From hypocratic oafs to Scots indy (under the pandemic)

Shouldn’t we seize this opportunity, to design a new state for a viral age? asks Pat Kane.

This is a guest post from Pat’s E2 (The Future & Scotland Too) E2 = “Second Enlightenment”. Transformative creativity, radical innovation and generative activism, with a Scottish anchor. Subscribe here.

At the moment of writing, it’s not clear whether perceptions of “unfair play” and hypocrisy [I originally spelled “hypocracy”—maybe I should have left it] will damage the regnant Tory government in the UK. Officials being privately recorded giggling about their Xmas-parties with “no social distance” at Number 10 last year, while publicly urging the electorate and their families to isolate and separate, might well—resignation by resignation—puncture the Brexiteering balloon of Conservative legitimacy.

Also this week, 11 out of 12 Westminster toilets were found dusted with evidence of cocaine usage, amidst a new cranking-up of the war on drugs. Do the fumes of anti-politics need any more heat? The call to “clean the stables!” might still be raised by some effective political operator, from whatever point in our livid ideological spectrum. Otherwise, the usual conjunction of luxury and corruption pertains.

Yet these days I am more interested in trying to grasp how a future of escalating biospheric disruptions will shape any and every kind of politics. Not just in parliamentary deadzones—scattered with cheese, wine and wizz—but in movements and phenomena in civil society, and in how we contend with our domestic and intimate lives.

For example, I am regularly infuriated, as an advocate for Scottish independence, when leading ministers of the indy-party majorities in the Scottish Government constantly tie the campaign, and any referendum, to some form of “victory over”, or “normality after”, Covid. How, looking at the epidemiology (and at the alarming adaptability of the new Omicron variant) could one assume any clear “post-Covid” situation?

As the ex-Corbyn advisor James Meadway points out in one of his excellent Pandemic Capitalism columns:

“Given the extremely poor distribution of vaccines, and with a partially-immune global population being the ideal environment to encourage mutations, SARS-Cov-2 was always likely to produce more variants of concern for a long time before it reached endemicity. Having created a global economy almost primed to produce new variants, we are unlikely to remain lucky forever. (Imagine spinning a tombola repeatedly, and drawing numbers from it. The more spins you make, the more likely your numbers are to eventually come up.) If it isn’t Omicron, it remains likely that some other future VOC [variant of concern] has significant vaccine escape.”

If Meadway’s scenario pertains, then it will profoundly shape the case of nation-state independence for Scotland (always one testbed for this writer’s ambitions for a progressive future). Sovereign statehood allows for full health and socio-economic jurisdiction, within internationally-recognised borders; enables public goods to be both generated and integrated; and empowers national expenditure (with an issuing currency) to be raised and directed.

In such circumstances, where a national community can exert a full-spectrum policy response to a crisis, Scottish independence becomes a precondition of (at least) semi-stability. Indy should not be conditional on some socio-ecological stability that is, mid climate meltdown, very unlikely to be achieved (even on the specific concern of viruses, as our baked-in global warming will inevitably generate more pathogens).

We could be facing a definitionally tragic political moment here. As a governing party, the SNP have sought to incrementally and gradually build support for Scottish independence, by means of their “managerial competence” over the functioning of everyday Scotland. However, they may easily find “the Cause” constantly subverted by the Sisyphean efforts of that same “managerial competence”—except it’s now exerted over biosphere disruptions that are barely even manageable, let alone superable.

Welcome to the frustrations of mid-range Scottish indy strategy. But I still find the opportunities of a new, democratically sovereign small nation, able to craft political, cultural and institutional responses to the pandemic era, worth keeping (perhaps doggedly) to the side of my mind, as we tour grander predictions.

James Meadway’s fascinating column says that Covid will put most Northern economies on “a low growth, high cost, big state setting”. Low growth and high cost, because infection makes labour scarce, which means that it has the power to demand more – more money and better conditions – from the capitalists that employ them (they’re already beginning to do so). Big state, because of the surveillance and welfare support that the quarantines of the disease draw out of governments.

For his comrades on the left, Meadway identifies some interesting political priorities, around medical science, info-tech and the state (he assumes the left should militantly take advantage of the scarcity and fragility of the forces of labour). On one hand, they should campaign to sweep away vaccine patents and massively increase non-Western vaccination: this is a matter of both global justice and effective defence against the virus.

On the other hand, they should oppose vaccine passports. Why? First, they’re medically ineffective: new variants may lurk in the bodies of even the most timeously vaccinated. But most importantly, they grant the state powers to tightly monitor our mobility and presence in the public realm. Meadway (following the work of Kalecki) believes that capitalists will ally with soft authoritarians in pandemic-era states (as they have done in past crises). Both will be happy to have new techno-disciplinary powers, whereby they can specify and control “appropriate” and “relevant” labour.

