2007 - 2020

Beyond Broken Britain

As the last plastic tiara gets ground into the dirt and England’s gin-hangover kicks-in, it’s time to wake-up from the Princess Dream and look at the historic opportunities facing Scotland in the next week. It’s Mayday – time for renewal and fresh-thinking.

 

I don’t want a minority SNP government again. It’s likely to be stalled by tribal intransigence, back-biting and the worst petty parochialism that’s bound to dominate any political institution constrained by outside control. I don’t believe the ‘political mandate’ idea that a second SNP victory would let a referendum take place. Instead I suspect a desperate unionist bloc would continue to halt progressive change.

But an SNP administration in full coalition with the Scottish Green Party could allow real change to sweep across the nation. Major shifts towards a low-carbon society AND  a transition away from the centralised feudal constitution of the British State ARE achievable through such an alliance.  The benefits of such progress would come from the jobs boost of an economy based on the massive investment in all of the renewable technologies and properly insulating our housing stock. If we can do this, out of the miserable compromises and venalism of recent years …anything is suddenly possible. But only if Greens start to re-think ‘Transition’ as about a move away from the rapacious anti-ecological British State and Nationalists are able to think imaginatively about the benefits of a green economy in a new Scotland and ditch the ‘Celtic Tiger’ paradigm of pre-crash economics.

In short, Scotland could become a modern democracy.

Here’s Bella’s Top 10 – policy areas and ideas for an SNP/SGP Coalition:

Bridge Building & Shipbuilding – the dividing line between approving a new Forth Road Bridge and opposing it threatens to be a block to any coalition. It needn’t. Let’s reconceive the Forth Estuary as a major waterway with ferries, hover-craft and shuttle buses servicing the passage from West Fife to Kirkcaldy to the Lothian side. This could help salvage the tram service by delivering passengers to Leith and Granton and on to Edinburgh city centre.

Similarly the Clyde and Tay riverways should be rejuvenated with new shipbuilding based on a post-carbon transport culture. If shipbuilding was the epicentre of Scotland’s role industrial past, maybe it can come centre-stage in our de-industrialised future? In other words, do bridges need cars? Or, could we re-think the massive investment in the Forth crossing as an opportunity to create a low-carbon ‘bridge’ to Scotland’s capital?

The Bridge is thught of as the first obstacle to any coalition, it needn’t be.

Land Ownership and Renewable Energy – what has land ownership got to do with renewable energy? Everything. Control of the powers of the Crown Estate are essential, to develop the massive potential of tidal energy, and inland grid-connectivity which can’t be developed unless communities have access to and ownership of their land. This is a classic win-win scenario for the land ownership movement and the development of community controlled renewables, such as we’ve seen in Fintry, Eigg, Gigha and elsewhere.

Developing the urban equivalent of these rural success stories is the essential next step.

Scottish Water being developed into a publically-owned renewable energy company is a key to offshore marine energy and harnessing the power of our hydro.

Smart metering and mandatory high efficiency domestic applications can also be part of a nation-wide energy descent plan, recapturing the cultural value of ‘thrift’ and changing the energy debate from just talking in terms of changing ‘supply’ to altering the levels of ‘demand’.

Open Source Schools & The Curriculum for Excellence
Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law. Now 1 in 5 of young people leave school with literary issues.

Instead of doing deals with Microsoft, the SG should be working to create the world’s first open source schools network linking primary to secondary and connecting the meme of open source with the idea of self-determination through the applied skills of the global digital citizen.

Food Policy
A drive for a GM Free Scotland, a thriving local food movement, the expansion of organic food and land (started by Richard Lochhead under the Organic Futures* plan) and a start in curtailing the power of the supermarkets are all areas where the SNP and the SGP could and should work closely together on a common agenda. Smart politicians would look to common ground.

*‘Organic Futures’ is a joint Scottish Government and Scottish organic industry initiative aimed at developing organic food and drink in Scotland.

White Bikes
In Glasgow in 2010 the culture project NVA recreated Roel van Duyn’s White Bike Scheme. A big bold pan-Scotland initiative like this is essential to kick-start a cycling revolution as one part of a major transport shift away from car dependency.

