The alternative title is, ‘Things to do in Scotland before you die’. This list is by no means a comprehensive, detailed agenda of priorities to follow once Scotland reinstates its autonomy. Asked in a recent interview what structures I’d like to see, I answered ‘the means of attainting happiness’, but without the time to explain what I meant by that remark.
Humans need few things in life to be happy, a home, food, warm clothing – we live in Scotland! – and friends we can depend upon, the pack instinct, (some want for children too). All the materialistic paraphernalia we acquire is superfluous, the things a capitalist consumer society sells to us that we really do not need.
What I failed to say in my answer is how Scotland should be restructured to face the modern world. Here are a few ideas. Readers will have others to augment the list. I publish these proposals merely as a springboard to discussion. We should be living in ideal times, history tells us how to do it, but we live in a confluence of crisis, our chances of creating a truly democratic society faced by the tyranny of our colonial neighbour, and the onset of disastrous climate change and pandemics.
The impending destruction of life on Earth is the most urgent task for nations to tackle as a matter of profound urgency. We have the solutions to alter things now, if we have a mind to do it. If we do nothing, quite frankly, we are history, except there will be nobody around to read it.
Humankind is well on its way to extinguishing itself and the flora and fauna on the planet, living things that have had nothing to do with nuclear war, mass pollution or pandemics. There are people among us who hate their fellow humans. I do not, though I am wary of a few specimens.
I cannot bear to contemplate the destruction of the wonderful things humans produce, great art that lifts the human spirit, in my homeland the creativity of R.L. Stephenson or Frederic Lindsay, the poetry of Robert Burns or Sorley MacLean. art of Allan Ramsay or my wife, Barbara Rae. Hope for Scotland to be a better place lies in our hands, or at least in the hands of the young, if you don’t feel up to helping out.
The removal of bank regulation was the worst thing to happen to western economies, the result of deeply flawed neo-liberal, half-baked ideology that grew out of capitalist’s alarm at seeing the rise of unionism and socialism, creeds enthusiastic to redistribute wealth. Businessmen of America cobbled together a quasi-religion to justify their plan to take back wealth and supress the masses. A mad woman called Ayn Rand wrote some nonsense about greed being good for humanity, and bits of her lunacy was woven into the story of false gods we should worship. So far, it has worked well.
The religion was created in Europe, mainly by Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian-British economist, refined and led by the likes of American economist Milton Friedman and his free market economy, a faith based superstition claiming, no matter what crises arise, an unregulated Market will always be a safety net for a health economy. We know this to be bunkum, the law of the jungle. It takes no account of the venality of men.
In 1981 Friedman published a paper, a very influential document, in which he stated that ‘the sole purpose of corporations was to enrich themselves’, not the population.
Unfortunately Friedman’s wobbly theory was given credence by a Nobel Prize for his “achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy” – gosh, wow! His theory depends on there existing very little competition between corporations. They do free trade deals that are mutually beneficial. Monopolies rule.
When there is competition, big companies gobble up small companies until they become giant conglomerates more powerful than democracies. Overnight they can shift money out of people’s hands and banks to places where it cannot be taxed or subject to socialist principles. In essence, Freidman’s theory is little more than feeding a large horse the best oats, and the rest of us live off what comes out the other end.
Though it will most assuredly put off a few financial houses from migrating here, Scotland must reintroduce restrictions on banks, separating people’s savings from investment funds. Banks of a certain size and wealth should belong to the nation, smaller private banks subject to the same rules.
Moreover, the bonus culture is corrosion incarnate. It encourages greed where those who get paid the most, gain the greatest status in the community. My guardian would have been shocked to learn you can sell anything in a contemporary economy, from your place in a queue for tickets to an event, to your own child for sexual exploitation. Everything has been given a monetary value. The enemy of extreme capitalism is socialism. Those who dismiss socialism have never seen it operate successfully because there have only been half-hearted attempts to try it in full.
The bank crisis of 2008 took decades of taxpayer money because they were ‘too big to fail’, their employees pocketing massive amounts of cash even as their companies rushed toward Death Canyon. We bailed out corrupt and inefficient banks, allowed them to carry on as before. There is every sign they have not altered their ways, another economic crash inevitable, propelled by the cost of pandemics.
