Posts Tagged independence

Scotland 2.0, or why the nation needs a new operating system.

Today a guest post from Lee Bunce, a Green with a keen interest and academic expertise in the relationships between information, democracy and technology. 

Whitelee wind farm creative commons

Scotland is uniquely placed to take advantage of the new technologies that together will shape the future of our planet. It is both geographically and technically well-positioned to place itself at the forefront of  renewable energy and information technology. But to make the most of these new technologies it most avoid repeating old mistakes. Rather than handing the benefits, and profits, over to a handful of corporations Scotland should direct its efforts towards its communities.

Scotland’s renewable potential is well understood. It has some best resources in wind, wave and other renewable energy sources of any country in the world. Perhaps less appreciated is Scotland’s potential to be a leader in technology. Scotland’s ICT industry already directly employs around 40,000 people (according to ScotlandIS ), compared to 11,200 in its whisky industry for example, and its games industry in particular is thriving. Government support combined with access to a highly skilled workforce, as well as geographical advantages such as proximity to both the rest of Europe and America, and indeed its renewable energy sources, could help make Scotland a world leader in the field in much the same way that Iceland is to the north.

Development of these industries has so far been carried out along traditional corporate lines.  Scotland has hugely ambitious targets for renewable energy, aiming for 100% of Scotland’s electricity to be produced by renewables by 2020 . The majority of this energy will be produced by large scale top-down onshore wind projects, which largely means a continuation of the trend whereby the ‘Big Six’ energy companies provide around 99% of UK energy. The Scottish government meanwhile envisages  that around 500MW of this renewable capacity will be community owned, or just around 3% . It’s a start, but nowhere near ambitious enough. In Germany around 65% of its turbines and solar panels are community owned, and Scotland could aim even higher.

Community owned renewable energy comes with a number of benefits. It creates local jobs, keeps money circulating within local economies and builds community cohesion. Projects that are community owned are also more likely to be supported by the communities they serve, which is important at a time when resistance to wind-farms is prevalent. By taking a more ambitious approach to community energy, Scotland reap these benefits on an enormous scale.

Likewise, the way in which information technology works sometimes holds back innovation and progress due to commercial monopolisation. Technology is primarily about knowledge, in particular using knowledge for the benefit of society. Again, development in technology has so far followed the traditional route followed by the rest of the UK, whereby this knowledge economy is built on classic conceptions of private enterprise which commodify knowledge using stringent intellectual property legislation that restricts the use of knowledge and information to those who can afford to pay for it. Again, Scotland could benefit by adopting a more community based approach.

Community here means something different of course. It might mean online communities developing free and open source software that is available to all, or building useful applications based on free and open data. It might even mean communities of artists and musicians using information technologies to make their work freely available under ‘copyleft’  licences, or scientists sharing data and collaborating online. The benefits of adopting this ‘open’ philosophy could be substantial. Relaxing intellectually property laws could stimulate a boom in innovation in technology and beyond as ideas are able to freely spread and developers are able to build on the ideas that came before them.

Supporting free software and open data does not mean being anti-business, as is often claimed. It just means being rejecting business models that do not benefit society in favour of other models that do. Taking free software specifically, this might mean that instead of making a profit by selling expensive licenses to use software while keeping the source code hidden programmers can make money by offering their expertise as a service, providing support or bespoke modifications. The result is that the technological benefits can be spread far and wide (the classic example of this is the GNU/Linux operating system, though there are countless others).

Both these approaches towards new technologies, energy and IT, mean doing something quite different to the economic default.  They mean discarding policies and practices that benefit the few in favour of quite radical new ideas that can benefit the many. Given that the future of these technologies and industries will likely shape the future of Scotland, and indeed the planet, any method of distributing benefits as widely as possible deserve to be taken very seriously.


Lee is one of the two founding editors of the Edinburgh green journalism project POSTmag. The text published here is available for reproduction under a creative commons licence with attribution to the author.

Tags: , , , ,

Jumping into bed with the Swedes

Shetland's hybrid Scots-Scandinavian flag

Shetland: Already halfway there

There have, in the past week, been a few noteworthy articles regarding the Scandinavian shadow which looms large over the issue of Scottish independence, as well as the future and makeup of Scotland’s economy, welfare system and society more generally.

Now I write this as somebody who knows a fair deal more about Scandinavia than most, for both personal and professional reasons.  A colleague of mine in the Greens remarked that the next Scottish Green manifesto should just be called ‘Scandinavian Nirvana’, such is the appetite in the party for increased welfare, greater social freedoms, gender equality and local democracy. I wholeheartedly agree.

