Both Sides of the Tweed

Dick Gaughan has been at the heart of Scottish cultural revival through an uncompromising firebrand folk for thirty years and more. Iain Robson of the Scotland Pages asked him about the coming politics:

The idea that Independence will solve anything by itself would be quite ridiculously naive. Independence is not a solution to anything, it is merely a stage in a process and the removal of what is one of the primary obstacles to progress for the Scottish people. I really have no idea what shape a post-independence Scotland will take, and I don’t take seriously anyone who says they have.

Dick Gaughan – born in a Glasgow hospital, raised in Leith – is noted the world over for his dazzling versions of Joe South’s “Games People Play” and Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”.

A member of The Boys of the Lough and 5 Hand Reel in the 70s, Mr Gaughan has long been admired for solo albums like “Handful of Earth” and “Different Kind of Love Song”.

The year after being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Neil Finn of Crowded House (and playing “Both Sides the Tweed”), Mr Gaughan gave a 2011 talk on “Song and the Working Class Movement” which be viewed here (the follow-on Q&A session here).

Most Wednesday nights, Mr Gaughan now presents Black Diamond FM’s Crossroads music show. But he continues to perform both at home and abroad – so much so that we couldn’t arrange a telephone interview.

We did exchange e-mails, however. So, with Mr Gaughan’s approval, I present edits of his responses here.

Given his well-known commitment to Scottish Republicanism, I asked Mr Gaughan if he thought that solidarity for working people in, say, the North of England might conflict with the cause of Scottish independence. Should those participating in the 2014 referendum think about the consequences a breakaway might have for citizens living and voting South of the border?

I don’t believe they should – to do so is as fundamentally patronising to English people as Scots complain about the other way round. The future of England is for English people to decide, not Scots. I don’t think there’s a single corner of England I haven’t been to several times in the past 40 years, and I have huge affection for most of it. Apart from the accident of nationality, I have more in common with a coal miner from Yorkshire or a dock worker from Liverpool than I do with the Duke of Hamilton, Michael Forsyth or Alistair Darling. But that would be as true with a miner from New South Wales or a docker from San Francisco. There is nothing about solidarity which implies any necessity for political or cultural union.

But aside from political or cultural union, one thing common to both England and Scotland – in some quarters, at least – is the disdain shown towards people existing on state benefits. I asked Mr Gaughan for his thoughts on this.

Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the fact that ‘state benefits’ were actually set up as a State-run Insurance scheme.

If someone has a private insurance scheme, nobody calls them ‘scroungers’ when they have to make a claim. That fact has been obscured by the use of terms such as ‘benefits’ and ‘welfare’ where the perception now is that National Insurance is merely another form of taxation, unconnected with the reasons for claiming against that insurance, such as unemployment, sickness, disability and pensions, and where insurance claims are now perceived as being some kind of charitable handouts by the State, paid for by ‘The Taxpayer’.

It is also a convenient way of diverting attention away from the real causes of our economic woes by dumping the blame on ‘benefit cheats’, ‘immigrants’ and other such scapegoats.

Most people accept all this nonsense because it’s a lot easier than thinking.

Mort Sahl, interviewee in “No Independence from Ourselves”, has long lampooned the lack of significant choice available to voters in the United States. So I wondered what Mr Gaughan made of the differences between the mainstream political parties in Great Britain.

What choice there appears to be between the two major UK parties is illusory. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have become as vacuous as the advertising slogans extolling the differences between Coke and Pepsi. Both are fizzy, frothy, sugar-laden and bad for your health.

In the UK, ‘Politics’ has been reduced to nothing more than favouring Blue or Pink rosettes and choosing which bunch of comfortable middle-class careerists get the Ministerial perks this term. Party loyalty, which at one time was class-based, is now more akin to the rivalry between the supporters of football teams rather than selecting an administration to run the country.

We’ve been here before – anyone reading ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’ will recognise that in many respects we’ve gone back a hundred years. When Thatcher said she wanted to bring back Victorian values, people unfortunately thought it was just political rhetoric and ignored the real implications.

