Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - using the natural disaster, and nuclear meltdown, in Japan, to think about Scotland's own energy and green futures, in the context of an independence politics. And frankly, more than a slight nudge as to the effective voting intentions thereto. As usual, all comments welcome.
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The images from Japan rattle around the head, sparking off all manner of associations. The sight of towns completely levelled inescapably evokes Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The miasma of murky debris speedily sweeping across farmlands is like the formless monster in the animated films of Hayao Mizaki, particularly the "No Face" character in Spirited Away.
Between earthquakes, military defeats and out-of-control nukes of all kinds, we are reminded of the deep psyche of Japanese society. As my Osaka-based friend Momus has been saying in post after post these last few days, it is their poise, elegance and creativity in the face of such core structural instabilities that defines contemporary Japanese society.
But it is surely at the level of our environmental consciousness that Japan's disaster will have the biggest impact. Did a planet ever look more angry - tossing cars and houses and equipment about on its tides, like a god (or a Gaia) in idle, cruel play? Did modern life ever look less substantial, more secondary, to wider natural processes?
No-one wants to leap to any causation between global warming and seismic activity - although scientists like UCL's Bill McGuire have been, for some years now, correlating the melting of polar ice-caps to an increase in vulcanism, due to reduced pressure on the earth's crust.
But surely we have seen, if not directly experienced, enough - from Indonesia's tsumami to Australia's fires to Japan's quake - to register what a more generally turbulent climate will do to our precious modernity. And to feel the underground tremors as we stand upon our current models of prosperity and progress.
As we watch the world's most technologically advanced society unable to contain the poisons of its cracked nuclear reactors, we are surely compelled to think of our own energy regimes. As Joan McAlpine noted yesterday, when given the chance to politicise his response to the nuclear meltdowns in Japan, Alex Salmond made a conscious (and elegant) demurral on the Sunday talk-shows.
But those outside the electoral battle can surely state it more clearly. The anti-nuclear consensus in Scottish society, stretching from Trident to nuclear power and perhaps rooted even deeper than ideological agreement, must have its political voice heard at the next election (and shamefully, as Joan points out, the Labour Party in Scotland is not part of that consensus).
This consensus doesn't merely rest on fears of environmental disaster, but can also be a positive aspiration towards a green-energy economy and society. Salmond's current restraint, as Japanese citizens float in the water, is understandable. But I hope that a campaigning vocabulary can be fashioned over the next few weeks, perhaps between the SNP and the Greens, which combines fears and hopes to make a powerful electoral appeal.
There is a fascinating parallel between discussions in the green community, and among independence-supporters in Scotland, about how each of them bridges the "imagination gap" in their political appeal to the public - the gap between things as they are, and things as they should (and need to) be.
The great sustainability guru Tim Jackson speaks of the "huge abyss" between our current consumerist lifestyles, and the systemic changes that are required for a planet-friendly economy and society. An abyss so huge that "the distance that needs travelling can engender so much fear that it actually acts as a brake on change... The difficulty for most people is that they don't believe there is a complete system which we can jump ship to".
So a "safe bridge" is needed: "it is imperative that we are able to give indications of what it would look like and to create a spectrum of strategic interventions that develop resilience and create a vision of a sustainable future".
Independence-supporters in Scotland have constantly attempted to construct their own version of the "safe bridge" that Jackson talks about. Surely the history of sovereignty activism in Scotland, conducted under Alasdair Gray's phrase of "working in the early days of a better nation", has been precisely about trying to create that "spectrum of strategic interventions" (demonstrations, publications, Claims of Right, constitutions, and the endless books of essays).
Through these interventions, independistas try to engender a belief that the "complete system" of Scottish independence is a ship people can enthusiastically jump onto - and not a fearful abyss, needing a long rope-bridge. The more patient among us would doubtless claim that, no matter the Holyrood result in May, the imagination gap between Scotland now and a Scottish nation-state is less than it ever was. Bide your time; let the increments of change build and build.
I'm not that patient, and never have been. Salmond characterised Scotland in his party conference speech as the "lucky" country, in terms of our natural, structural and human resources. But we might be lucky in an even bigger framework. It seems to me that the practical project of a green and meaningful Scotland, with the macro-power of a nation-state to set new incentives and direct new funds towards that end, is exactly the kind of governmental "safe bridge" that Jackson hopes for.
Wouldn't an independent Scotland in which (to paraphrase the US columnist Thomas Friedman) "green is the new blue and white" provide exactly the kind of policy zeal that's needed? A sustainably-oriented patriotism, fuelling the spirit of innovation and sustaining the hard discussions required to get to Tim Jackson's "new territory"? A territory which, as he says,
... entails being more sensitive, open and transparent about environmental limits, a stronger sense of social justice, fixing the basic aspects of an economic system that is now demonstrably broken in its own terms and a shift in the underlying sense of what the good life means and the consumerist base of modern society.
In terms of political sentiment - which also means, yes, separating large numbers of Scottish Labour supporters and activists from the Unionist mind-manacles of their Westminster party - isn't there a clear and historic consensus for such a national project?
Like the First Minister, we can look to Japan and allow our hearts to respond to their collective grief, and fervently wish for them to fix the system that's unravelling around them. But we must also draw some strategic lessons from their tragedy. In this challenging century, don't we need all the steering powers we can get? And more pertinently, in our election season: what's the vote that gets us closer to achieving that resilient Scottish future?