Which brings me to something said by Blair McDougall in a BBC interview on the independence referendum. He accuses his opposite number in the Yes campaign, the significantly more articulate and less hackish Blair Jenkins, of wanting ‘57 per cent tax like in Norway’. There are indeed people in Norway paying that much tax, but these kind of people are not the salt of the earth working men and women which McDougall thinks will be crushed by the weight of Kaiser Salmond’s iron taxation, if he did indeed have such plans.

Then there was a report in The Economist which made the odd logical step of collating the radical reforms by centre-right governments in Sweden and formerly in Denmark with the high living standards and safe economies of the Nordic countries. As the Swedish journalist Katrin Kielos noted, there is an awful schizophrenia about the new craze for the Nordic centre-right, in that it assumes that being Scandinavian is a virtue in itself and argues that the path forward for these secure and durable systems is to follow a more British or American model . It is a trend which wishes to dine on the fruits of the Scandinavian countries’ labour whilst seeking to undermine it at its foundations.

The whole thing is illustrative of the fact that there is a huge amount of ignorance about the way in which Scandinavian society functions, and that this ignorance can be used to significant political advantage. It is also debatable to what extent it is even appropriate to address the Nordic countries as a single unit. There are however certain things which underpin  ‘the Scandinavian model’ which Scotland would have to adopt were it to develop in such a direction.

The first is a strict ethos of universalism. Not all services are free in Sweden or its neighbours, but notable by its absence is the incredibly British notion of selective assistance. Britain seems to implicitly accept that there should be huge gaps in income between different levels of society, and that one of the roles of public welfare is to alleviate this. It is a mode of thinking which the New Labour project perfected with its targeted alleviation, support for bright pupils from state schools and university access bursaries, without ever tackling the structural causes of poverty and discrimination.

Secondly, the way in which Scandinavian trade unions work is different to the British model. The nostalgia for the 1970s which pervades much of Britain’s left ignores the fact that old British models of trade-unionism were what allowed public support for the radical reforms of the 1980s. The systems of collective bargaining employed in Sweden and relatively high levels of unionisation amongst what might be termed normal people means that it is both destigmatised and can claim to represent large portions of the population.  This system has come under attack from centre-right governments in recent years but has survived relatively intact. The Scandinavian countries do not have a legal minimum wage, but they do have an effective minimum wage proportionally higher than Scotland, leading to a reduction in income inequality before the tax system has even played its redistributive  role.

And once tax is collected, where does it go? Not into benefits as they might be normally understood, but rather into the provision of universal services.  Childcare, incredibly well funded education systems, transport and infrastructure and healthcare.  The biggest challenge to Scotland is whether it is possible to transfer to this type of system given the appalling disparity evident in the country and present. It is in the interests of every Scottish woman to vote for a scenario which will provide the funding and structures for them to work and live on the same terms as men (and from a male feminist perspective, in men’s interest too).

Now to return to Blair McDougall and his mythical 57 per cent tax rate, I would say that it would only become an issue when you earn as much money as a senior press adviser or an MP.  Having large tax reserves means that in times of crisis governments are able to effectively deal with them, unlike the British model of medium taxation on an out of control financial system without any thought as to the after effects.

So to be realistic, adopting a Scandinavian social model would involve higher rates of tax, but it would also involve higher wages and better public services. In real terms incomes might well be higher, or at least remain static whilst providing for higher levels of public investment.

The whole thing is also dependent on a grand narrative. People vote for things because they believe in their viability, and the Scandinavian system is underpinned by a notion of functional redistribution different from the dominant discourse in Britain, and even in Scotland. It isn’t about smashing the rich or shooting bankers at dawn, but rather about building a cohesive society which works in the interest of all. As Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says, “to create we must share, and to share we must create.”

David Leask’s excellent ‘As Others See Us’ column in the Herald, in which a group of Norwegians were asked for their opinion on independence, was revealing. The lack of interest in Scotland’s constitutional future was unsurprising – I frequently find myself explaining to Swedes the ins and outs of the independence movement – as Scotland is not politically visible. The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter  recently published a feature on Europe’s contemporary independence movements which mentioned Scotland in the same breath as the Northern League in Italy and Flemish separatism in Belgium, entirely ignoring the broadly leftist motivations found in the majority of pro-independence groups and parties in Scotland. The challenge will be to explicitly build the construction of a sustainable and humane welfare state into the Scottish cultural narrative at home and abroad.