Bikes are only ever going to be a part of wider transport policy but this sort of totemic project could register a shift in the domination of urban centres of the car.

Fuel Poverty & Housing – much of Scotland’s housing stock is very poorly insulated and these conditions (matched with rip-off Britain’s privatised utilities) means poor health and massive energy waste and emissions. This could be fixed by any thoughtful progressive coalition. This is a no-brainer. It would boost jobs, housing, health and the climate change targets.

See the Manifesto for Eradicating Fuel Poverty here.

Expanding and extending the Universal Home Insulation Scheme would be an obvious area of commonality between the two parties.

Pre-School Education
The SGP rightly observes:Greening education is not just about the curriculum, but also about where teaching takes place and how schools function. Outdoor education develops skills and qualities such as risk assessment, working with others, self-confidence, empathy with Scotland’s countryside, co-ordination and practical skills.”

Early years education needs to be seen as the essential building blocks of a persons life and education, not just as the most convenient form of childcare.

The SNPs Early Years and Early Action Fund doesn’t go nearly far enough, nor is its funding adequate. There is probably no area of social policy so under-funded or ill-thought out as this, but the scope for progressive thinking is obvious.

Free nursery provision for all would be a golden step forward, and place-based learning where children were encouraged to take risks, not prohibited from experiencing the world would be a key aspect of this development.

Re-Kindle Scottish Literacy
A fusion that celebrates Scotland’s rich literary tradition (unarguably our strongest art form) combined with a digital literacy programme could allow participation in the debate, discussion and participation that’s key to making Scottish democracy alive. It’s the sort of area that an imaginative coalition could jump on.

Democracy
Shifting some powers from London to Edinburgh through devolution was never enough. Neither is simply moving more powers to Edinburgh under independence. Independence is an opportunity to re-think how and where we make big decisions. Whilst a minority SNP government could potentialy push-through a referendum, a coalition government is more likely to build a societal shift able to carry it. The SGP could be the grist in the independence movement mill.

Nuclear Free Scotland
The common ground here is clear. It’s that the coalition could build around: a common cause around Scotland being a nuclear-free country. Post-Fukushima, and in the interests of generations to come there is no place for nuclear power in this country. A concord to legislate this, and to dismantle and decontaminate Scotland of the nuclear legacy of the British State would form the second part of this equation.

International
There is little to distinguish the two parties approaches on international affairs where opposition to Trident, Iraq, Afghanistan and the international arms trade could form the basis of an ethical foreign policy that London Labour could never deliver.

Angus Robertson’s pork-barrell politics defending the British Army bases would have to be dropped.  It’s now 9 years since Britain invaded Afghanistan Polls show 75% of people want the troops brought back home. This again is the sort of common ground hardly discussed at all in the campaigns dominated by the failed old unionist parties.

Is this possible?

I’m sure that Nats with upper-soaraway confidence might deride such an idea.

It only work if there is give and take. As Pat Kane has written: “On the SNP side, they should realise that the mix of social justice, localism and a genuinely planetary perspective on our daily lives represented by Green politics could be one of the strong elements of an “independence movement”. We need a real push towards empowered communities – where people are supported to “co-create” their services, living conditions and energy. This autonomy will generate a natural ambition for wider social – in the Scottish context, constitutional – change.”

“But on the Green party side, I think there has to be some give-and-take too – there’s also a puzzling modesty about their support for independence – where a stronger and clearer commitment would increase their credibility on how macro-policy could serve their ideals, surely largely frustrated under a devolution settlement.”

If this election tells us anything it is that people are hungry for a positive vision. Kane’s friendly critique of the Green Party is most telling: “Strangely for such an idealistic party, there is too much fist-waving and opposition, and very little joy and aspiration – no real flavour of the different “quality of life” that a transition to an ecologically oriented society might bring (their arts, culture and sports policy, for example, is gestural at best).”

So “sell the sizzle” as cutting-edge greens tell us and let’s hear why the re-industrialised Scotland could be a place with better homes, cleaner energy and a viable future Beyond Broken Britain?

