by George Gunn
Wednesday April 25th was a very windy day in Caithness. A fierce North Easterly gale blew down from Norway and blasted the blossoms off what pass for trees in this flat, mainly treeless land. It felt, in many ways, like Winter instead of Spring – when the instinct is to look inwards rather than out. Today is the 1st of May – Beltane, the beginning of the Summer in the old Celtic season cycle. Instead of something new, politically, what we got streaming out of every media manifestation, was the end of something.
With the Leveson Inquiry, Murdoch, Trump, Hunt and Salmond, our political system seemed to have turned in on itself on the very day that it was announced that Britain was now in the “double dip” recession every UK government minister assured us would never happen. Whatever agenda for change and development any of the political parties had made a pretence at peddling up until that windy Wednesday was unanimously dropped in favour of what they all appear to relish: which is cooking up unbelievable amounts of moral outrage about the failings in others which have been apparent in themselves to the majority since probably the first time they ever opened their mouths in public.
In his fascinating television series “The King and The Playwright” James Shapiro proclaims “There were no newspapers in Shakespeare’s day – there was only theatre and gossip!” In Caithness we have no newspapers as such since the local press was stripped of cash by their publisher (the “nationals” don’t admit we exist), and since we have no theatre (the Grey Coast Theatre Company being likewise financially bled to death) all we have is gossip. In reality because of the legal restrictions on what the workforce at Dounreay can say in public in order not to contravene The Official Secrets Act we have lived with gossip instead of information for almost sixty years. So it comes as no real surprise to me to see that now “gossip”, in the shape of Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking and the like, has now “officially” supplanted “news” and to witness how the government which set up the inquiry is now its primary subject. Alex Salmond fits into this scenario, ironically, as a piece of devolved extension.
What is Rupert Murdoch if not a Timon of Athens character crossed with the shade of Machiavelli walking out with Iago? There he was on our TV screens being Mr Approachable, being funny, being human and you could almost forget, just for a moment, that you were looking at an eighty one year old monster – a kind of media Nosfaratu. Then on the Scottish channels there was Donald Trump who, to keep it Shakespearean, appeared to believe he was Coriolanus but in fact came over as blend of Feste, the clown from Twelfth Night, and Liberace playing Lady Macbeth. Here was the human equivalent of a malevolent vortex. Which one was the more vile was too horrible to contemplate.
I found myself acting out the opening scene of King Lear in my mind. Just so that you too can see it Lear, the old King, has brought out a great map of his kingdom and laid it on the floor. He has decided to divide his domain between his three daughters – Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. He insists that before they receive their regal third they must tell him how much they love him. Goneril, the eldest, obliges. Then Regan out does her sister’s insincerity. They duly get the reward of their flattery. The youngest, Cordelia, is appalled as she is honest. Lear asks her
“What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak!”
Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Cordelia: I cannot heave my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond: nor more nor less.”
For her honesty Cordelia is banished. The tragedy for King Lear is that this single act drives him to madness and everyone to destruction. When I watched Murdoch and Trump I realised that despite their wealth and power they actually produce nothing. So it is that “nothing will come of nothing”. Well, nothing good anyway. Later on in the play when the storm of his own madness overwhelms him Lear rages to the tempest
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!”
On the same day as the gruesome Murdoch and Trump pageant was being paraded before our eyes another announcement slid below the radar of most of the self obsessed media and the cracking cheeks of the raging recession ignoring politicians. This was the plans for a 277 turbine windfarm eight miles off the Caithness coast next to the Beatrice oil field and for an even bigger 350 turbine proposal for the Moray Firth. This will make these developments, if they ever come to fruition – and the plans of Beatrice Offshore Windfarms Limited (BOWL) are well advanced – two of the biggest offshore renewable energy schemes in the world. This, according to the developers, will create thousands of jobs and put hundreds of millions of pounds into the Highlands. It’s enough to heave your heart into your mouth. Most un-Cordelia-like our politicians have perfected the art of putting their feet firmly into their mouths.
In Orkney they call windmills “turlicks”. Somehow the word “turlick” feels more human than “turbine”. The other word superseded by “renewable”, in regard to energy, has been “alternative”. Is “alternative” energy different to “renewable” energy? Make no mistake the renewable industrialisation of our open land spaces and convenient ocean space like the Moray Firth is well underway and is only going to increase. But what is alternative about it? In Caithness we have our mini-Trumps – those who are opposed to wind turbines in their back-yard the anti-turlick brigade. Here it is a mixture of genuine concern and an unsavoury alliance of pro-nuclear sentiment with a high regard for property prices. Those who reap the reward of wind turbines are the landowners upon whose land they sit and the developer and the energy company who sell the resultant electricity. Whatever “community benefit” accrues is at the discretion of the developer and as there is no legislation, no policy on this, it is a hit or a miss affair. No government of whatever persuasion or location has shown any regulation of this development other than through local planning permission. All we hear is the mantra of the many thousands of “homes” these windfarms will provide electricity for.
An alternative view would be to see ourselves as being active generators of energy rather than passive receivers. I once heard a Finnish architect say that until we thought of houses as being more like trees then we would never come to terms with our energy problem. Houses should be designed so that they receive their energy from nature, from the air, the Sun, from the Earth itself. That would mean turlicks for everyone as well as a genuine exploration of just what “alternative” energy actually means. This would require a philosophical shift in our relation to value.
The system of supply and demand has inevitable forced globalisation into the self destructive spiral it now acts out upon the poor of the world. Scotland has the “alternative” scenario of being rich in energy supply – potentially a world leader and, may the winds of change preserve us, not becoming the Saudi Arabia of anywhere. Unless we fundamentally reassess which end of the energy supply chain we come from, of who generates and who benefits, we will become impoverished politically and culturally as well as economically. Scotland cannot afford to have the hell-hounds of Trump and Murdoch baying at our gates while the courtier politicos snarl and bite at each other. Our energy provision should be like music: something we produce in order to share with others.
Rumour has it that that is possible. But you won’t find it written about in a newspaper. Not a Murdoch owned one anyway. At least that is something: a turlick in the wind?
© George Gunn 2012