A ‘Famous Five’ Approach to Change

77c37bcb931f2ded3db008d603b148fc‘Scotland 2021’ is a new book from Bella Caledonia, a collection of essays about Scotland’s future (edited by Mike Small and Simon Barrow). It’s available from Word Power Books and Waterstone’s. Over the next week we’re publishing extracts – here’s Irvine Welsh on five things to do over the next five years …

1. Challenge the Debt Economy Orthodoxy of Neoliberalism

Offer a clear guide to the dire consequences of being tied to the UK’s debtor economy, within a neoliberal, pro-austerity economic orthodoxy. And don’t fall into the trap of believing that our toy-town, toothless parliament in Edinburgh can do anything but administer this misery as humanely as possible. All forecasts till 2050 indicate that low growth, financial instability and lack of economic dynamism is all but guaranteed in the British economy, with growth heading towards 1% per annum.

A major failure of the Yes independence referendum campaign of 2014 was its failure to tackle the No camp on that long-term negative prognosis for the UK economy, and the Blairite-Tory neoliberal consensus that supported it. Salmond decided against taking this anti-debt line, as he thought it would be negative to campaign in this manner. In some ways he is correct, but every year Scotland is in the union, its debt rises. Every year is another one wasted, when it could be developing a stronger economy. Who ordained that we should be a debtor nation in this world order? Remember: Scotland has accrued deficits (the ones that give unionists such a hard-on) through its membership of the union, and attendant failure to develop a dynamic economy. This will continue to grow as long as we are in the union. Therefore, we should be asking of our central government (the ones that control our economic levers) now, as we ought to have asked then, exactly what do you plan to do about this?

“Scotland has less than six million people and is rich in natural and human resources. It currently has an invisible presence internationally, other than a vague, chronically underutilized goodwill. We are running out of excuses not to thrive. Being tethered to a crumbling, financialized one-trick pony economy (which only does that trick in South East of England) isn’t going to do that for us.”

Scotland has less than six million people and is rich in natural and human resources. It currently has an invisible presence internationally, other than a vague, chronically underutilized goodwill. We are running out of excuses not to thrive. Being tethered to a crumbling, financialized one-trick pony economy (which only does that trick in South East of England) isn’t going to do that for us. Financialization, privatization and the outsourcing of production have severely weakened the UK as a whole, and marginalized our status in it.

2. Supporting People in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The secession of Scotland from the UK is going to alter the rest of it. We should not only recognize that, but embrace it from a perspective of opportunity, not threat. We should be making a common cause with radical forces in England, to look at how we can work together to break up the centralist, imperialist, elitist UK state. It shouldn’t be based on a ‘we’re alright – that’s England’s business’ mentality. I’m personally pro-independence as I’m an anti-British imperialist, and not a Scottish (nor English) nationalist. I see as many possibilities in the decline of the UK for England as I do for Scotland. I believe in dissolving the antiquated, elitist chains of UK government and letting smaller, more localized democracies breathe. We have to resist the narrative of ‘leaving them to face the entrenched Tory establishment’ and encourage the one of ‘inspirationally leading the way to get rid of the entrenched Tory establishment’.

The depressing picture of Sturgeon holding the Sun (yes, I know, ‘different paper, different editorial policy, Labour and Tory brown-nosed Murdoch much more, etc etc’) was a crass insult to the people of Liverpool, especially coming out right at the time of the result of the Hillsborough inquiry. People in this city have been as shabbily treated by the UK establishment as any part of Scotland. Please SNP, no more of that fucking bullshit, or you might soon find that the broad church you assembled after September 2014 will be getting considerably narrower.

There are many small indy/devolutionist/advocacy parties in England (MK in Cornwall, Yorkshire First, NEP, Wessex Regionalists etc) trying to gain traction for progressive, decentralist policies. Such groups should be supported by Scottish democrats just as much as PC in Wales. Yes, they might not be that significant in size, but neither was the SNP at one time.

3. Make a Noise. Make a Dirty, Vulgar, Noise.

Let’s argue and squabble, as that’s what democracy is about, but let’s try and keep a song in our hearts and a smile on our faces as we do it. Ignore all the windbag Tartan Tory piss about the ‘left’ –both outwith and within the SNP- shutting up. Thankfully, that’s never going to happen. If it had, the SNP would still be a taxi-load of MP’s from Angus and Perthshire, the Yes vote would have been 25%, not 45%, and a recent Strathclyde University study would not have found SNP supporters were to the left of Labour ones. The SNP deserve their position of prominence within the Yes movement, but also deserve and need to be challenged by other pro-independence voices. Their membership quadrupled in size after the referendum, as they appropriated much of that loud, unruly and beautiful mess of idealists. They shouldn’t be asked to shut up. The party needs to display humility and remember that dominance, in this era of political volatility, can be taken away as quickly as it’s bestowed.