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  1. pat kane says:

    A great start, Mike. The one thing missing that regularly appears in my own eco-studies at the moment, proposed by people like Tim Jackson, Peter Victor and the New Economics Foundation in their 21 hours report, is a collective move to shorter working hours, combined with a “living wage freeze” (effectively a citizen’s income/social wage floor), as a way to really hit major low-carbon targets – but also clear space and time for “flourishing” rather than compensatory consumerism. There’s a vision of an active, civic, sustainable lifestyle that can be forged between various parties in Scotland – one that’s rooted in voluntary, communal labour and services with an awareness of its eco-impact (though I’d like it to maintain a strong connection to arts and festivity, just to make sure we don’t over-egg the “cultural value of thrift” as a return to puritanism). But I can’t see how it gets the room to develop without a look at the politics of personal and community time – and that’s a regulatory macro-power. I think we can connect this to the question of poverty (and the psychic distress and coarsening it causes) in Scotland. Call it the “Bonny Society”, if you want – but there has to be the same confidence that the state in Scotland can support and regulate for a popular culture of co-creation and autonomy, as it can for the NHS (and for green industrial progress). Could those in Scotland’s forgotten and neglected schemes benefit from both a higher-floor of social/wage security, and a clear invitation to marshall all their human resources to take immediate control of the quality of their living conditions? Mike’s thought on open-source education and food generation could be developed here into a real “makers” initiative for the poor in Scotland – not just “more apprenticeships”, but a kind of civil labour that could re-engage more than a few broken generations in the project of reclaiming and rebuilding their communities. Unlike the Tories, up here we don’t think that the contraction of the state means that social enterprise will burgeon to fill the deficit. But we want to use the state to encourage autonomy, not dependency. This is also a public health issue – a more economically equal and socially engaged society, if The Spirit Level authors are right, is literally physically and mentally healthier all round. How obvious is that in the Scottish context?!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      No doubt – this is part of the work less, buy less, do more idea. I should have added this when discussing pre-school education. Rethinking early years education is not just about making better provision but questioning why parents are over-worked.

  2. As you’d expect, there’s a lot to like in here. Pat – you know we’ve been banging on for ages about a citizen’s income, and I reckon if we got full powers that’d be just about top of my personal list of things to do with them. Not only does it free people up for education and volunteering, but also for play, social time, creativity and the rest.

    Mike – I’m a bit curious about the way you’ve squared the bridge question though. It would be properly thorny, especially given the timing and the pressure it places on much more useful capital budgets.

    And the democracy side – I’d like that to have an emphasis on devolution from Holyrood too. Local government is withering from a lack of autonomy and inspiration, and they both need more power and to hand more power down further to community-level.

    One thing’s for clear, for me this is the space where the ideas are. I can’t remember the last time anyone from Labour had a good new idea. Utterly intellectually bereft..

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I agree James about decentralisation (and deepening) of democracy.

      Would like to see the Petitions Committee empowered to law and also ordinary folk brought onto panels and committees discussing housing, transport and health (for eg).

  3. pat kane says:

    Just to say, in terms of Labour, the Compass group have been thinking intelligently (in my view) for a while – I rate people like Neal Lawson and Jonathan Rutherford, they regularly invite Greens and SNP to their conferences (I know, I was at the last one). It’s fascinating that they’ve begun to talk about a ‘left-democratic England‘, in anticipation of a greater break-up – though the “Blue Labour” label is truly naff. Some of us faintly hope that there’s another turn of the screw, in this direction, from a truly “nativised” Scottish Labour, in an independence/strong autonomy context. One would hope that a good thumping on Thursday might prompt a change. We may be holding our breaths till we keel over dead, though.

  4. Vronsky says:

    The screw-up with the ballots last time around probably penalised the Greens most of all – hopefully this will not happen again and we should see their representation increase. It’s never a good idea to believe opinion polls but if they’re anywhere near the truth such a government is a reasonable hope.

