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.



Comments (16)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    My takeaway from your piece here Mike is that what’s needed is better communication. Its not enough to issue a Scottish Government press release announcing a consultation, but to promote it in a meaningful way. There are signs that our new FM is focusing on communication – his regular emails to members suggest that. Communication is one way to make our actions more transparent and open to challenge where necessary. We have a big job to do when the media fails to reflect our messages, instead endorsing those who seek to undermine us.

    On the HPMAs there is much which can be done in the form of meaningful consultation with communities, which is the focus in last weeks SNP’s collegiate document. That team work in itself is a sign of significant change.

    1. Yeah Cathie – I think governments and other bodies need to go far beyond superficial ‘consultation’ to meaningful participation in co-creating policies. But this is not to say there is not an ‘edge’ where vested interests need to be confronted, and it doesn’t mean everyone can just carry on for ever and ever doing the same things. We live in times of rapid radical change, whether we like it or not

  2. Michelle Shortt says:

    The difference with those campaigns against seatbelts, smoking etc is that they were led by global big business. The DRS in Scotland and HPMAs, is it is small/medium business who are leading the charge. Which suggests to me that the government have completely forgotten that Scotland is made up of small/medium businesses. Our economy depends on those businesses. Also the DRS as devised in Scotland seems to have some key differences to those operating well in other countries.

  3. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

    While your analysis, as usual, is nuanced, sound and wise, you have omitted mention of a major player in this – BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs and almost all of the print media. Their immediate response to any change which they perceive as threatening the ability of big business to MAXIMISE profit – not make a reasonable profit – they go into performative blustering outrage mode claiming devastation of business and massive job losses. But, they always cite smaller businesses as the typical victims. For example, on rent controls suddenly we find that all rented properties are run by impoverished widows, for whom the rents on rooms is their only source of income.

    As you indicate, with the various examples you quote, most members of the public actually favour such legislation and, when it is implemented, they comply – look at smoking and seat belts and even the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in public.

  4. Tom Ultuous says:

    All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

    Arthur Schopenhauer

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    “policy initiatives under relentless assault” is the new norm. The independence movement were getting too near their goal. It all reminds me a bit of this

    [The Backdrop of the 17th Century
    In the early 1600s, Scotland had been trading with Asia and Africa. During this time of harsh economic rivalry in Europe, England thought the Scots were getting a bit too wealthy. They slapped down the 1660 Navigation Act. This required that all trade goods to and from England or any English possession or territory in Asia, Africa, or the Americas must be transported in English ships sailed by an English captain with a crew of at least 75 percent Englishmen. This stripped Scotland of its economic independence and led to increased dependence on England.]

    From wiki Treaty of Union page.

    [After the negotiations ended on 22 July 1706, acts of parliament were drafted by both parliaments to implement the agreed Articles of Union. The Scottish proponents of union believed that failure to agree to the Articles would result in the imposition of a union under less favourable terms, and English troops were stationed just south of the Scottish border and also in northern Ireland as an “encouragement”. Months of fierce debate in both capital cities and throughout both kingdoms followed. In Scotland, the debate on occasion dissolved into civil disorder, most notably by the notorious ‘Edinburgh Mob’.[clarification needed] The prospect of a union of the kingdoms was deeply unpopular among the Scottish population at large, and talk of an uprising was widespread.[7] However, the treaty was signed and the documents were rushed south with a large military escort.]

  6. Roland says:

    the destruction of our sea lochs and salmon rivers by the salmon farming is matched by the other big % of our ‘award winning’ food and drink sector- whisky (the statistics refer to whisky but actually it’s mostly the modern equivalent of alcopops). It uses the lions share of our very limited productive arable land, is reliant on fossil fuel fertiliser, pesticides and machinery and grain driers. distilleries powered by natural gas, bottling, lorry and shipping logistics, biodiversity-less farming and then creates social harm, disease and abuse everywhere it’s drunk. it’s a crap nationally-lauded growth industry where any attempt to mitigate its impacts has the usual crew of fat white suited men howling into the media.

  7. Jim Anderson says:

    I am not against DRS where the evidence confirms that it is necessary and appropriate. The main reasons for a Scottish DRS are it will solve litter problems, it is cost neutral and other countries successfully use similar systems. However, there is no evidence that the RECYCLABLE glass, plastics and cans covered by the proposals are the cause of littering; there is no physical evidence, no evidence to back up the testimonies given about litter problems and no feedback from sources such as litter picking teams.

    We currently have good Council doorstep collection and recycling bins/centres that actually recycle a lot more than glass, plastic containers and cans. What will happen to those services that we currently pay for through Council Tax is not clear. Will the doorstep collection stop and if so what do we do with the other recyclable stuff not covered by DRS, landfill and more litter being possible options? And if Council services are curtailed by DRS will there be a reduction in Council Tax?