Neither would we or should we transform Scotland into Scandinavia overnight. When talking with a good friend of mine about how I hoped to live in a Scotland where I felt the state and society treated me and any potential wife/partner equally she smiled wryly and wished me good luck, with some justification. But that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try. I answered that to combine the best aspects of Scotland and Sweden would create something beautiful, but that it would require the type of radical social change not seen since the 1960s. It would be a national project which larger countries would be entirely incapable of, but which might just work in Scotland. Scandinavia might be a fluid concept with many faces, but the values which it ostensibly represents are what we should really be aiming for. Both financially and morally, we cannot afford not to.

Tags: , , , , ,

EXCLUSIVE: Humza Yousaf – Let’s make History!

This afternoon, Angus Robertson MP, SNP Campaign Director, set out the road map to independence and detailed the four steps that the party is taking to win the referendum.  One of those steps is to “engage with different sectors of society to raise confidence, optimism and understanding of the independence case” and Humza Yousaf, recently elected MSP for Glasgow, was asked to say a little about his work as one of these Independence Ambassadors.

His speech had people in tears and earned a rousing, spontaneous standing ovation.  He has kindly agreed to share it with Better Nation – exclusively.

Conference, it is a delight to be standing her before you as the elected representative of that SNP stronghold of Glasgow!  I truly feel privileged to be in this position at all.

I say that, delegates, because it was merely 70 years ago, while our party was in its infancy, that my grandfather was working in the family run business in a small village in India.

He was a master tailor and so in the morning and afternoon, he would sew clothes for the locals and in the evening he would shut up shop.  However, instead of going home to have his dinner he would take to the streets and peacefully protest against British rule in his homeland.

Of course, his fight for freedom and self-determination was successful in 1947 with the creation of an independent, sovereign India and Pakistan.

Conference, he could not have imagined that merely seven decades later, his grandson would be carrying on this proud family tradition of fighting for independence in a country called Scotland.

Delegates, I tell you this story to highlight that Scotland truly is a land of opportunity for all regardless of your race, religion or ethnicity.

Having a multicultural society is at the very ethos of what we believe in as civic naitonalists.  We’ve accepted people can be Polish-Scots, Pakistani-Scots, Chinese-Scots and Italian Scots.

So fellow Nationalists, as a party we have been making links with all these communities over the last twenty years and that relationship, built on the foundations of mutual trust and respect, has served us well.

Scots of all diverse communities have thrown their weight behind the nationalist cause.  At a recent dinner in Glasgow, over 500 people from every strand of our diverse tartan pledged to give their all for the cause of independence.

Just as so many have done for their own homelands, they promised to pound every pavement, to knock every door, to speak to every person, in every language, for this, the most noble of all noble causes – self-determination and Independence for the people of Scotland.

Conference, we will continue to work with every community in Scotland, because our party is all about communities and societies.

We have some amazing individuals in the SNP but let us never forget that we are not about individuals, nor a party brand.  We are truly a global movement.

We are the wind that blows in our city’s streets.  We are the water that flows in our gallant glens.  We are the ink that dries on the pages of history, as we go forth to write another chapter in our nation’s story.

If we reach out to all Scots, new and old, and work harder than ever before, then I have no doubt that the next chapter will start with the words:

“And so Scotland fulfilled her promise and rose once more, to become a nation again.”

Conference, let’s make history!


Tags: , , ,

Not great, not rubbish, just good enough

Toe-curling, infuriating, shaming.  These are only some of the emotions I experienced while watching BBC Scotland’s documentary on the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Sub-titled The Bank that Ran out of Money, the programme laid bare the extent of the folly of RBS’s global ambitions.  As one commentator put it, they thought they were spinning gold out of straw.

Worst moments?  Watching Tom McKillop, a fine chemist and industrialist, clearly out of his depth – but I’ll cry few tears at his fate, given that he’s still managing to accumulate baubles on the boardroom circuit.  Realising that either Goodwin didn’t have a scooby what he was doing, or if he did, he told barefaced lies to shareholders and the rest of us, year after year.  But absolutely the worst was realising that an awful lot of RBS employees got unco rich on the back of selling poor Americans an unfeasible dream.  Here was financial piracy and imperialism on an incredible scale, and it was cloaked in the Saltire.

At the same time, RBS was branding itself glitzily across big sporting events and sponsorship opportunities.  Swashbuckling its way into everyone’s consciousness.  And most of us were proud of seeing a wee Scottish company mix it with the big boys and willing to share a little of the lustre of its reputation:  few of us paused to question the desirability or necessity of big being better.

Now, we have come full circle.  RBS has eschewed splashing the cash in favour of grassroots community sponsorship and grantmaking in an attempt to rehabilitate itself.  Yet, even this is blatant blaggarding.  To vote in its Community Force competition that pits charities against each other in a bilious game of sell your need, you must register with its website and attempt to avoid the bank’s marketing clutches in the process.  A sneaky way to try and drum up new customers methinks.