    I’m an SNP member who will be using both votes for the SNP but praying (as oft before) for an SNP/Green coalition – I think the SNP needs a sea-anchor to the left (should I say ‘port’?) and the renewables agenda needs to be a lot more considered than the crazy peppering of the landscape with windmills. Aggressive reduction of energy consumption is dangerously overdue. We should do it willingly and thoughtfully before it is forced upon us – dieting isn’t fun, but it’s better than starving.

    The bridge thing is not so much a bridge too far as a bridge in the wrong direction. The easy availability of gasoline meant that things spread farther apart – all the little inns and shops and bits-and-bobs disappeared. We lost our fine-grained infrastructure when it became easy just to motor along to the next place. As gasoline disappears and distances begin to look longer again that infrastructure must come back. The so-called ‘Tesco Tax’ was a particularly apposite idea. Go after the out-of-town retailers, make them subsidise the regeneration of infrastructure they displaced.

  5. I remain confused as to why Harvie (and therefore the Greens) is apparently ‘backing’ Labour in his comments.

    I know it is annoying a lot of SNP voters and raising serious questions about a Green / SNP coalition if it comes to that after the 6th May.

    Mike – Britain is well and truly broken, there is no doubt about that, but the establishment has tried ‘bread and circuses’ this weekend to try and preserve its staid, inward looking view of Britain by selling us the ‘Royals’.

    Before we can go forward, we have to cut the chains that are holding Scotland and her people back. To do that means we must concentrate on the main goal – independence: because with out that all else is moot. In turn this means that the common purpose must be focussed on and there is much more that the SNP and Greens agree on in general than disagree about. To focus on areas of ‘disagreement’ -as Harvie has been doing – gives hope to the Unionists they can split up the independence parties and preserve this toxic and parasitic parliamentary union.

    To move forward to create the future Scotland we all want both sides will have to give ground, the time for detailed argument is once we the sovereign people of Scotland have the independent country we seek. As Chris Cook – an expert in co-operative and mutuality schemes – writing on Labour List, said the SNP understand the importance of mutuality in a way no other party of government he has worked with does. If he did not believe they were committed in their desire for subsidiarity and mutuality he could not work with them.

    I hope the polls are right about Thursday’s election results and the result is not skewed by Labour’s postal vote campaign or ability of returning officers in the west to loose ballot boxes off the Ardrossan ferry because then cohesion between all of us who want a Scotland free of Westminster is essential.

    I think there should be a tunnel instead of a second Forth Crossing because the reality is both Forth Bridges are ‘choke points’ at present. Peak time trains through Inverkeithing are packed even though there is one every ten minutes. The Inverkeithing Park and Ride is swamped. It is not that Fife folk will not use public transport but there is just not the capacity available to meet demand and there never will be.

  6. Edulis says:

    I would strongly support the SNP/Green coalition as a way of facing up to our planetary responsibilities to to be ecologically saavy. There is already a huge amount of evidence that we are stressing the biosphere through over-exploitation. This has become all too obvious in the marine environment where something of the order of 80% of the world’s fishing resources are on the verge of collapse and the only way to ensure its future is to create areas of sea which remain unexploited. Although our fishing communities have woken up to the need for conservation and virtually everybody agrees that the Common Fisheries Policy is bankrupt, there is still the fundamental issue of pursuit of private profit from a common resource. Things will never be fixed until we take at least 20% of our seas out of use for commercial fisheries and allow them to return to as near an unexploited condition as possible.

    What goes for the seas is also relevant to land. This applies to Scotland as much as it does to equatorial jungles or the Antartica. We need to save the world’s biodiversity on which we all ultimately depend by ensuring that up to 20% of our land covering a broad spectrum of habitats has a prime conservation objective. We could do this through a properly organized and strategic national park system all interconnected. At a time where there has been a further huge loss in biodiversity over the past ten years, despite the enlightened policies (for once) of the European Union, and with Scotland as the home of John Muir surely that is something that Scotland should be proud to present to the world.

  7. Who’d have thought that someone called Mad Jock McMad wouldn’t do any research?

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    This article has some really great and exciting ideas in it, and it’s exactly what I love about this blog. There are some great comments, too. Reading ideas like these make me feel very excited about the future for Scotland when we eventually reclaim our independence, and make me more convinced than ever that if there is a second Age of Enlightenment, Scotland will once again be one of the hotbeds of ideas. Perhaps a second age of enlightenment would even be the precursor to naysayers finally understanding why Scotland can flourish under independence?