    As to cost neutrality, someone has to pay for this scheme. Producers are expected to pay a small fee per item to Circularity Scotland to fund their operation. Is that not what we pay to the Council for recycling services in Council Tax? Any “small fee” will inevitably passed on to the consumer by the producer as they will not appreciate a drop in profits so it will not be cost neutral. Circularity Scotland has been set up as a non-profit organisation we are told yet venture capital, private investors, of around £100m has been invested. I have yet to find any venture capitalist that does not want a good return on money invested! And do we really need an organisation that even before any operation is paying its executives £100s of thousands in salaries when there is no evidence that it will be better than current Council Services which have no additional cost to the Council Tax which will still remain to be paid by consumers.

    Other countries successfully use DRS is no a sufficient reason to be even considered valid. Other countries have the death penalty, stoning even, imprison gays, etc but we don’t those valid reasons for Scotland to follow. (I know a bit ott but just illustrative.) other countries do not have the equivalent of Council doorstep collections. There few countries that do have doorstep collection did not have similar Council recycling services to Scottish Councils.

    The DRS consultation was based around unsound reasons that were only supported, never challenged and never tested. HPMAs seem to be going the same way. Until proper review and unassailable evidence of improvement in service and environment is carried out these type of initiatives will continue to be controversial.

    1. Antoine Bisset says:

      “Cost Neutral”. Nothing is cost neutral.
      Since the popular, practical and useful deposit schemes of the 1950s the entire infrastructure has changed. Local grocers don’t take back jam jars. There are no local grocers, just out of town supermarkets. The local brewers, lemonade (“table waters”) bottlers don’t take back beer and lemonade bottles. There are no local breweries bottling beer, there are no local producers of table waters bottling Dandelion and Burdock, Lemonade and Kola in glass bottles. Beer and lemonade is now canned or in plastic bottles and comes from big factories in the Midlands.
      Milk bottles mostly don’t get returned to dairies, some do. Most milk is sold in plastic in supermarkets.
      Glass bottles were recycled as in , washed, sterilised, refilled and reissued. Plastic bottles cannot be recycled. They are processed.
      Cans cannot be recycled. They are processed.
      I suspect that most cans and plastic bottles go into landfill. Any figures on this? Any meaningful real world information on how increased numbers of plastic bottles and cans may be recycled?

      As for the supertrawlers destroying our fish stocks, who s issuing them licences to do this?

    2. Mark Bevis says:

      “no feedback from sources such as litter picking teams.”
      Well I’m one, I do a 30-40 min litter pick round my way every day, fill two bags a day. I can confirm that most waste is, in order starting with the most:
      crisp packets
      pop & beer cans
      glass bottles
      cardboard & paper packaging
      vaping cartons
      dog poo bags
      unidentified cloth pieces
      plastic bottle tops
      plastic bits off cars

      The top three accounting for about 70% of the total.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        Doh, no edit function, forgot plastic water bottles, in there with glass bottles.

    3. Derek says:

      “However, there is no evidence that the RECYCLABLE glass, plastics and cans covered by the proposals are the cause of littering”

      You are correct. It is thoughtless people who are the cause of littering. If, however, you give that litter a value, then it’s worth your while to dispose of it correctly. I have friends in Finland; there was a minor outrage in their town some years ago because the local kids photocopied beer bottle labels to stick onto old – and label-less – bottles that they’d picked up to get the return on them.

      I saw a Barr’s bottle standing on top of a bin earlier on and I found that quite sad.

  8. John Marshall Bryden says:

    The problem with Scotland, and indeed Britain, is that it is massively centralised, something that has become worse in my lifetime. Many functions that used to be part of a supposedly democratic local State called local government, have been taken over by non democratic highly technocratic central “agencies” formerly called “quangos” or NDPBs. This has happened with matters environmental, water, housing, development, culture & the arts, the police, and to a large extent planning. This also concerns the marine environment. It is high time, and even perhaps almost too late, to reverse this process and give local people a say in such matters (not just bogus “consultation”). People might then start voting again in local government elections, because they would realise that local government is not just administrating central government functions and policies, and beholden unto them because of the dreadful local government financing system we have inherited. A thorough reform both of local government and of the related financing system is needed, so that responsibility is placed where it should be.

    1. Antoine Bisset says:

      Good points.

  9. Mr Pye says:

    The bottle and can refund scheme has been something I have followed with interest and enthusiam for yours. It has been run kak-handed and has been suspended various times, for years. In it’s latest moronicism, local auchorities would remove the glass and can recycling bins ’round the corner because Sainsburies would be responsible. Then you drive to a Tesco mega barn to queue in the rain for a 20p Tesco voucher. That’s if you live in a city. Or maybe you just throw it in the communal landfill bin, seeing asthere isn’t any others. This has been going on for years. The Scottish government isinept.

    Lorna Slater comes across like someone that needs close supervision if she is running a bath. She seems to be dislocated from the goverment she is supposed to be a part of, and the policy she is responsible for.

    1. Mr Pye says:

      The new green port cusoms exemtion free-for-all for cruise ships in Aberdeen that no-one on Byres Road or Stockbridge cares about is currently fully stuffed with a jack-up drilling rig and a civil engineering barge. You can see the legs of the jack-up from the Broch, 30 miles away. But above all: A new port in Scotland? Who notices major civil engineering works if it is north of Dunfermiline?

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