Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - a rich day's news in the Scottish papers, and a few pegs on which to hang some thoughts about the thorny issues of defence and energy policy for the independence movement. Should we be in the business of lamenting lost UK MOD jobs, or promoting our carbon-intensive industries as the climate crisis worsens? Your thoughts, please.
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Emerging from the season's convivialities, with my nose deep in tomes about climate-crisis and social psychology, it's been a cauld blast returning to Scotland's news agenda. The Scottish government's press office has clearly pushed its pedal to the metal in the last few days. Wednesday's papers were full of neatly placed stories featuring terribly dynamic SNP representatives (with sports minister Shona Robison looking braw but raw on the Aviemore slopes).
Yet the page two leads display all the contradictions of Nationalist politics aimed at defending "the Scottish interest", however flexibly that is conceived. Angus Robertson, the SNP's lead representative in Westminster, regularly draws the short straw in having to publicly fight for Scotland's share of UK defence spending. Yesterday Robertson was complaining that Scotland had "lost out" on 10,500 jobs and £5.6 billion in spending over the last decade, and was facing a future where "one in four service posts were cut".
"Conventional UK armed forces will become concentrated in 'supergarrisons' and bases. commanded and trained almost exclusively in the South of England", continued Robertson. And the problem is, Angus? Not much, for those of us who reach for Hamish Henderson's Freedom Come A' Ye before they can mouth a single line of Flower of Scotland: "Nae mair will our bonnie callants/Merch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw..."
How much historical irony would there be in a Tory-led Coalition, swingeing its axe at public expenditure, doing more to demilitarise Scottish identity than all the bards, playwrights and protestors combined? It's a strange feeling to be at one with a Tory Scotland Office minister when he warns that "Scotland's defences would be reduced to little more than a handful of fisheries protection vessels". Again, instead of being a critique, shouldn't that be an aspiration?
A party that's set itself against Trident and Middle-East adventuring, having to defend its stake in a military-industrial complex that brings jobs to both the barrack sodjers and the hi-tech industrial sectors (never mind naval ports still tending to nuclear warheads)? To say the least, defence is a continuing incoherence for the independence agenda. For myself, it's an example of having to take sides in Scotland (in Jim Sillars's words), as much as taking Scotland's side - that is, the left side.
Below that item, another production of the SNP press office, provoking a future scenario in which those very same fisheries protection vessels might well be deployed. Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan is backing Barra fishermen in their opposition to the establishment of a marine reserve around Rockall, which might potentially affect their catches brought in from around that area, worth around £1.6 million to the island.
Rockall also pops up in another Wednesday story, which reports that the UN is to examine Denmark's recently asserted claim to the islet of Rockall and its surrounding continental shelf (competing with Iceland, Ireland and the UK's existing claim). Rockall is 300 miles west of Scotland, a rather pointless chunk of rock 19m high, 25m across, 30m wide... but with possible deposits of natural oil and gas in the seabed around it.
Again, as the massed armies of doorsteppers and well-suited tele-politicians get ready for their ideological salvoes leading up to the May elections, it's fascinating to recall some of the craggier undersides of Scottish power politics. For example, the Scottish fishing industry is one of those parallel economic realities of this nation which barely surfaces in the largely-Central-Belt dominated news agenda.
Even its language is quite beautifully other. Wikipedia tells us that it's best to divide the Scottish fishing fleet into its demersal (sea-bottom), Nephrops (crustacean) and pelagic (mid-sea) sectors. But beyond the chippy (sorry) defences of Scottish fisherman's trawling rights and quotas, it's actually quite comforting to know that our fishing industry comes under post-national European governance - a process whereby environmental, economic and territorial rights are equilibriated by rooms full of contending Eurocrats, experts, and national politicians. They share a realisation that fish stocks could provoke the ultimate 'tragedy of the commons' - where insufficient regulation exhausts a shared but finite resource - if the long view is not taken across all parties.
It strikes me there's probably a lot of geopolitical wisdom to be plumbed from the Scottish fishing industry (it's now on my clearly insufficient radar). And interesting to see Alasdair Allan, always one to watch in the SNP firmament, take it on so stridently.
But the question of who actually possesses Rockall involves much bigger players, and much higher stakes, than the the crab-fishing lobbyists of Barra. What an independent Scotland would do with newly discovered resources of oil and gas - if Rockall was transferred to Scottish sea-bed sovereignty, or via any other discovery - is a much trickier question than the tub-thump of "it's Scotland's oil" would indicate.
As I said at the beginning, I'm deep down in the literature of climate crisis at the moment, researching for my follow-up to The Play Ethic. And if there is any message that thunders out from the literature before me - in terms of how we prevent a catastrophic increase in global warming - it is the sheer toxicity of oil and coal as the energy drivers of developed and developing economies. (Though natural gas, according to these gurus, is a somewhat more helpful resource.)
I think there will have to be a dawning (though painful) realisation among Scottish nationalists that, yes, we have missed the boat on the benefits of Scottish oil - but in other ways than the obvious lament for thirty lost years of a Norwegian-style oil fund.
Our old centre-left arguments about Thatcherism pissing the infrastructural benefits of the North Sea up against the wall of consumerism, property and speculation have to be amended. For these were also the years when terrifying, exponential rates of damage to the carrying-capacity of this planet were inflicted, by a model of development equally shared by left and right - a notion of economic growth-through-production-and-consumption, predicated on easy energy from carbon-spewing sources. If the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change is correct, that model and notion has to change drastically, implying huge changes for the basic experience of living in modern Scotland.
Yet the discourse from all of the mainstream parties in Scotland about national economic development still talks about "levers to growth" - as if "growth" itself wasn't under the most exacting scrutiny at the moment, from environmentalists and other perspectives (like the Sarkozy Commission on new measurements of economic progress which Joseph Stiglitz, now a Scottish economic advisor, served on).
As I've proposed elsewhere, the renewable energy sector in Scotland is still the strongest possible synthesis of different elements of Scottish progress – involving native talent, natural resource, and the need for control over market conditions that create incentives for innovation and dynamism.
But if we don't squarely face our complicity in a carbon-heavy economy - which certainly implicates car-intensive road developments as capital projects, never mind the completely delusory claims of "clean-coal" (or CCS) technology - our rhetoric about Scotland as the "renewables powerhouse of Europe" will be more like greenwash than a Green New Deal.
I'm not hugely impressed with the Scottish Greens' contributions to our public debates - sometimes it seems they've been too infected with the testosteronal yah-boo that disfigures much debate in Holyrood. But we need a consistent left-green perspective on the independence question. Perhaps this is a discussion that movements and voices beyond the party system need to keep raising (as focussed by the excellent ideas-blog Bella Caledonia).
All that from one day with the Wednesday papers. As that old volcano once sputtered: "Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?"