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Scottish Parliament Speech: Central Scotland Green Network (November 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of Roseanna Cunningham's motion on the central Scotland green network, which includes a little bit of my vast constituency in Fife. The project offers many opportunities to develop greenways, woodland and waterways. I am old enough to have been one of those who protested against the stupid closure of the Forth and Clyde canal to navigation in 1962.

As a ship canal that sailing ships could sail on without having to demast, it would have had enormous attraction today. It was closed because at the time people thought that canals were old fashioned and that we could do without them; it was one of those catching up with modernity things that, unfortunately, happened all too frequently in the 1960s.

The prospect of environmental degradation is a real and present danger and might bring tolerable human existence to an end within the next century. However, it is not a new threat. We can go back to Mary Shelley, who in her novels "Frankenstein" and "The Last Man" wrote - from an experience in Scotland, in fact - about science getting back at us. Indeed, she was writing at the beginning of what Patrick Geddes, who I think stands behind all this to a great extent, called the paleotechnic age, in which we had harnessed the power of carbon but did not know how to control it. The age effectively started with the first steamboats on the Clyde, an admirable scheme behind which Geddes lies and which, along with our airports and motorways, adds to our commercial attractiveness.

One of Scotland's most innovatory successes is Rockstar Games, which sits not half a mile from here in Leith Street. Its "Grand Theft Auto" series, which I believe has reached number four, has sold 70 million copies worldwide and earned more than £500 million. That extremely ingenious series portrays a highly technologised and motorised universe - parallel to the one that we are trying to mend - in which destruction and greed are the only motivating forces. It is a Hobbesian world in which life is "nasty, brutish, and short". In an interview, one of the cybergeniuses of Leith Street said: "I make lots of wee people and then kill them." I have to say that the game itself is quite hypnotic.

I wonder whether the success of that series is one of the reasons for the appalling percentage of people in Scotland who cycle. Statistics released earlier this week that I believe are crucial to this debate show that 2 per cent of our commuters cycle to work, compared with 18 per cent in Denmark. Do we actually prefer manipulating our games consoles to navigating a bike round packed streets?

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

The member makes my point for me. Although schemes such as the Scottish green network are important, we have to acknowledge their limitations. Afforestation in central Scotland will consume 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, but each year our industrial plant emits 32 million tonnes, which means that those trees will catch up with not even a quarter of the increase in pollution. As a result, we need to considerably alter our expectations and, indeed, the whole notion of how we might transform our lives.

That said, if video games were orientated towards tackling environmental problems and raising awareness of the technologies that we need to overcome the world's problems, they might be of great benefit. Perhaps the Minister for Environment should have a word with the cybergeniuses of Leith Street and find out whether, for a couple of video games, they could turn their swords into ploughshares. That might help a great deal.

I conclude with a quotation from what was the greatest Scottish novel of the late 20th century, Alasdair Gray's "Lanark", which is all about the menacing future of the industrial city in a period of environmental collapse. Members might remember that towards the end of the novel Glasgow, or Unthank, is nearly overwhelmed by a tsunami, but is reborn into an eco-future. At one point, Lanark's cheek is "touched by something moving in the wind, a black twig with pointed little ... grey-green buds ... He looked sideways and saw the sun coming up golden behind a laurel bush, light blinking, space dancing among the shifting leaves." That image of rebirth - through trees, no less - is a marvellous vision of the sort of green future that Roseanna Cunningham is envisaging. It is also the only future that we have, and we dare not lose it.

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