    Being a software developer, I’m particularly in favour of the idea of introducing open source into our schools – currently, you won’t see any in an educational context unless you do a computing science degree, and even then not until second year. I would go further and introduce it into government systems too – if only to rid them of Internet Explorer 6, once and for all. If nothing else, it takes a hell of a lot less energy to power an Ubuntu computer than one running Windows…

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Doug, yes the implications of an open source approach are (or could be) profound). I think the parallels with the new curriculum are clear. Could also be art of the new paradigm of positive thrift – open & free doesn’t mean cheap! Expensive, closed and private doesn’t mean quality!

  9. David MacGille-Mhuire says:

    The Enlightenment still alive and well: Great stuff!

  10. delia forrest says:

    These are the most exciting and positive days leading up to what could be the most significant election held within a UK country for a very long time, perhaps ever.

    This is why independence won’t only be great for Scotland but also for England too. Ironically, the ‘great’ in Great Britain could come from great Scotland becoming a nation once more.

  11. drew grozier says:

    A great manifesto Mike. I have my ideas as have all your other correspondants in ways to add value to your suggestions, but I’d rather submerge my ideas and ego into working with an Independence Government on your Policies -Three Rivers Regeneration, Land Ownership and Renewables, Fuel Policy and Housing, Education and Literacy.
    Maybe you need to form a new party -‘Beyond the SNP.’ After Independence.
    We Scots too easily fall into factions in order to push our own particular barrow. To paraphrase Mad Jock MacMad – ‘to focus on areas of disagreement gives hope to our enemies.’

  12. bellacaledonia says:

    ‘Three Rivers Regeneration’ – I like that

  13. Cumbie Neil says:

    The problem with any coalition between the SNP and the Greens is that there will be a massive disparity in MSP numbers, a bit like the disparity in Scottish/English members of the Westminster parliament. We can see how badly this works so i can’t see how a coalition could work unless the Greens could accept holding back on a lot of their pledges and accept the majority of SNP pledges.

    i think the first SNP minority government was a success and i don’t see how a second one could be any different, it results in parties talking to put through the budget in a positive way, it results in a more positive democratic system. The only failure comes from those voting against things for party reasons and not ideological reasons.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Point is that on key issues: min pricing for alcohol, supermarket levvy and referendum we just got stuck, it wasn’t ‘good democracy’ it was just tribalist inertia.

      The greens would have to make some compromises but they could also see delivered some of their key policies, something that just won’t happen with them on the opposition benches for 5 years.

  14. Adam Ramsay says:

    Hello,

    I think that this is a very useful start to a conversation we may be having, as parties, by the end of the week – we’ll see.

    The first thing I would say is that I personally (I’m a Green) would be unlikely to support a full coalition. Unless there were very good reasons to go into one, I am less interested in having muffled Greens running departments than in Greens who can speak out delivering key policies and vision (obviously I hope we will be big enough to be an equally sized/larger coalition partner, but unless we are, I think the risks for a relatively new party (in the public consciousness) of losing an independent voice are huge.

    However that doesn’t mean that I’m against formal co-operation agreements. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to build a shared vision – indeed, it is clear that the whole of the European left needs to find an exciting shared vision to replace the failed 1990’s stade European social democracy whose representatives have been wiped out from the Russian border to the French Atlantic (and are failing to grasp what is happening to them in Spain and Portugal too). Such a vision must be built. Where better to start building than home?

    I think for me, this list is all good, but is missing a couple of key things. James has already highlighted the importance of devolving democracy to lower levels still. Similarly, you talk about land reform – ie, democratising the land. You are right that this is key to renewables development – as a Perthshire boy, I’m all to familiar with the practicalities of what happens when communities feel like they are having renewables forced on them, vs what happens when communities own their own land, and see the potential for renewables. But it has to be about more than renewables, and it has to be about more than land.