Yes, the unionist parties are split, but only nominally, as Labour and the Conservatives, whatever they say, have effectively been one party in Scotland, all their firepower turned on the SNP and the Yes camp. This has been to Labour’s detriment, and despite some voices for change mooting the resurrection of devolution and home rule, it’s likely that the ostrich tendency will prevail and they will stay a Tory lite concern. As long as they remain caught in that trap, Labour will stagnate and the Tories will ossify as the main naysayers and slavish puppets of their Westminster masters. This will continue to present opportunities for the independence movement. So we don’t need one monolithic voice for everything on the Yes side. Therefore, we should mouth off. And we should seek to provoke, yes, but also inspire. ‘Don’t be a cunt just for the sake of it’, is a decent enough working mantra.

4. Don’t Hate On No Voters, Challenge Those Who Do

They made their choice, and they had their reasons. Engage, listen, and win hearts and minds. If every ‘no’ voter was a dyed-in-the-wool, right-wing, unionist Tory, ‘No’ would have polled 22% in September 2014, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. That 22% of Tories don’t speak for all the No’s, and no matter how vocal they get, don’t ever make the mistake of feeding their delusional conceit by acting as if they do. Shouting at, or denigrating people who don’t agree with you –even if they happen to be the ones instigating this- isn’t going win them round. Yes, this is a pious and self righteous thing to say, and believe me it goes very much against my own instincts, but we have to be better. We have to take the high road. We are the dreamers, the builders, the creators. They are the ones who won’t let go, who are tied to the strings of elites that care nothing for them, and are driven by fear. Let that thought nourish you, yes, but keep it out of the discussion. We need to make the country work together. The shabby, declining UK isn’t going to inspire. The inspiration has to be provided by the Yessers. And we won’t do that with blaming, finger-pointing, victimhood-embracing and Bannockburn/Culloden fantasies.

“We are the dreamers, the builders, the creators. They are the ones who won’t let go, who are tied to the strings of elites that care nothing for them, and are driven by fear. Let that thought nourish you, yes, but keep it out of the discussion. We need to make the country work together. The shabby, declining UK isn’t going to inspire. The inspiration has to be provided by the Yessers. And we won’t do that with blaming, finger-pointing, victimhood-embracing and Bannockburn/Culloden fantasies.”

How then, do you inspire No voters to get with a project of change in tough times? By pointing out why those times are tough. By speaking the truth to power. I believe that there are still radical No voters who want to do that again, but have simply lost sight of how to go about it. They’ve been locked into an outdated partisan war with the SNP/Yes for so long, they can’t conceive of how it has shape-shifted to encompass so many of their own people and values. Some still believe that sniping at a government in a limited parliament with no strategic powers actually constitutes you doing this speaking the truth to power, rather than being misguided establishment mouthpieces. We need to convince them that their energy is all in the wrong place and encourage them to lift their heads up.

One practical example are the elderly voters, who voted overwhelmingly for the status quo. Amongst other reasons, they believed their pensions would be safer. Their pensions are not safer with Cameron and union, any more than their NHS was, or their grandchildren’s university education is. Let’s engage with them and push that message.

5. Define, Develop and Promote Radical Social Democracy

If there’s one consensus that’s developed around the SNP and the Yes movement, it’s the idea of a civic polity based on a radical social democracy. We have to try to continue to define what this is, and how it will help us negotiate the decline of capitalism, and assist us in the tricky maneuvering along a just and pragmatic route to that scary but exciting place of no paid work or profit, that technology seems to be driving us towards. This anarchistic conceptualist society is not just about the demise of capitalism, it’s also about the end of its industrial bedfellow, traditional tax-and-spend socialism. Keynesianism failed in the 70’s, and for reasons beyond the ‘union excess, amplified by media hysteria, let the bad guys in’ orthodox narrative. But fail it did.

So Corbyn’s socialism comes up short for the same reason as Osbourne’s capitalism; there won’t be enough people in paid work to be the taxpayers who will fund the spending projects, just as neoliberalism’s low wages and debt deflation destroys the number and power of consumers who buy goods and services. Simply moving from the myopia of ‘privatize and cut’ to ‘nationalize and spend’ is chasing fool’s gold. That strategy ran into difficulty when capitalism was in its buoyant productive prime, and will wither quickly if deployed in its wheezy old age. We certainly need a fairer, progressive tax system, but that won’t be anything like enough, as the wealth of the very rich isn’t largely derived from taxable income.