In both the USA and most of Western Europe, we live in what are in reality one-party States. You can vote for any shade of Capitalism you like and whichever you vote for the outcome will be more or less the same. Elections only decide who runs the administration, not who wields the real power.

Real power rests in the hands of whoever controls the wealth and the control of the bulk of the nation’s wealth rests with the gambling casinos known by the nice euphemism ‘markets’.

Until that is redressed Governments will continue to have little real power over the economy other than to tinker.

As recent events have shown yet again, governments have no choice but to look after the interests of the gamblers, classic example being the recent rush to prop up the banks.

The bailouts to the Irish and Greek governments were little to do with rescuing their economies, they were to protect the large financial institutions which had those countries up to their oxters in debt. Had those countries defaulted on the debts it would have damaged the banks therefore action had to be taken to protect the banks’ shareholders.

So money is collected from the public through taxation and cuts in essential services in order to hand it over to the wealthy. Cameron’s ‘We’re all in it together’ battlecry is self-evidently ridiculous but it’s quite astonishing how many people buy into it.

The much-vaunted principles of ‘free market’ and ‘competition’ are hot air propaganda. What the recent bailouts come down to is this – ‘I’m going to punt a couple of billions on this fairly risky bet. If it succeeds, I get to keep all the profit; if it fails, the Government will cover all the losses.’ Win-win, whatever the outcome.

Try going to the Treasury and saying ‘I just placed a bet on the 2.30 at Cheltenham and it lost – can you give me my money back?’

And the money used by Governments to cover those losses comes out of the public kitty, ultimately paid for by slashing the living standards of the poor and vulnerable, those least capable of offering any resistance.

Whatever shade of pro-Capital political party gets elected, their real job is to ensure that that redistribution continues – and to give the punters the illusion that we can change things simply by changing the administration.

In “A Night Sky in the Coffee Cup”, record producer Karsten Sommer described rock band Sume as “the symbol of the fight for Greenlandic culture and respect for Inuit culture”. And music is a source of confidence and solace to countless people throughout Scotland, England and elsewhere.

Given the priceless value music has for those ready to listen with an open mind, I asked Mr Gaughan – a professional musician since 1970, according to his website – why nobody on the Left or the Right seems to care much about whether musicians get paid.

Very complicated. One possibility is that people have been so brainwashed by ‘celebrity’ culture that they have some kind of notion that professional musicians are all highly-paid, pampered individuals who have a large entourage of retainers to do everything for them.

Sorry, you’re confusing us with Royalty. Most musicians are like me, simply doing a job and trying to scrape a living.

A large part of my job is driving some 40,000 miles a year. I travel alone, I have no roadies, tour managers or drivers. Most of the time I eat crap food in motorway services, spend weeks sleeping in the cheapest possible hotels and my final take-home pay is actually roughly what I’d earn stacking shelves in the local supermarket.

I’m not complaining about any of that, it’s all a consequence of what I’ve chosen to do; I’m simply stating what is reality for most working-class musicians.”

Following on from that, most people have also been brainwashed into seeing ‘work’ as being something uninteresting and unpleasant which they do simply to earn money.

There is a deep, almost Victorian, suspicion of people who earn their living actually doing something they love doing and who regard work as something more than an income. In our current phase of history, most people find it difficult to relate to people who are motivated by anything other than the desire to accumulate money.

Thirdly, our economic system has resulted in the devaluing of creative or intellectual work.

When the absolute determining factor in most people’s lives became money, that inevitably led to where we are now, with money being all that really matters. Music in particular has suffered badly from this shift in philosophy.

In most people’s minds, music has been completely divorced from those who create it and is seen as simply something which is, at best, just another commodity, or at worst, some kind of natural resource which appears out of nowhere and can be obtained free and abundantly without limit. My routine response to the ‘music should be free’ nonsense is, ‘You want free music? Learn to play an instrument and you can have all the free music you want.’