Dishearteningly, Meadway brings us verifiable proof of this state-business info-collusion…from a Scottish Government initiative. The Daily Record reports that “we have learned the NHS mobile phone app [or Scottish vaccination passport] presents personal medical information – in the form of a QR Code – that shares data with companies including Amazon, Microsoft, ServiceNow, Royal Mail and an AI facial recognition firm.” ScotGov subsequently dropped plans to expand the passport beyond nightclubs and restaurants (though a range of reasons have been suggested for this, and Omicrom raises its spectre again).

Scotland’s small but resonant and tightly-packed public sphere means that it’s relatively easy to reverse lumbering, autopilot-like governmental actions. (Human rights activists, backed by Liberal Democrats standing on their traditional principle, were particularly effective here).

This isn’t to mitigate Meadway’s concerns – which is that “the broad dynamic is towards capital and state being drawn closer together, for the purposes of the regulation and control of labour and the natural environment”, and that this “is increasingly likely to come in more authoritarian guise”. However, are we lining up this Scottish story with Priti Patel’s draconian and protest-suppressing bills (The Police Bill and The Nationality and Borders Bill)?

Eternal vigilance, of course. But I would assess the constitutional openness in Scotland allows for the possibility of a more enlightened and accessible policy response to these dangers. Again, it’s a vain hope to build safely (or return to the status quo ante) in the mythical “aftermath” of any pandemic. Wouldn’t it be better to craft the informational rights of independent Scottish citizens, under exactly these biologically demanding conditions?

For example, take Shoshana Zuboff’s critique of “instrumentarianism”, her term for the creeping reality of state-capital techno-surveillance of workers, consumers and citizens – pertinent both in Cupertino or Peking. How could we bring this critique to bear on the human rights of a modern Scottish constitution? What are the new guarantees on the right to deliberation, and the input of community power, over decisions about the management of our bodies, biologies and environments?

The stakes are high for Scottish independence, taken as a political design opportunity – as they should be. Another example: the political economy of a new nation, birthed in such a biospherically-unpredictable era, would want (among other goals) to resource citizens, as citizens: supporting them to be more thoughtful and pro-active about the institutions and regulations around them.

This means securing some existential and imaginative distance from the duties of earning, as a collective right. This usually runs under the policy quartet of Universal Basic Income, Universal Basic Services, a shorter working week and a properly citizen-serving public media.

These are bold reforms that active movements towards national self-determination should be able to establish. They should take advantage of the turbulence at this point in our anthropocene century, not mistakenly hope for it to abate. If Scottish independence is not about a people wrangling with a demanding, planetary future, what other point does it have? Anything to remove us from the bacchanal and (yes) hypocracy of Downing Street.

From Pat Kane’s E2 (The Future & Scotland Too) newsletter on Substack. Subscribe here.

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Comments (18)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    But here’s another scenario for ye…Howabout we just kick the arses of those shitheads in No 10 and walk away the smart Barbados crowd….can’t be that diffi….All the time keeping our fingers crossed that the other halfwits in Holyrood hold their nerve and don’t feel left out of the Christmas shennanigans….

    1. Wul says:

      “Clever” says it all.

      I can never be bothered finishing a Pat Kane article. About half way through I always think “WTF is he on about?” and give up.

      1. Wul says:

        Decent enough bloke though.

  2. David says:

    He may make some good points, but could he not try a bit harder to use words and references that an average reasonably literate person could make some sense of?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Or we could try a wee bit harder to expand our intellectual horizons in order to understand what he’s saying… The opposite of ‘dumbing down’.

      Distrust of the intellect is a mark of populism. We should aspire to be better than that.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        Anyway, I’m sceptical of the wisdom of our having a substantive/prescriptive ‘rights-based’ constitution of the sort which by he says we should regulate our public affairs. A purely formal constitution, which establishes only the procedures by which we can continually make and unmake the substance that his sort of constitution would ‘enshrine’, would provide a far more democratic instrument of government.

      2. David says:

        I agree with expanding our horizons, but it’s very unhelpful when language serves to obfuscate rather than enlighten

        1. Mons Meg says:

          I’m not sure Pat’s intention is to obfuscate. I suspect he’s rather trying to disrupt and reinvigorate our tired old political discourse by introducing to it fresh but unfamiliar narratives. That can be unsettling to those who are ‘at home’ within the current ideological landscape.

          Or he might just be showing off.