Therefore, radical social democracy has to as far from the insipid, neoliberal, brown-nosing Blairism as possible: it needs to be speaking the truth to power. That means looking at ways to prevent and reverse the 1%’s ongoing middle-class hammering asset-to-debt swapping project. It means wealth taxation and compulsory land purchase from absentee landlords. Because we need to redistribute wealth and property, not just income. To this end, it’s a step forward that we have a bigger Green Party influence, and we particularly need people like Andy Wightman in parliament. Yes, a strong, united, disciplined party is all very well, but there will never be a shortage of people who will want to conform to party lines. If we don’t have our share of mavericks, asking awkward questions, we stagnate and decline.

We need to be designing and developing models for the Scotland we want to see, and analyzing weakness as well as strengths. As I type this, I’m hoping that some University department or think tank are busy somewhere designing a Scottish currency and a Scottish central bank. The independence movement has come a long way through thought, intelligence, high principle and pragmatism. When the entrenched power of the state and media is lined up so resolutely up against you, to extent it was in the 2014 referendum, (and still is) you know that you are ruffling the right feathers. That’s the road by which we’ll continue to profit, not getting into shouting matches with the establishment’s stooge apologists.

Comments (20)

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  1. Mach1 says:

    Let’s start by designing and issuing Scottish passports. Brexit, or more accurately, its political rejection in Scotland, is a great opportunity for the SNP and the independence cause. The Tories are in disarray, trying to peddle a hollow reputation for being sensible rather than insensible. Any party in Scotland that chooses to ignore the way people here voted on June 23 deserves its fate, to become an apologist rump for little Englander unionism, a laughing stock that preaches austerity down south but presses for more spending when faced with Scottish Government pragmatism within an unsustainable anti-European disunited Kingdom.

  2. picpac says:

    Excellent. We should all be in favour of “radical, social democracy” – which for me and (hopefully many) others has to mean decentralisation of decision-making and effective instruments of real i.e. direct democracy as in Switzerland, the German Laender and other places (even in parts of the US!). Otherwise the power will continue to be held in a few hands and the option to change horses and courses will be kept at four-year intervals, with no guarantee that election promises made will not be broken. For real democracy to flourish there is also a fundamental need for independent, trustworthy media. People cannot make sensible choices in elections or referendums (including, hopefully, citizen-initiated referendums) unless they have access to reliable and truthful information. Education for real democracy (not citizenship, which primarily teaches people to be ‘obedient servants of the state’) needs to start in primary school and be a core element of secondary education.

  3. Patrick says:

    If here I could write, the brilliant future of a Scotland Independent and Sovereign without aware our eternal enemies in UK gov no doubt will settled in the mind of any Scottish. I need to wait or has with all of you a private conversation.
    Fight for Independence is the only way to make Scotland Great.

  4. Alan says:

    1. Challenge the Debt Economy Orthodoxy of Neoliberalism

    Agreed. But one of the problems is that neoliberalism is used as a sweary word by critics without the critics really understanding what it’s all about. Critics need to understand the enough about the Austrian economists, the Chicago Law and Economics School and the Virginia Public Choice School, the influence of their thinking on political decision making since the mid-1970s and why their ideas which are now taken-for-granted. You can’t poke neoliberalism gently with a stick; you have to free oneself from the pervasiveness of its ideas and practices, understand its assumptions and inherent contradictions,  and then rip out its jugular.

    5. Define, Develop and Promote Radical Social Democracy

    One of the reasons neoliberalism continues in an ever-more extreme form, even when it’s rottenness is exposed, is that no one has articled a credible alternative. When Keynesian failed, neoliberalism was successful because it was already waiting in the wings to fill the void. We are kidding ourselves if we think some tired old socialist ideas from the past are going to fill the new void. Failure of imagination now means that what will fill the void as neoliberalism collapses will be something even nastier. 

    The most important part of any alternative is the existence of the negative. All positive programs eventually become oppressive. The early neoliberals thought they were creating a system that promoted freedom. And if you project yourself back into the context of the 1940s you can imagine how their thinking might have been quite convincing in that regard. What makes one free is the possibility of always being able to imagine that things could be different and the possibility of acting differently. What makes that possible is the existence of checks and resistances that prevent any system and the factions it favours from oppressing everyone else. Fear all people with that Utopian gleam in their eye. Smith and Hume knew this. There’s great virtue to be found in their moderation.

