Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - closing reflections on writing columns before election days, the commonalities of the Scottish political classes, some regrettable structures of feeling in our national lives, & hoping that the politics of hope will triumph on May 5th. All comments welcome.
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I must have written four or five pre-election columns in my quarter-century of journalism - and they're always a hostage to fortune.
I remember writing something before an election in which "Scotland free by 93" was offered to the people (which the people then primly rejected). If anyone would like to mortify me with memories of said column, which inflicted upon its readers a sci-fi projection of Scotland in 2033... Well, let's hope the digital archives don't go back that far.
But here we are in 2011, with one vaguely futuristic Parliament building under our belts; an anti-dystopian rallying cry for renewable energy to save Scotland from the worst of the anthropocene; and a column being mostly thumbed out on a device which bears close resemblance to the tricorder of my beloved childhood Star Trek.
I promise to reflect in another 25 years time, if I last that long, on my immediate conditions on the eve of a national election. (By that time, I might be literally plugged into something... hopefully something cool and cyborg-y. Rather than merely respiratory)
Will Scotland be independent by that point? As is often quoted, there's a steadily increasing, not decreasing, number of nation-states in the world. Like my old Scottish left mentors Neal Ascherson and Tom Nairn would say, it may well be a world of increasing integration and interdependence - where networked capitalism, and a borderless environmental crisis, both demand as much coordinated global action between democracies as possible.
But for a stateless nation like Scotland (similar to other sub-nations or regions in, say, post-communist Europe), there's no point in not going for the minimum effective regime of geopolitical agency - meaning the nation-state. You should at least give yourself full sovereignty before you begin to parcel it out to wider frameworks, whether they be Westminster, Nordic, European, corporate, global.
Unless some new version of the Treaty of Westphalia comes along, the nation-state is still the crucial means whereby ordinary citizens can find some democratic purchase, as Nairn might put it, on the juggernaut of modernity - even if it's only a light touch on the wheel and the brakes, along with many other small hands and feet.
Which brings us back to tomorrow: Scottish election day, May 5th 2011. Having watched far too much political transmedia over the last few weeks, I've been struck by the patterns of convergence that knit together all the Scottish political classes.
There would seem to be some basic Lego-bricks of Scottish society that all agree on. One is that small businesses, whether family-owned community concerns or thrusting young tech start-ups, are the seedbeds of the modern Scottish economy - an "enterprise" culture, whether social or commercial, that's become a healthy, secular norm of an active, creative Scotland.
Another is that the NHS is totemic, its resources ring-fenced like a sacred cow. I wonder whether this is both an indication of the settled social-democratic will of Caledonia, and an understandable clinging to a service which has to work hard to mitigate far too many wilfully self-destructive physical lifestyles. We may need to further customise the happiness/wellbeing agenda currently gripping the developed world, for a country whose epidemiology is almost the very definition of thrawnness.
And one more component: that orderly streets, visibly and strictly policed, is the prime requirement of public space in Scotland. Funding is easily procured for more bobbies on the beat, armed with customised laws. Meanwhile, our collective outdoor expressions of joy are regarded as potential boondoggles in the making (the Homecoming), or cynical machines for printing sporting money (Ryder Cup, Commonwealth games), or scenes for young male pathology (the Old Firm clashes, Kelvingrove park on the day of the Royal Wedding).
Something in me always curls up and dies when any of the parties go heavy on the law and order agenda - as if there's an element in the Scottish psyche which always remains a Jekyll, fearing its inner Hyde. This interleaves all too neatly with the supposed "excellence" of our crime-fiction industry - a bunch of narrative carrion-crows on Scotland's deprived and distorted urban/suburban realms. There are too many streets and localities in this land where longterm structural deprivation meets what Neal Ascherson once described to me as a punitive "lovelessness" in Scottish daily life: a seeping suffusion of anger and ill-will, ensnaring both accused and accuser.
Tomorrow, whatever arrangement of parties takes the helm of the super-powered milk-van that is devolved Scotland, it would be good if this great concertation of policy could be bent towards the gentling and beatifying of Scottish civic life; the increase of understanding and civility across all political and cultural divisions. We have ever tougher times ahead: and as well as the national powers to cope with them, we need more grace and dignity in this country's daily dealings, to lubricate the fine gears of cooperation.
So many times in these weeks, as the party-political biliousness inflates to maximum size, I remember Brecht's caution to all radicals and activists in his great poem, 'To Those Born Later':
Hatred, even of meanness,
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.
Having said that, I enjoyed the SNP's generally positive campaign. If you know anything of the culture around their election machine, you'll know that there are cadres of extremely capable and idealistic young Scots involved. They're very much of the Net Generation, some of them returnees from plum jobs overseas. And they are desperate to apply their expertise and passion to the benefit of this country. You meet them, and it's what you've always hoped for, as a supporter of Scottish independence: that the brightest and best would apply themselves to progressing their country. I hope they get their result.
And as those who read these columns might have gathered, I also like the Scottish Greens. In terms of both the cautionary case of a worsening climate, and the positive case for a new, low-carbon economy and lifestyle, the popular consciousness is ready, and their time has come. I only hope - as I've been trying to suggest in the heady uplands of Scottish think-blogs - that if the "independence majority" of SNP/Green seats appears, both sides can graciously (that word again) see the opportunity for a real moment of transformation in Scottish society, requiring proper negotiation on both sides.
As for the Lib-Dems, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour...Well, I hope that even they might eventually see that a Scotland whose macro-powers are pulled ever higher up the ratchet will give them an opportunity to let their ideologies and traditions flourish.
Vote early, fellow Scots. And vote hopefully.