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Dullness Fades (October 2006)

This article was first published on The Guardian's Comment is Free

The people of Fife have had Tony Blair's wars but not Gordon's great economic miracle. They are ready for independence.


Sometime in the 1890s four young men - HH Asquith, RB Haldane, Augustine Birrell, Ronald Munro-Ferguson - climbed Raith Hill, behind Kirkcaldy, and gazed out over the Forth. "Is it not an intriguing thought," said Birrell, "that there is not an acre of this vast and varied landscape, that is not represented at Westminster by a London barrister."

London barrister MPs are history, like the Liberal party's complete domination of Scottish politics in 1906. My hunch - and this isn't a party statement - is that the Anglo-Scottish union will soon join them. I find Braveheart a comic masterpiece, and cringe at Flower of Scotland, but I'm now determined to accelerate this process. Comment is free has completed my conversion. Think about the blogtime expended over the last month on the Labour leadership, then go back to Bernard Shaw on Fabianism, Richard Crossman's The Charm of Politics, anything by Raymond Williams or EP Thompson. You - not we - have a political culture half-dead at the top.

The MP for Kirkcaldy is Gordon Brown. "Dullness visible" would alas sum up his collected speeches. Kirkcaldy's MSP, the house-elf who does the hoovering for him on local issues, is Marilyn Livingstone. I am the man in the black hat, riding into town on my bus pass. It's 1966 since I stood for Edinburgh council, and my old ward of Cramond is visible across the Firth. I can do the local business, as 40 years counselling Edinburgh, Open University and German students gives you skills that you can use in constituency affairs - and I can throw in German local authority experience as a Social Democrat council candidate in Tübingen.

But my main reason for wanting to get into the Scottish parliament is the brooding massif of Broon. The man has converted me from a federalist into someone who believes that independence can't come soon enough. Gordon and I go back. We wrote a pamphlet, The Scottish Assembly and why you should vote for it, back in 1979, though thereafter our ways parted. I co-edited the centenary history of the Scottish Labour party in 1988, but left it a year later. Very few of my old comrades are, these days, active. There won't even be a Scottish Labour conference in election year 2007.

After a decade of New Labour dismay has turned to disgust - "Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds" - and in the last few weeks to a blackly comic Punch and Judy show. Without a scintilla of ideological difference between the two stars, they hit one another, shouted, screamed and waved babies about. Ultimately the Fifers saw that they had had Tony's wars but not Gordon's great economic miracle, and on September 27 swung to the SNP by 30% in a local election in next-door Markinch. The chancellor had already been dented by Labour's loss of the safe Dunfermline West seat in February. Now the turnout fell by 15%, with Labour dropping from 1074 to 388, and the Tories from 121 to 46 ...

All candidates delude themselves about their chances, even Tories contesting the Rhondda, but I have the sense of an endgame, where the 1997 mixture really goes sour: the "success" of retail à go-go, financed through ballooning house prices and bargains caused by cheap Chinese imports, the fiddled employment figures, the mass sell-off of British businesses, the neglect of boring things like training, planning, and infrastructure. The smoke and mirrors have cleared ...

What's the alternative to Brown? Is Scottish independence too drastic? The upside of the present situation of high oil prices means Scotland can use the weather-window of our North Sea resources to get the technology and training it needs to construct an eco-hi-tech future. It means partnerships with the advanced regions and small countries of western Europe. It means drawing on the talents of new Scots needed to balance an ageing population, and tackling the deep-seated problems of Scottish ill health, drugs and social breakdown. I can suggest some ways out because I've worked for the government of Europe's major hi-tech region and for Germany's best economics faculty: "We can do everything except speak Hochdeutsch," as the slogan goes. The land isn't blameless - Baden-Württemberg flogs Mercs and Audis and Porsches to the rest of the world - but it builds high-speed trains and supertrams, and bikes and solar panels for its citizens.

The Scots can still do some things equally well - think offshore engineering, educational technology, the huge Edinburgh culture fest - but they need to deal direct with Europe to buy what they need and sell what they're good at. In this they get little help from New Labour's gravy train (Scottish Enterprise scarcely glances at Germany, let alone the rest of the continent) and even less from the Foreign Office and the British Council.

Scottish Nationalists used to be dismissed (by myself among others) as emotional. Things have changed. The Scots are being offered either Jack McConnell's terminally pawky "best wee country" nonsense or Blair-Brown's old imperial madness ... plus a new Trident, and new nukes. Somewhere young soldiers are being shot or blown up as part of Tony Blair's "blood price".

Look at the BBC on the global environment. I will be dead when global warming really gets us by the throat. Our children may want to be dead, since we are far along the motorway to Necropolis, as the Scots social thinker Patrick Geddes called an environment wrecked by over-urbanisation, pollution and environmental destruction. The world's poor may only be rehearsing our own fate.

I argued for long enough that it's time to win Scotland for a rational life in a saveable world, then I found myself confirmed by an strange image from the locality, while making a film about John Buchan. His father was minister in Dysart, and he set on the Kirkcaple shore the scene in Prester John where the Reverend John Laputa worships the gods of his old and new Africa. Starting as an adventure-story villain, by the end of the book Laputa has become the nemesis of Empire, the father of black Africa, dying with the words of Shakespeare's Antony on his lips: "Unarm, Eros, the long day's task is done. And we must sleep." Laputa's dreams remain our "unfinished business". Fair play to McConnell: his partnership with Malawi is a new departure, and better than Whitehall's intention to sell guns wherever it can. An independent Scotland, shorn of its "crown imperial", can make such gestures into reality.

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