  5. John Page says:

    I really hope starting from the Glasgow meeting in January onward that we can really emphasise No.4
    John a page

  6. Redgauntlet says:

    I would add three things to Irvine’s list:

    1) Ecology, ecology, ecology. We don’t just need government to change policy, we need people to change their behaviour. This can best eb achieved through a social and political movement.

    The Spanish anarchists at the beginning of the 20th century refused to consume, they eschewed coffee and tobacco and led ascetic lives, on the grounds that Capitalism is based on the never ending proliferation of needs, and that to consume was to engage with it.

    Likewise, the British Chartists were behind the Abstinence movement to a large extent. They associated drink with the degradation of the human body and soul.

    There was a moral and ethical component to both these movements and as a result they gained literally converts to the cause who sought to live ethical lives. We need something similar for Gaia, mother earth: a new ethics.


    2) Europe. As we are seeing, the problems of Europe are our problems too. We need to be at the forefront of the drive to democratise the EU, as expounded by people like Piketty and Varoufakis.

    If right wing populism wins one of the big European territories, we are in serious shit. The democratic deficit which Europe has been running for decades, which makes change so difficult, could well undo the whole EU, and then total chaos will descend upon us for a generation.

    3) We need a new political party to put pressure on the SNP. This is fundamental after they backtracked on things like the top tax rate and the Council Tax.

    Or maybe it’s not even a party we need so much as a figurehead and a lose structure. There are a lot of smart people in the indie movement, but no stand out leader.

    No doubt there are plenty of other things that could be mentioned…

  7. Patrick says:

    We don’t need a new political party to put pressure on the SNP, Scotland has a good representation on Parliament. What we need is Soveregnty, self-government out of UK.
    Beside Scotland never had best direction than SNP. Only a political blind cannot recognize.

  8. Patrick says:

    1) Ecology, ecology, ecology. We don’t just need government to change policy, we need people to change their behavior. This can best be achieved through a social and political movement.

    Yes, but under a scientific base, not like in America because the result is negative, we don’t need to know why a Cockroaches have four legs a two anttenes. Look how people react on global warming
    when the evidences are not published.
    George Carlin on Global Warming

  9. john young says:

    A lot of the comments on here are top class and it is heartening to realise that there are so many in this country of ours that could/would contribute to and make a huge difference ,most I would think are not shackled by party political constraints.

    1. Patrick says:

      “A lot of the comments on here are top class and it is heartening to realise that there are so many in this country of ours that could/would contribute to and make a huge difference ,most I would think are not shackled by party political constraints. ”
      But fellows I have some reservation becouse yet not all in Scotland realized that Brexit was as solid as a sand castle – Indyref2 debate needs to be built on factual foundations. Do Scottish people need
      more fact that what those as Reserved matters include with those items Scotland is not a Nation and every Scottish must have the rigth to tell their
      government how they want its must acomplish.
      Reserved matters include:
      benefits and social security
      foreign policy
      trade and industry
      nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
      consumer rights
      data protection
      the Constitution
      It is not said :”I would think are not shackled by party political constraints” the matter is not be shackled by any party political constraint in Westminster or UK Gov. A lot of the comments on here could be top class , but if those who comments don’t have a sense of nation then is a non sense
      poetry, intellectual Gymnastics, not to mention erudition demagoguery.

      1. Patrick says:

        Do Scottish people need
        more fact that what those as Reserved matters include without those items Scotland is not a Nation and every Scottish must have the rigth to tell their
        government how they want its must acomplish.

      2. Gordon Benton says:

        I hope that it won’t be seen as ‘intellectual Gymnastics’ if I suggest the Scottish Nation really now has to take a ‘long jump’. The items you mention needing clarification, direction, funding, time-frames, cannot be analysed, checked against prevailing (international) benchmarks and formulated into action plans within the 5 year terms of a Holyrood government. And the electorate know this; so we talk about it all the time, but have really no idea what it is we are talking about!
        Fishing: the fishing community apparently all want Brexit. They see a return to the freedom o ‘their’ seas as a future of wealth and prosperity again. But would it be fair to say that if it wasn’t for the EU there wouldn’t now be too much fish left, if past experience of the of the trawler boats has any relevance? who will under Brexit, be left to look after the fish stocks? Sustainable Energy: we all understand the need to reduce the World’s production of carbon, and we are doing our best to help with our sustainable energy programmes. but what are Scotland’s long-term policies on its valuable natural resources of hundreds of years of coal, and at least oil and gas for the next 50 years? are we really going to leave it all under the ground? Sure?
        Infrastructure: there is so much to do. Where is the investment going to come from? This is not China: it takes decades to get a railway spur built, a ring road open. Can’t we a least make – and publish – a plan?
        Land Reform: where are we? Andy Wightman has long shown us the problem, and the subject may be delicate to some ears, surely, surely we can set out a total plan now setting out the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
        Setting out these many items under a grand Plan for the future of the nation, will surely enthuse the electorate which at the present moment sees no further than the next couple of years (we will soon be in re-election mode again!)