      3. David B says:

        It’s only dumbing down if you think using complicated words and grammar is a sign of intelligence. Personally I think communicating complex ideas in a way that aabody can understand takes real intelligence. Simplifying the form doesn’t have to mean dumbing down the content. It’s also more inclusive for people with reading or processing difficulties.

        (Different David to the original comment btw).

        1. Mons Meg says:

          ‘Personally I think communicating complex ideas in a way that aabody can understand takes real intelligence.’

          Personally, I think expanding the limits of one’s understanding so that it can accommodate complex and unfamiliar ideas (a.k.a. ‘learning’) takes real intelligence.

          Don’t just dismiss Pat’s thinking as ‘too hard’. Work at it; learn from it.

          Nae simple rhymes for silly folk
          But the haill art, as Lenin gied
          Nae Marx-without-tears to workin’ men
          But the fu’ course instead.

          – Hugh MacDiarmid: Second Hymn to Lenin

          1. David B says:

            Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore complex and unfamiliar ideas. I’m saying it’s often possible to express those ideas without using excessively difficult words or sentence structures, and that doing so is more inclusive

          2. Pat Kane says:

            “Nae simple rhymes for silly folk
            But the haill art, as Lenin gied
            Nae Marx-without-tears to workin’ men
            But the fu’ course instead.

            – Hugh MacDiarmid: Second Hymn to Lenin”

            What a piece of verse, thank you!

          3. Mons Meg says:

            I do agree that his writing is excessively concentrated. He tries to cram too much into his sentences. He needs to be more expansive in the expression of his qualifications, reservations, ‘doors left open’.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Why stop at sweeping away vaccine patents? Why not aim for truly open source medicine without intellectual property restrictions?

  4. Paula Becker says:

    It seems that Pfizer were unwilling to distribute their ‘vaccines’ to countries which refused, sensibly, to grant them legal indemnity for adverse events.

    This would explain, perhaps, why so few ‘vaccines’ were getting through to African nations – they refused to sign contracts which let Pfizer and the other Big Pharma companies off the hook. Alternatively they simply simply read the available scientific literature and decided that these companies claims for their products were extremely dubious.

    This has been borne out by experience. Not only do the ‘vaccines’ fail to bring case numbers down they actually seem to drive them up.
    The authors find that ‘In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher Covid-19 cases per 1 million people.’
    Strange isn’t it?

  5. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I think that the comments are in danger of missing the point of the article by concentrating on Mr Kane’s writing style and on pretensions that are being ascribed to him.

    I welcome the fact that a man from a working class background in Coatbridge, who attended a comprehensive school has the confidence to present himself, uninhibitedly, as a ‘public intellectual’. I also agree with his support for independence and for his redistributive instincts, both of which underpin this article.

    With regard to his communicative abilities, I find myself broadly in agreement with Mons Meg’s view, but also with David’s and DavidB’s. Whenever we are delving into any issue in any depth we often require a specialised and nuanced language, but sometimes this can obscure the meaning by relying on it too much without seeking to make it more obvious. My tuppence worth is based on a comment by my tutor when I was undertaking a Masters degree (which was about moral and honest approaches to changing people’s attitudes). He had a maxim that any topic, no matter how complex is capable of being explained in a rigorously accurate way at a level appropriate to the listener. What this entailed was that if, say, a 10 year old asked about Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, the speaker ought to be able to explain this in terms that the young person could understand, without planting the seeds of some falsity. So, there are times when I think Mr Kane leaves some listeners, including me, at time. with misapprehension.

    Mr Kane is a songwriter and singer of some expertise and sometimes, I think that his pleasure in poetry, words and imagery, dominates the message.

  6. John Monro says:

    As a retired GP, of modest and bumbling authority, I don’t imagine I’m particularly more widely read or intelligent than most of those contributing here, but I didn’t find this article particularly difficult to read or follow; I thought it was well written. Isn’t a writer allowed some thought that when contributing to a particular audience, not propagandising to a possibly uninterested the general public, he or she should be able to write freely and with style? And isn’t that the case here – only those who are politically aware, interested and most likely supports of Scottish Independence will be following and contributing; it’s a self selected audience to whom Pat Kane is writing and he should be allowed the conceit that you’d be happy enough, if necessary, to work just a wee bitty on his opinion. However, I trust Pat Kane will be reading these comments, and he’ll take note and think that perhaps you’re making a reasonable and considered point; fair enough, agrees Pat, I’ll concentrate on clarifying my thoughts and writing more directly for a more general audience. There is no harm in that, and maybe a considerable advantage. So what about it, Pat Kane?

