-transport/cycling/walking connectivity as London. The social savings coming from this will be applied to innovation and training.
Sixth: we must use the power of a democratic culture as community, rather than ‘culture-industry’.
Who has read Eddie Morgan’s Parliament poem ‘Open the doors and begin!’ and not gone forth inspired and exhilarated? As, 150 years ago, the Americans were by Walt Whitman. Forget celebs and best-sellers. Almost thirty years ago, recovering from the 1979 debacle, people like Billy Wolfe, Tessa Ransford and Angus Calder started the Scottish Poetry Library, now in Holyrood’s precinct, and helped us back on our feet. The ballads of our nation have gone world-wide: we must live up to them.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great
when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.