  10. Patrick says:

    Beton: To be or not to be is the plan.
    Setting out these many items under a grand Plan for the future of the nation, will surely enthuse the electorate which at the present moment sees no further than the next couple of years (we will soon be in re-election mode again!). If you or all intellectual are not capable to realize that is now when we need the Independence, less will be the fisherman. The delay of Brexit is on propose from the side UK gov.
    The grand Plan, is Independence actually on concern to Nation Scotland is a simple municipality of UK. The items you ask for are : Devolved matters that cannot effective setup because the fundamental items in the ” Nation” are castrate by Westmister. In UK gov the plan is destrone SNP because Salmon and Sturgeon had and has demostrate them the incapacity of UK gov. That is what you want?

    Devolved matters include

    agriculture, forestry and fisheries
    education and training
    health and social services
    law and order
    local government
    sport and the arts
    tourism and economic development
    many aspects of transport

  11. Patrick says:

    My friend through my veins runs the blood of one of Scotland’s fiercest clans, and I am already bored with softness and the 300 years of servitude.
    The Independence must be now. There is no way to obtain single market and freedom of movement without Sovereignty. So Scotland Republic is the only solution at short and long term, we must be out of UK.
    Sorry if I’m rude.

  12. James says:

    Great post

  13. Hilary. says:

    I found myself scratching my head at ‘Radical Social Democracy’. Seems very oxymoronic…and it seems ‘radical’ has now become a meaningless term to simply to imply superiority and greater virtue. Radical independence is so much more worthy than normal moderate independence. And from the description it seems to me that ‘radical Social Democracy is pretty similar to normal Social Democracy? Trying to see what’s new about it aside from the Scottish nationalism bit? And the no paid work, end of labour ‘in praise of idleness’ was touted around 50 odd years since by Betrand Russell among others with automated production lines. I agree, life is not for being a drone! Extend to weekend to three days for a start. But this prediction has been made time and again. Just a shame no one told the Chinese or Indians of the prediction. Also, it seems to me this like a smoke screen for old school nation building and nationalism within the capitalist world order, otherwise why do you need a currency and a central bank that underpins a capitalist economy? Very muddled thinking? Seems to be more about disliking one establishment and favouring another rather than challenging the wider rules of the game. After all the empirical evidence is that the SNP are pretty much an orthodox centrist party. But that’s another more specific argument.
    What I find frustrating is the way moderate pragmatic Liberal economics and capitalism is blindly conflated with Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism. Yet the dogma and ideology of Milton Friedman is a long way from moral philosophy of Adam Smith or the distrust of government intervention of Hayek. Just as the rational values of JS Mill’s liberalism is a long way from the nation building failures and hubris of Paul Wolfawitz and Donald Rumsfeld. Time to reclaim Liberalism for the moderates!
    I recently went back and reread the oft misunderstood Fukuyama ‘End of History?’ as it seems appropriate to the changing times. What’s the old joke…EoH is the most maligned political essay most people have never read? Note the inclusion of the question mark! And it struck me 20 years + as still very prescient, depending on how you interpret it (nb. Fukuyama, as is often the received wisdom, was not making an assertion, he was asking a question (a very valid question) given the twentieth century contestation of intractable ideology, then positing the empirical evidence to support the question! He wasn’t as is oft claimed, championing Neoliberalism, nor Neoconservatism, nor the ‘victory of western values’ (although he was a neocon for a while before distancing himself), but was asking a much deeper question regarding the validity of materialism in history that Mr Welsh indulges in here without ‘seemingly’ understanding the intellectual root, criticisms and failures of such a line of argument and analysis e.g. Are there directional forces that push history along a linear path? Many think not, so FF took Hegel’s dialectic of Spirit ‘end of history’ 1806, and then Marx’s material dialectics of class struggle and internal contradictions in capitalism that followed….of utopian ends, dictatorship of the proletariat and the withering of the state ‘end of history’… and asking if in fact ‘whig history’ for want of a better term, fitted material historicism better?… Is the notion of Liberal democracy, individual rights, human equality, animal rights, pragmatism, moderation, liberal market economics (not neoliberalism/ hyper/ Turbo capitalism – which is actually not liberal at all – hence the neo bit – but necessarily requires state and corporate interference to constantly create new markets to satiate endless hyper growth) the end point? And with this came the paradox. Was the liberal ‘end of history’…actually the end of materialist projections about the end of history? Was it an end to all historicism as moderate liberal values of multiple views prevail over and above authoritarian utopian projects? The kind of assertion Mr Welsh is making…’ This anarchistic conceptualist society is not just about the demise of capitalism…’ how is your crystal ball? And can you provide any empirical evidence? Have you asked the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Nigerians on any scale? I’m guessing no?
    And despite all the contemporary shrillness, it seems to me to be generally right.