Such swinging extremes seem part and parcel of the Scottish psyche, epitomised by the stance of political parties over our constitutional future.  We’re either too wee to be half way decent on our own, or capable of dazzling the family of nations with our greatness.  The SNP, in particular, is guilty of braggadocio, albeit with the best of intentions and understandable rationale.

If your opponents constantly do down your country’s prospects, the obvious temptation is to counter that by trying to show how much better – wealthier and healthier – Scotland could be with independence.  Filling Scots with hope, aspiration and big ambition is a vital tenet of Salmond’s strategy towards independence.  It’s why under an SNP Government, building a sense of national pride through showcase sporting events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup are key components of the masterplan.  It’s also why the First Minister is much taken by Scotland being a world leader in renewable energy technology.  Self belief is everything in the race to win hearts and minds.

But this extreme is matched by the perverse pride many Unionists take in promoting the idea that Scotland on its own would be an economic basketcase, a stance that has encouraged them to forge political careers out of keeping the Scots cringe firmly at the forefront of our approach to life.  There is something far wrong with a political creed that revels in doing down a people’s ability to survive and thrive.  And it has succeeded in maintaining generations under the yoke of under-achievement, making us sniffy about real success, happy to wallow in our mediocrity.  How else to explain our swagger under the weight of poverty, ill-health, violence and aim always to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in everything from sporting endeavour to personal attainment?

There is a dishonesty inherent in both extremes and a little more honesty in our political discourse would go a long way.  Like Goldilocks, I’d be happy with just right.  Not every country can be great;  this nation does not need to be rubbish;  a half way house that does things decently would do for me.

I’d settle for living in a country which prioritises tackling inequality and injustice, where fairness is at the heart of the agenda.   That resolves to end the scandal of children growing up in poverty;  which ensures that the most vulnerable citizens do not go without or have to fight to get what they need;  where people pay what they can afford for the benefit of all.  I’d settle for a Scotland that feels confident enough to remove the chip on it shoulder, but does not feel the need to wear a fur coat with nae knickers either.  I’d be happy with a Scotland that is neither great nor rubbish, but just content with being good enough.



Tags: , , ,

Pete Wishart: The Labour leadership speech you won’t hear

Don’t panic CyberNats!  Pete Wishart MP has not defected – this is his imagining of the kind of speech he’d like to hear the Scottish Labour leadership contenders make:

“Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, members of the press. Today I announce my candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party of Scotland. These are exciting and challenging times. After that crushing defeat in May, it is time to rebuild and renew, to slay sacred cows and chart a new way ahead.

Yes, we were beaten in May because of poor leadership and badly thought-out policies. But the real reason we were beaten so comprehensively is because of a more fundamental problem, and that is for the past ten years the Labour Party has been at least ten steps behind the ambitions of the Scottish people. We have tried to disparage that ambition, neuter it and hold it back. With me as your leader, we will never be put in that position again.

Instead I want to lead that ambition, to work with its flow, to realise its potential. I want to lead a new Scotland, secure in its own skin and dependent on no-one but ourselves.

This is why comrades, that one of the first things I will do, as your leader, will be to commission a new internal body to look at our historic opposition to Scottish independence. As your leader, I will ask that body to look at how we could become a new voice for independence in Scotland, and how we could have a new 21st century relationship throughout these isles based on equality and mutual respect.

It is time comrades, to put our opposition to independence aside, to look at the national interest, and to work for a new and better future for all the people of Scotland.

It was the Labour Party that delivered the Scottish Parliament. It is the Labour Party that has throughout the decades championed the values of social justice and equality. Comrades, are we seriously saying that we cannot build on these fine founding principles in an independent Scotland? An independent Scotland that could be moulded in the Labour tradition?

The alternative is to have a Tory Government in Westminster continue to govern in Scotland, unwanted by the Scottish people and alien to our values. Are we really saying that it is preferable to have a Tory Government running all these reserved responsibilities rather than have them returned to Scotland and put under the democratic control of the Scottish people in ours, in Scotland’s, Parliament?

The alternative is unthinkable. To be lumped in with the Tories, once again, saying no to Scotland. To invent reasons why the Scots aren’t creative enough to make a success of their independence. We’ve done that before and it does not work. I will not talk down my fellow Scots any longer.

Comrades, our illogical and pathological hatred of the SNP has blinded us to what is right for the people of Scotland. It is now time for that to come to an end, to be on the right side of history and to do the right thing.”

(,,,,and a pig was seen flying past the window…….)

Tags: , , ,