    But I’d add this. The (First) Scottish Enlightenment involved the brightest intellects of their age, if you read what they wrote, you’ll find no Readers Digest language there. Difficult ideas followed one after the other, abstruse arguments in coffee shops or pamphlets were the order of the discourse, Here are a few sentences from David Hume’s “A Treatise on Human Nature” – the first lines of his opening argument after the preface.

    “All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call IMPRESSIONS and IDEAS. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions: and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning; such as, for instance, are all the perceptions excited by the present discourse, excepting only those which arise from the sight and touch, and excepting the immediate pleasure or uneasiness it may occasion. I believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in explaining this distinction”. (To which I’d add: his thought of not needing to employ many words comes to 144 pages of double column pages!)

    Much of what all those illustrious gentlemen of the enlightenment wrote would be very hard indeed for any layperson to follow , only a trained academic could probably make sense of them, just as only a trained physicist can make sense of Newton or Einstein. But that hasn’t stopped those ideas establishing themselves in the wider society, as their principles get incorporated into our physical and social reality. I think we must be prepared to allow clever minds to work in their own language – whether of philosophy, science, medicine, economics, anthropology, whatever. What we do know, is that no one mind is clever enough to do this on its own.

    This is what I first replied to Ken’s article, before I became side-tracked by the debate about language ( I may have contributed similar thought to other articles previously, but the principle is I believe worth repeating, but apologies if you’ve read this all before) :

    Indeed. For the last twenty years in my writing (on a now defunct blog) I have been urging a “New Ecological Enlightenment”. Such surely should appeal to Scotland, with its history of a foundational contribution to Western thought and practice during the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We shouldn’t forget that this enlightenment arose in a population of around 1.5 million Scottish citizens. For our new Enlightenment it’s vital that some sort of fertile ground is prepared , in our universities, our schools, our media and our politics. Perhaps free coffee at coffee shops in the cities of the country for their intellectuals to gather and sort all this out? I know no one individual can do this, certainly the one writing this, but surely a population of five million could do so? Because if we/you don’t then the future is very bleak indeed. Our present economic, political and ethical system has no future plan – and by future, I mean for the next two hundred years at a minimum.

    The old enlightenment arose in a world hardly explored, modern science still gestating, vast areas remained Terra Incognita (to those partaking in the Enlightenment), the natives still needed subduing, the planet’s resources were hardly touched and the miraculous power of coal to do humanity’s work a hundredfold had barely started. Yet we run our 7.5 billion people on much the same (though admittedly now seriously distorted) ideologies as this enlightenment guided us, formulated in a world with a population of a mere one billion. But, appositely, as mentioned elsewhere in Bellacaledonia, where a book on N Irish unionism is critiqued by Kevin Meagher , he uses the term “Gramscian” (which I had to look up- another opinion laced with some rarer words and concepts) which principle equally applies to our society of hyper-capitalism, ruling us all by blinkering almost all of us to any other way of thinking. This has been the cynically calculated triumph of the right ascendancy and humanity’s and the planet’s tragedy.

    What I am a bit unsure about is how this principle works in our leadership – are they just as unwitting wearers of their blinkers as the rest of us, or are they mere corrupt cynics deliberately blinkering the citizenry nominally under their care? Whatever, it’s past time for the blinkers to be removed – voluntarily by some, but by serious encouragement and persistent effort for everyone else. Scotland’s citizens’ true independence is nothing to do with oil, wealth, capitalism or freedom from Westminster, or the shallow conceits of so much of the debate, but is that of a free-thinking, educated and socially aware, manifestly fairly treated and happy and healthy citizenry; everything else is secondary. The rules for this to happen and continue need urgently to be formulated and acted upon. JKM

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Don’t you think it was the post-Union Scottish Enlightenment that produced the world we live in today, with (in addition to its science and technology and material abundance and moral positivity) its alienation of ‘man’ and ‘nature’ and the impoverishment of the latter by reducing it to an exploitable resource of the former’s instrumentality; its dehumanisation of those who don’t conform to its conception of ‘human nature’ (i.e. the ‘mad’, the ‘immoral’, and the unenlightened brutes and savages of the lower orders and of the non-European world) and its subsequent imperial missions to ‘cure’ or ‘civilise’ those others of their alterity; its atomisation of society into discrete and isolated individual units of competing self-interest or ‘egos’, in which the devil takes the hindmost; its reduction of all intrinsic value (including the value of work as an expression of our own species-being or humanity) to the arithmetical commensurability of exchange value; its worship or ‘progress’ and ‘growth’; &etc.?

      As the Enlightenment world or ‘modernity’ deconstructs under the weight of its own growing dysfunctionality, perhaps ‘Scotland, with its history of a foundational contribution to Western thought and practice during the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’ is the last thing to which we should appeal in our casting about for a saviour.

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