    IMO Fukuyama is by far the most pragmatic and thoughtful of theorists, interpreters of contemporary times (last few years) mainly because unlike polemicists who simply bash America/ West/ British Imperialism and see everything from a slightly racist myopic Western perspective etc… while ignoring illiberal Russia, China, Brazil and so on…thinking Chomsky, Klein and Mr Welsh here, he adopts s a much more nuanced holistic approach that avoids direct polemical criticism but tries instead to explain systems. He includes including China, Africa, Russia and the Middle East as agents in their own right and not just subjects of western imperialism as patronising people on the far left continually do. He thinks about why things happen rather than making unempirical assertions as fact or pointing the finger at some sort of abstract conspiracy. Also, unlike most he is not an ideologue and has often openly and publicly changed his mind, admitting he was completely wrong on Iraq and that his flirtation with Neo-Conservatism was misguided and the notion that you could impose a liberal order elsewhere by force artificially…you can’t get to Denmark without specific historical accidents! Each place will be its own Denmark: see his completely revised recent writing on the current regression into populism and nationalism, and the origin of states. It really is quite insightful on how states came into being and why they regress. Why China is different from France and from Germany and so on. And mostly, why global governance, multi-national states, shared sovereignty based on liberal norms is still the best bet. Not nationalism. Sorry Irvine! It also explains the failure of the imposed European Union and why an organic approach is better than a top down project – basically, liberal democracies will naturally ally with one another anyway. Only when it is forced and too fast do you get a populist reaction. See Brexit.
    The problem with this article as with so many is that wrong things get conflated, muddled and polarised into a false weak thesis. Democracy is not at all distinguished from the rule of law, .important with regards to China and now America. And more so capitalism/ neoliberalism are used interchangeably as a vague catch all term, automatically associated with failure and corruption and environmental decline despite the fact that the alternative, centrally controlled socialist systems were much more systemically corrupt, much more subject to internal contradictions and failures, and much more wasteful and polluting. The empirical fact is that most if not all green tech advances and pressure to shift to green tech has been driven entirely by profit and private enterprise (why the Danes come up with new energy tech and the illiberal Chinese don’t). And most efficacious social progressive projects are also based on private enterprise also if not profit for profit’s sake. It still capitalism! All this then gets elevated to this kind of apolocalyptic ‘end of history’…the death of capitalism, who can we blame I know the whole liberal order! Lets all be nationalists and ditch the sinking ship of transnational coop and the benefits of capitalism.
    Despite recent events (This is not to dismiss the very real threat of populism at home, in Europe or in the States, Scottish nationalism, British nationalism, French nationalism may differ in substance but not in systemics. Sorry nats but your no different to other populists even if a little less scary) it is still the case that the empirical evidence suggests the opposite to what Mr Welsh is asserting. Liberal economics is fine and can be reconfigured and Liberal values are still prevalent in systems of government (except China, although the very fact Xi Jinping is getting tough is because the sizable middle class have assets to protect and are getting fed up with the corruption and the failure of the party to sort things like the environment – whenever you have the growth of an asset and educated middle class overwhelmingly liberal pressures ensue.)
    Reasons to be cheerful part one…
    1) In the last 40 years thanks to liberal economics, the world has increased the number of elective systems governed by a separate rule of law from one third to nearly three quarters of all countries. More people have freedom of speech and conscience than ever before. European, South American, Asian dictatorships were plentiful in the 70’s Spain, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, South Korea, Philipines, South Africa, Uganda etc etc… (this again is not to say Liberals should turn a blind eye to populists as authoritarianism could return – see Scotland which is now a form of democratic one party states. An elective dictatorship. This is why the rule of law is more important than democracy.)
    2) Thanks to liberal economics, the rationale of free trade and liberal values, violence and conflict has steadily decreased (with peaks in 20th century) over the course of history – see Pinker. 2015/ 2016 was the most peaceful (in terms of global conflict) year in history at a time when Liberals market economics are most widespread. Hard to believe I know. This doesn’t mean there won’t be another spike depending on the stupidity of nationalists. The most prosperous periods in human history in culture and wealth and peace, have been at times of open mutual beneficial trade. Tang dynasty China and the silk road, pax Roma, which was essentially one big trading area, the Byzantine and Persian trading settlements and so on…now is no different.
    3) In the last thirty years since the fall of the Berlin wall liberal economics has lifted hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty. To the point that absolute poverty is projected to be eradicated within the next decade. I’d like to see Irvine Welsh tell Malawian or Lesthoto, Ghanaian farmers who have just implemented social insurance programs and long term borrowing options and local micro finance initiatives that have mitigated possible crop failure to the point they can now specialise and reap the benefits of comparative advantage… that capitalism is collapsing and that the free market is evil! Kind of arrogant no – stop using capital to specialise and stick to mixed farming and poverty? The apple is now king in and can be exported weeks before any other harvest in Europe. Now Malawian farmers can instead focus on education and social provision. In fact, this anti-capitalist attitude of affluent westerners is down right imperialist in its ignorance of other less affluent people’s capitalism and their right to develop. Sorry, fuck you poor world we Westerners have had enough of capitalism now that you are benefiting. We want nationalism and barriers and anarchic conceptualism…yeah me neither?
    4) In the last thirty years hundreds of millions more have access to primary education and literacy thanks to the proceeds of liberal economics.
    5) Infant mortality is at its lowest ever point in history and thousands of debilitating diseases are now treatable, with some like small pox all but eradicated thanks to private enterprise sponsoring research.
    6) Life expectancy is at its highest in human history…and so on…
    Now I full understand the nature of hubris and I wouldn’t bet my house on the above. Unlike Mr Welsh I’m not much of a fan of historicism as wasn’t Fukuyama…which is why he used the question mark as a qualification. But one thing is clear, if you accept empirical evidence rather than received wisdom Welsh indulges in, there is possibly, just quite possibly a connection between liberal market economics, society and the improved state of affairs? Ask the Malawian apple farmers or the Chinese IT guy!

