Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - pegged to the sight of Scottish politicians of all stripes coming together to preserve the right for Clydeside shipyards to build weapons of mid-range destruction. Does the military-industrial complex impose a ceiling on the Scottish political imagination? As ever, keen to hear your comments below
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It's a song that, once sung, changes the way you think. Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding - particularly in the mournful version by Robert Wyatt that became a hit at the height of the Falklands War in 1982 - is about as perfect a lament against the military-industrial complex as you can get.
The end-rhymes are brilliant and merciless: "Somebody said that someone got filled in / For saying that people get killed in / The result of this shipbuilding". And the closing words always, always, catch the throat: "Diving for dear life / When we should be diving for pearls".
I've been watching the all-party political spectacle in Scotland, lining up to make the case that two aircraft carriers planned for Clydeside shipyards should survive Westminster's Military Spending Review. And of course, as I sift through the arguments, I can't get the tune out of my head.
The integrity of the Green MSP Patrick Harvie has to be noted, the only leading politician willing to state what must represent a significant chunk of Scottish opinion: "We believe that the future for the engineering jobs involved depends on moving away from a reliance on vast amounts of military spending". That's one of my preference votes secured for next May, Mr. Harvie.
And Lesley Riddoch wrote a very well informed column in the Scotsman a few days ago, pointing out that Norway's long history of energy engineering - undistorted by an involvement in supporting British military prowess - has given it a huge industrial head-start in the renewables sector... even though Scotland owns most of the natural resources.
I can't look at Alex Salmond - both an explicit champion of green-tech progress in Scotland, and a consistent voter against Westminster war-adventurism - and not imagine his internal writhing at the moment. Find some way to retain the marine-engineering skill-set on the Clyde for the coming revolution: why lose the chance to beat these swords into ploughshares, reaping nature's new harvest? But as Riddoch points out, if our advanced engineering sector stays on a military drip-feed from the British state's middling-power ambitions, we won't have the flexibility to respond to the coming eco-opportunities.
I passed through Bishopton the other day, observing the BAE Systems logo blare from the tops of dockside buildings. Watching this particularly amoral bunch of death-dealers - in whom Norway's futures fund refuses to invest, for moral reasons - having their tummies tickled by left Scottish politicians... Well, the Costello song inside me goes up to full volume.
There are many of us for whom Scottish independence will be, among other things, the solid basis of a benign, creative nation - and a final discarding of the blood-soaked apron of Imperial Britishness. (After, of course, much soiled participation in it. What else is the Black Watch theatre-cult other than a therapeutic soothing of this collective wound, literal and actual, in the Scottish psyche?).
So it is peculiarly painful to watch an SNP leader pirouette (as he did recently about Faslane's right to provide maintenance to Trident) between the eternal nudge-fudge of devolution, and the clarity of nation-statehood - where we will at least get the chance to debate what kind and level of violence this state has a monopoly over.
But even in that debate about the military posture of an independent Scotland, I find myself dishearteningly at odds with old comrades, even heroes. Jim Sillars' recent pamphlet on independence asks the nationalist movement to grow up and start "thinking like a state", rather than being happy toddling around in George Robertson's "playpen" of devolution.
And part of that realpolitik for Jim now consists in retaining Trident in Faslane for an unspecified period of time after independence, in order to pragmatically assist the Westminster government in its exploration of alternatives. (Like Guantanamo Bay?) All the alarm bells go off on that one, ringing similarly with calls for "fiscal autonomy" or "devolution max" that leave defence matters in the hands of the UK goverment. If we can't exert sovereignty in order to demilitarise and denuclearise this country, really, what's the point of it?
Some of the cobwebs and skeletons in our national imagination really have to be cleared out, or repurposed, if we are to embrace the future properly. A clear "post-military engineering dividend" for an independent Scotland, where full macro-political powers are exerted to redirect ingenuity, sciences and industries in a green- and bio-tech direction, has to be part of the argument leading up to next May. And imagination, the energy and ability to think in new frameworks, is key.
I was listening to a podcast this week by the economist Carlota Perez, who in contrast to many perceives that our financial crash might herald a new global Golden Age of productive prosperity. She's a follower and developer of Schumpeter's theories of creative destruction: for her, recent economic history is all about finance driving the spread of new productive techniques, with the crash a financial inevitability.
But it's the state's strong regulations of the crash's aftermath - for example, the establishment of a welfare state after the booms, busts and wars of the first half of the twentieth century, for example - that helps to consolidate and spread the benefits of these new powers.
Green-tech provides the basis for this next Golden Age, says Perez. A highly-regulated mandate towards low-carbon outputs in itself will be a huge spur to innovation, techniques and services. But the lifestyle revolution will also move in the direction of new kinds of economic activity, rather than less.
Design heading towards durable, repairable objects; sociable, convivial experiences being more economically valuable than an isolated investment in status goods. An idea of plenitude that redefines "wealth" and "prosperity" as chosen activities, and time-for-community.
In many corners and scenes around this country, we can begin to taste such a future for Scotland. And to be fair, the aim of defining Scottish identity as a pursuit of sustainable wellbeing has been continuous through all the political administrations in the Scottish Parliament since 1999. To make sustainable wellbeing a justification for state power has to be worth the candle - Perez is adamant about the necessary role for state intervention and direction here.
But there's a terrible, metallic flavour on our collective tongue, a dark leaky filling: and that is our continuing entanglement in a British (and international) military-industrial complex which is a waste - both economic and moral - of our precious human capital. Scotland needs to step down from its black watch, and march vigorously towards the green-fringed daylight.