Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly
It’s tempting to think that the feeling of collapse, inertia and hopelessness is confined to proponents of self-determination, but it’s a far wider malaise. Have a thought too for Elon Musk and Humza Yousaf both who are experiencing their own versions of “rapid unscheduled disassembly” and needing to employ some hasty deflective euphemisms.
Yousaf has inherited not just a party divided as never before witnessed under devolution but also a series of policy initiatives under relentless assault. Take two that appear wildly unpopular.
The Bottle Deposit Scheme has been put on review – politically translated as “take the heat out of this”, “make this go away”. You could say that the Scottish Government is being responsive to concerns and taking into consideration business feedback. But the sense of retreat is palpable. The lengthy policy document on Scottish Government priorities published this week was full of backtracking, shelving and climbdowns. There was very little new or dynamic at all. You could say ‘let the man get his feet under the desk’ but the vision that Yousaf has inherited a policy agenda that is under attack from all sides is clear.
The failure to deliver a botte deposit scheme feels like a massive blow, beyond the actual policy itself. “Imagine living in a country where you can’t create a functioning bottle return scheme” someone said to me this week. This feels like a repeated failure on two levels. First we can’t (apparently) legislate to do something we used to be able to do, collect money for bottles and return them to the shops. It’s something dozens of other countries have been doing for decades. Second we are beholden to a government we didn’t elect to decide whether we can do the most banal and simple acts of policy. This is humiliating. So take your pick, we can’t do these simple things because a) our government we elect is incompetent or b) the government we don’t is vindictive. Take your pick.
But there’s another thing here and that is business and social resistance to change. every legislative change that you can remember over the last forty years went through the same predictable cycle: wild hysterical opposition followed by pliant acceptance.
When seatbelts were introduced in the 1970s car manufacturers resisted any such moves as being a infringement on civil liberties and unlikely to save lives. When smoking legislation suggested no smoking in restaurants, buses or cinemas the tobacco lobby spent millions on propaganda resisting any such measures. When no smoking in pubs was suggested the alcohol lobby was hysterical. It would be Armageddon they said. Afterwards, not a peep. When Minimum Unit Pricing was introduced the (Scottish) alcohol lobby again resisted it and had it postponed for years, at the costs of many lives we now know.
We’re now in a predictable part of that cycle over simple recycling, only that now happens in the context of a vicious backlash against the Greens, and a constitutional context in which large sections of the Scottish business community can be drawn upon to rubbish almost anything the SNP government does.
The second policy that appears wildly unpopular is the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) that is being proposed by Marine Scotland. Read the responses to the consultation here ‘Say No to HPMA, Protect our coastal communities’ with feedback from Shetland, the Western Isles, Barra, Tiree, Mull, Harris and more. The proposals – to create areas where no fishing, aquaculture and infrastructure developments would be allowed in 10% of Scottish waters has created anger and organisation in west coast communities in particular.
Angus MacPhail from Tiree has written a song comparing the effect of the moves to the Clearances. Angus MacPhail concluded: “If HPMAs are implemented people like Duncan Francis MacNeil (from Vatersay) will be forced to stay on land while they watch super trawlers on the horizon hoover up everything in their path with little regard for stock conservation or protection of the marine eco-system. There’s a huge irony in these proposals. They will actually be damaging to the environment because they miss the real targets that cause ocean damage. On the basis of flawed logic with no evidence coupled with short term political motivations, whole communities will be permanently wiped out overnight. It must be stopped.”
The anger is visceral and creates an other electoral bomb for the already beleaguered SNP.
What seems to be missing are three essential elements: leadership, dialogue and understanding. At the heart of the HPMA crisis is the lack of political leadership to create forums at a local-to-national level where communities can be – not just heard – but included. ‘Consultation’ is almost always an excuse to not really consult at all. As a performative exercise ‘consultation’ is almost always an act for public consumption rather than an actual real-life event. Everyone knows this.
This has allowed a very Brexity notion of ‘city dwellers’ and ‘metropolitan elites’ to develop. But equally we know from the real-world that our marine ecosystems are under relentless shock and trauma from decades of bad practice and polluting and damaging exploitation. This is just a fact. The shifting baseline syndrome is particularly grievous when we measure fish stocks and aqua culture. So it’s worth repeating the obvious facts: our seas are exploited and our biodiversity has been devastated.
This needs nuance, leadership and dialogue. Maybe this can be salvaged to listen to coastal communities and co-curate and shape legislation that preserves (and extends) jobs while also protecting the fragile sea-life and sea-bed.
But it also needs two other things. If you are to say let’s cherry-pick the really bad practice and avoid the approach of carving out eco-sanctuaries, then who is going to stand up to the super-trawlers Angus Macphail cites? Who is going to stand up to the salmon industry that has polluted our sea lochs for decades? Who is going to stand up to the practices of dredging the seabed that destroy whole ecosystems?
When the salmon industry is a multi-billion pound one at the very heart of Scottish Government food policy, the resistance to that contamination is not going to come from within.
What is missing – and it is missing in the North Sea coastal communities too – and it is missing in the rewilding debate also – is the much vaunted Just Transition process. If we have to make the changes to stop the destruction of our living world that all of us know in our hearts we do – we have to do so in a way that allows the coastal communities that could safeguard the sea to steer that change. The irony is that there are a raft of sustainable practices and industries near the surface that we could be looking to – and we have a host of innovators in Scotland that could be leading this cultural change. Scotland needs to shift from a place where nothing can happen to a place where we begin to make the system change we require, otherwise we will continue to live in an era of ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’ whether that be of our economies or our ecosystems.