    If we are talking land reform, for example, I would start by extending the community right to buy to urban areas, including the right to buy community assets like pubs, town halls, etc.

    And, though this is difficult without more powers, I would be keen to explore further what could be done about democratising ownership of assets other than land. It is interesting, I always think, that ideas that were once radical (land reform) are now accepted, while their equivalents today (reforming the ownership of our contemporary means of production) are seen as crazy.

    Similarly, Pat talks about the Spirit Level, and about NEF’s report on working hours. As you say, I think these tie very neatly with Tim Jackson’s prosperity without growth – they are about ways to re-imagine what our economy is for, and about ways we can re-organise it. How a Scottish Government could implement such ideas is more difficult, but is a question I think that we need to address, and I think it is crucial that we start to build a new consensus on the Scottish (and British) left about these ideas.

    So, those are various rambling thoughts. Good luck to all on Thursday.

    Adam

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Here’s a thought. If the Green party in England were offered a seat in govt with a left-leaning, anti-nuclear, anti-Trident pro-renewables party, what would they do?

      On devolving democracy I couldn’t agree more Adam, here’s Walt Whitman…

      ‘We have frequently printed the word Democracy. Yet I cannot too often repeat, that is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened…
      It is a great word, whose history, I suppose remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.
      It is, in some sort of, younger brother of another great and often used word, Nature, whose history also waits unwritten.’

  15. pat kane says:

    I was fascinated by Lesley Riddoch’s column today in the Scotsman today.

    “…Only in Scotland have we been brainwashed into thinking nature is safe in the hands of farmers and the landed classes, and endangered by any form of industrial development.

    This country has been blessed with natural assets but cursed with a pattern of land ownership and restricted access to land and water. The result has been a distancing of Scots from nature.

    We don’t fish, hunt, use boats, build and own weekend huts or own land the way our Nordic neighbours do. We don’t use nature, we tiptoe around in it. It’s time for someone to ask why. British public policy since the war has encouraged a city-country divide. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act confined all industrial development to cities to make sure farming recovered and food self- sufficiency was restored.

    In fact, farming uses as many industrial processes as mining. But the template of a development-free countryside was created and the aesthetic of the “empty glens” adopted as default planning policy.

    This, perhaps, is one of Britain’s strongest remaining ideological, emotional and almost theological beliefs – that the “dark, satanic mills” of industry should never sully Britain’s green and pleasant land. The emotional power of this mythical Victorian rural idyll has been constantly overlooked by Scotland’s politicians and, as a result, the renewables revolution has been jeopardised.

    Communities unable to control any aspect of their local lives or gain financial benefit from wind farms have opposed wind technology in the sacred name of nature. No wonder.

    Scots know that Scotland needs a clever long-term shift of resources so that dependency is discouraged and self-management supported. They want a fair, neutral hand on the tiller while that change occurs. What’s missing is not ideology – it’s a series of long-overdue spending and policy shifts.”

    This focus on community ownership and commitment might be the missing link between SNP’s “green economic patriotism” business plan, and a sense that it will tangibly benefit everyday Scots. However I don’t think we should underestimate the amount of learned passivity among many urban and suburban Scots. This may be a long journey into a daily culture of “independence” in Scotland.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Lesley has it right about the Scandinavians. The Norwegians have 5 year old kids out in all weathers – and dressed appropriately – using axes, saws and knives. The kind of real, hands-on education that would shock safety-obsessed Brits.

      As to the article above – stimulating reading. Pre-school education is valuable – but why waste kids’ cognitive potential by teaching them to use only one language? The Basque Country (BAC) sees kids go into ‘school’ at age 0 where they are immersed in Basque. They get some English-medium (their 3rd tongue) at age 4 and the dominant Castillian at 7 or 8 years. In high-school there are opportunities to acquire a 4th tongue and that could be Arabic, German or Polish. The English language abilities of teenagers there would some of ours to shame in either their native English or their rudimentary ‘Frere Jacques’ level French.

      I have the feeling that were this kind of system to be rolled out in Scotland with a view to engendering Gaelic/Scottish English/other multi-lingualism in Scotland that even a significant number of ‘nationalists’ would oppose it.

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