    1. Redgauntlet says:

      Hilary, I can’t speak for Welsh, but here is my view on a couple of your points:

      “Radical social democracy”. Radical here is by no means an intensifier as you seem to think. “Radical” comes from “on or from the root” in Latin as I recall it.

      A radical social democracy would see things like a democratically elected second chamber instead of the unelected House of Lords. It would see the end of a hereditary monarchy and an elected president of a republic. It would see unions on company boards. It would positively encourage grassroot groups so that they can properly serve as an alternative conduits from society to Power other than traditional, hierarchical political parties. It would also enshrine certain universal rights of all citizens in a written Constitution. And it would promote as its ethos social mobility and education.

      You are right to say that liberalism and neoliberalism have become conflated and that this leads to confusion. It is a fair point. Possibly that is due to the fact that we have been governed for a generation by people who believe in neo-liberal economics but what are called liberal values in social terms. That this has happened at the same time as the collapse of religion in the West, can hardly be a coincidence. We live in a morally permissive society, but that includes tolerating extreme poverty and unacceptable deprivation over generations. I, personally, am shocked by the number of homeless people begging in the streets of Edinburgh, far more than in other European cities I frequent.

      You are also right to point out that millions have been lifted out of poverty in the developing world, especially the BRIC economies. But nobody ever disputed the capacity of Capitalism to create wealth. Both Marx and Smith both wrote eloquently about just this subject. The problem was always that it failed to distribute wealth and that it has cyclical crises built into it which destabilize society and can lead to – for example – two world wars in half a century costing over 100 million lives.

      The post war consensus, the welfare state, the radical social democratization of society which occurred between 1945 and 1979 in the UK were a direct response to that realization, to the catastrophe of the two great wars. A social democratic society was much safer than a winner takes all society, like the one we live in today.

      But that era has ended, and most of its advances are being rolled back. We are in a turbo charged financial world, in which liberal values – such as the right to privacy – have been abolished with a barely a cry or a murmur. We have the vast accumulation of wealth and power in just a few hands.

      We have an environmental crisis which will in all likelihood lead to more wars, conflict and mass destruction. The number of conflicts may continue to drop, but with the technology of mass destruction at hand, it will only take one day of one big war between two nuclear powers to equal out the number of fatalities which would have accrued in a number of smaller conventional wars. The fact that no such nuclear war has happened so far is no argument that one won’t happen tomorrow.

      What we also have, which is gravely worrying, is a new political environment generated by the social media and the internet which leads to mass hysteria: Trump’s victory or Brexit being cases in point. We have a distortion of language and an attack on rational discourse which has no precedent outwith the propaganda of totalitarian States. It will lead to a new totalitarianism unless education becomes a much bigger priority for government.