If you want music which has been created by musicians who’ve put in years of hard slog learning how to do it then you’ll have to pay us for our work – we have rent and electricity bills to pay too, just like everybody else.

If we don’t get paid, we can’t work, and you’ll end up complaining that there’s no music.”

The SNP have been the primary torch-bearers for Scottish independence and, for many years, the SNP has adopted centre-left policies.

Independence is seen by many as an opportunity to preserve or restore a form of moderate politics that current ties to Westminster, and the City of London, are thought to prevent.

But one Scot I interviewed wondered whether independence might revitalise prospects for Conservatives in Scotland – or make room for a new “low tax, small state party”.

So I asked Mr Gaughan if he thought Scottish independence might, instead, provide an opportunity for the Left to assert itself?

I’m not convinced by those on ‘the Left’ who imagine that, post-Independence, Scotland will emerge as a full-blown Socialist Republic. That’s just another variation of ‘pie in the sky’.

People who want Scotland to be a Socialist Republic are going to have to continue to put in a massive amount of work to persuade a majority of Scots that it’s a good idea. Simply voting to overturn the 1707 Treaty is not going to do that.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that post-Independence there would inevitably be a realignment of political parties in Scotland and I view that as probably being a good thing.

In a Citizen Radio YouTube Clip from 2009, Noam Chomsky described the business class  as, “vulgar Marxists fighting a bitter class war”.

During the same interview, he claimed that, “the business world wants a very powerful state, but working for them”, and, “the idea is to make people hate the government when it’s doing anything good for you, but love the government when it’s doing something good for [them] ”.

Since democratic governments can be influenced, to some extent, by the behaviour of voters, Prof Chomsky argued that private corporations are “far more tyrannical”.

I asked Mr Gaughan if he agrees.

I disagree with the current vogue of defining ‘class’ in terms of ‘social classes’. I think the most accurate and useful analysis of society we have to date is still Marx’s analysis of ‘economic classes’, in other words, the relationship of groups of humans to the processes of creation, distribution, accumulation and exchange of wealth. So to me, ‘business class’ simply conjures up images of expensive airline travel.

However, that minor quibble aside, I agree with Chomsky that the Capitalist class (or ‘bourgeois’ or ‘ruling class’ or whatever other label we stick on them) are perfectly aware that the determining relationship at this stage of history is still conflict between economic classes for a share of the cake. I think their ideas, when they have any, are probably closer to Malthus and Social Darwinism than Marx.

Whether they have ever studied Marx, I’ve no idea, they’re simply acting in accordance with what they perceive as their own interests, i.e., making sure they get as much of the cake as they can grab.

When Tony Blair made his remark, ‘The Class War is over’, it was simply yet another call for the unconditional surrender of the working-class to the hegemony of the ruling class.

The idea that somehow everybody can have as much as they want of everything if they only work hard enough is absurd – the cake is a finite size and if someone is grabbing more than an equal share then someone else is getting less.

For an excellent description of class relationships and conflict, I always recommend Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel’.

Politics is as important a part of Mr Gaughan’s music as it is a part of Mort Sahl’s comedy. Music itself is something that brings happiness to countless people in Scotland. And I imagine that the unhappiness of repeated frustrations, over many years, may lead some voters – who might not have supported independence in the past – to consider it in 2014.

So I wondered if Mr Gaughan believes that politics can make people happy? Not so much in terms of kicks and thrills, but – just perhaps – by changing society in ways that might encourage personal relationships, and perspectives on life, to mature?

One of the great myths of our modern world is the notion of the ‘pursuit of happines’ as if happiness were a commodity which can somehow be acquired. I believe happiness is a consequence or by-product of how we live our lives. (I also believe that “happiness” itself is an illusion but that’s a much longer philosophical discussion than there is space for here.)

What I do believe, however, is that Capitalism has a very destructive and alienating effect on the lives and psychological wellbeing of most people. As I suggested above, ‘Work’ is no longer viewed as a means whereby we educate ourselves and make a positive contribution to each other.