      As for the rule of law and democracy, well of course they are not synonymous. Whoever said they were? But they tend to go together, almost always, throughout modern history. And all the attacks on the rule of law which have been carried out in the name of the “war on terror” – Guantanamo Bay to go no further – are clearly a new development. Ditto the UK’s latest draconian law on our right to privacy. The West is moving more towards a Chinese style authoritarianism, while China is moving towards Western market values.

      As for nationalism – and most supporters of Scottish independence I know are anything but nationalist – the nationalism of small nations has rarely posed any threat to world stability. It is the big nationalism, the nationalism of Britain, Russia, Spain, Germany, France, and America which have usually led to catastrophe… or do they speak Gaelic in New York and Catalan in Buenos Aires?

      Wherever I look, I see no grounds for the complacency your post displays.

    2. Mathew says:

      I thought Fukuyama was asserting that capitalism and democracy were coupled together (paired up, inseparable) and would march us forward to freedom and prosperity. In fact capitalism doesn’t necessarily have to go together with democracy – capitalism is happiest with the least checks and regulation possible. So we have have China and Russia (capitalist but not democratic), USA (capitalist, dubious democracy), Turkey (capitalist, dubious democracy), Egypt (capitalist, military rule) etc. etc.
      Reasons to be less than cheerful: Global warming, Global warming, Global warming.

  14. Andrea says:

    If it is left to the reader to define such warm and fuzzy terms as “developing a stronger economy” then the plot has already been lost.

    When the preparatory work is left to ‘groups’, however eager and willing, then most of the population will wander on in old ways.

    Why witter on about ‘democracy’ and then say this: “Therefore, we should be asking of our central government (the ones that control our economic levers) now, as we ought to have asked then, exactly what do you plan to do about this?”?

    No. Not what ‘you’ plan to do about this. What ‘we’ in all our aspects plan to do about this. For the people, by the people – through the government. If you don’t – then the people who can speak cogently will hijack the process. Usually lawyers and lobbyists for narrow interests.

    Returning to ‘stronger economy’ – who have you got who will explore what this means for a small nation in the early years of the 21st century with a horde of both environmental and social challenges already shoulder-tapping for attention?

    Who will start with a clean whiteboard of massive extent and propose the slaughter of customs, traditions, and flabby thinking? Identify the ‘true wealth’ of Scotland – its people and ingenuity – and how they can be better used over the next generation-time (20-30 years because it takes that long to make a firm start on independence. In doubt? Look around the world at old colonies and the usual types who prosper when change comes in… Upheaval takes years to settle to working.)

    Simply cutting the nation off from England and its systems will not create freedom or ‘sovereignty’. Nor will ‘Scotifying’ their systems be of any use at all. Why start the journey with stones in your boots?

    Then do whatever it takes to take the prototype out to all the people. Hijack tv and broadcasting, use social media, go visiting and listening, to hear what people are saying, how they’re thinking, what the fears are, what is encouraging engagement and glimmers of hope.

    Remind all that ‘we are the ancestors and we’d better leave a damn’ fine legacy for present and future generations that they can build prosperity from’.

    Slow, patient, meticulous – like fine cooking. And solid preparation comes first. Without it you will simply exchange one bad master for another.

    1. Patrick says:

      Stephen Hawking: This is the most dangerous moment in the history of mankind

      Through a long article of opinion, the celebrated Cambridge professor wrote that “we now have the technology to destroy the planet we live in, but we have not developed the ability to escape it.”

      “Maybe within a few hundred years, we have established human colonies in the stars, but for now we only have one planet, and we have to work together to protect it,” he said.

      In the article published in The Guardian, the author of Brief History of Time has poured out his stance against Brexit and Donald Trump’s recent election in the United States amid “growing economic inequality around the world.”

      With a reproach to both events, the physicist explained that “we have to break, and not erect, barriers within and between nations.”
      “If we want to achieve this, world leaders have to recognize that they have failed and that they are failing the majority,” he wrote. “With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we will have to learn to share much more than we do today.”

      Professor Hawking added that it is understandable that voters are “seeking a new social contract,” because “people can only see how their lives are reduced, not just their standard of living, but their chances of earning a living.”

      Hawking has reportedly been discharged from a hospital in Rome after two days of medical check-ups.

      The scientist has been in Italy to attend a science conference, but was admitted to Gemelli Hospital on Thursday, after falling ill.
      Of to understand him we neet gray mass in the brain.

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