Too many people seem to waste their lives believing the myth that accumulating money will make them secure and that security will bring them happiness and so all our relationships have been reduced more or less to financial transactions, including how we value ourselves and each other.

Like William Morris, I believe that every human has the potential to be a combination of Artist, Scientist and Artisan and by reducing work to mere economic activity we have stifled our natural potential as human beings. _______________________________________________________________________________

Dick Gaughan will be appearing at the Green Hotel, Kinross, on Friday 29th November and The Tolbooth, Stirling, on Saturday 30th November 2013.

Additional listings – as well as Usenet-related links and an extensive song archive – can be found on Mr Gaughan’s official website

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  1. David McCann says:

    A man after my own heart. Must be the Irish in me!

  2. Agree entirely if we assume the missapropriation of the word ‘capitalism’ to mean what the post Chicago/Austrian school adherents want us to. However, it is not a definition that Adam Smith would recognise. Smith would be appalled at the existence of the cartels, monopolies and socially detrimental mindsets which currently exist under that label and would instead insist on state intervention to eliminate them.

  3. Crubag says:

    “My view, for what it’s worth, is that post-Independence there would inevitably be a realignment of political parties in Scotland and I view that as probably being a good thing.”

    Agree it would be politically healthy. The final disposition will depend on the electoral system used. Under current arrangements, I’d expect two centrist parties (SNP and probably the social democratic bit of Labour) who would alternate in power, supported by smaller parties – likely Greens, Socialists and a centre right (whose main ethos either liberal or conservative depending on who wins out, my guess would be the economic liberals).

    I’m liking the carbon criminal photograph – definitely of its time. Though it is hard to imagine anyone writing songs about working down on the wind farm.

  4. Alex Taylor says:

    A man after my own heart, Dick. I’ll be making a point of coming to one of your gigs this year. Great stuff.


  5. Heather Wilson says:

    Great comments by D. Gaughan, mostly! I think here, it’s a matter of getting the message across to folk that Independence is not going to be a magic cure for all ills but it will most very likely be a positive thing for Scotland and her people and that a ‘no’ vote will bring untold misery for the poor and vulnerable at tha hands of the westminster lot, and these greedy masters will continue to take what they can without a care for anyone else. It surely is best to at least consider making the choice, yes it’s a choice, to endorse a future that must be more equal, and more fair, that should be the reality, it’s disgraceful it is not. Self determination for Scotland is the only way for a better place to bring up our kids and grandkids.

  6. Heather Wilson says:

    Independence is not a solution to anything, it is merely a stage in a process and the removal of what is one of the primary obstacles to progress for the Scottish people. I really have no idea what shape a post-independence Scotland will take, and I don’t take seriously anyone who says they have.

    Is Independence REALLY NOT a solution to anything? What is the anything? There are many questions here, no answers….that’s ok but the process has taken so so long, and meanwhile the people of Scotland have been taken for a huge ride, and sadly are still being taken for a huge ride…willingly. I think the only way for Scotland to break free of the shackles of the so called ‘union’ is to vote ‘YES’. The alternative is unthinkable.

    1. Crubag says:

      Scotland is embedded in a Europea political and economic context. The spectrum of political opinion is actually quite comparable over western Europe at least, and has moved in similar directions over time. That’s why social democratic, or socialist, or green or conservative parties can find so much common ground with their sister parties in other countries. The expression of those political currents does differ as they are expressed through the electoral mechanisms each country has chosen. I’d expect an independent Scotland to be politically quite like the current incarnation – though over time the SNP would alternate with a social democratic Labour as the lead party. I don’t think the smaller parties would make a breakthrough, but they might become king (or queen) makers.

      The alternative might be unthinkable, but I don’t think human imagination fails. You could see a “No” Scotland becoming more like Wales, weaker constitutionally but more unified through culture, or it might become more of a North Britain, the ghosts of 1707 put to bed, and more emphasis on local identify – Edinburgher, Glaswegian, Fifer, Orcadian etc. Or the UK might become a federal state with its capital in Chester…

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