Tax havens bleed a country of its capital, money used to build hospitals, schools, pay for a sound health service, get rid of food banks. Welfare ought to be a right, not selective judgement by bureaucratic officials following political instruction. While mega-corporations and Internet companies exploit tax loopholes, the burden of taxes fall on the population, increasing yearly.
Money secreted to a tax haven should see the miscreant, individual or institution, fined the same amount, and if in business, banned from holding directorships. If the money is lost, secreted into a maze of offshore accounts, the person or persons involved should be charged with theft from the nation, and given a suitable jail sentence. Scotland has to outlaw tax havens if it is ever to shake off a corrupt UK where people create wealth and the few who employ them remove it, permanently. The myth that entrepreneurs create wealth is exactly that, a myth. They do not do it by themselves.
Secondly, money granted to a company for start-up reasons or to bolster its existence ought to put the company in the nation’s hands until it pays back the loan. We simply cannot let it fall into administration hands, sold for a £1, taxpayers the losers.
Mandatory voting and referenda
Democracy is the best system we have for the individual not considered a cog in a wheel. Ignore the system and it will grind to a halt and rust, or be stolen and sold by those who prefer a laissez-faire system.
For about the last fifty years we have seen a constructive, illiberal assault on our very existence, an attempt to take away our rights and reduce us to that cog in a wheel. I like the mandatory Australian voting system, you must vote, you must participate, voting is compulsory, by-elections too. Only ill-health hospitalised precludes voting or death! (At the last count twenty other countries have compulsory voting.) From age 18, all citizens must vote. This avoids embarrassing outcomes where, in England, for example, less than half a population vote on a major referendum issue and get Brexit.
Naturally, the same should apply to referenda. I have no problem with referenda or multiple plebiscites. The Swiss Cantons – districts – utilise referenda sometimes more than once a year. It need not be a national plebiscite. It can be one pertaining to a local area, votes placed only by those affected.
In addition, a politician can be elevated to lead a party on the basis of a few hundred votes, and an inhuman policy proposed by that leader supported by a few thousand members of that party and adopted. If the party wins an election, even my a small majority, it has the authority to put that policy into operation though it might be highly controversial and people suffer from its effects. In Scotland, we saw this with the Poll Tax, and lately, a Hate Crime Bill.
Referenda allow an issue to be judged by the people. The anti-democratic argue people are not fit to judge. They will say ‘the issue is complicated’. Icelanders knew what to do. They voted to tell Gordon Brown and his threats to go to Hell; Iceland was not going to pay for bank losses the people did not cause yet were asked to shoulder for years to come, money owed to the United Kingdom in dodgy investments.
Ownership of land
Like many before me, I believe abolition of the private ownership of land is a necessary step toward a world in which we are expected to live in peace with our neighbour. I think of how the clan system cleaved land into segments, and clan fought with clan to take possession. On a bigger scale, I think of the Union. Scotland does not want a part of England, but successive English governments assume they own Scotland. (Wales has the same problem.) Labour and Tory think they own Scotland completely and automatically after a General Election even when they lose in those nations. This is an intolerable situation.
Land includes the sea. If the people of Scotland had owned the North Sea, Tony Blair would not have had the right to steal the oil under it for the sole exploitation of England’s economic agenda.
Despite an SNP government dedicated to radical land reform, Scotland still lives with the majority of land owned by very few people. In times of crisis, as now, it becomes almost impossible to wrestle land off landowners to use in emergency, unless one day climate change is deemed a war, and war laws apply.
Some method has to be found to place land in the hands of the nation. Perhaps not allowing it to be sold to anybody other than the government, held on behalf of the people, is one route to take. Taxation can help too. Land is what we have to pass to the next generation. The land is our history. The few owning so much land is why so many of us are piled high in cities.
I admire Iceland having an approved list of traditional names Icelanders can use. The first thing invaders do when taking possession of another’s country is eradicate the local language. You must learn to speak as the colonial speaks. With that history goes indigenous stories, writing, poetry, and song. I recall the outrage when the then First Minister Alex Salmond got a Bill passed to add Gaelic names to all signposts and maps. Some people were shocked. They saw it as a waste of money.
People will protest an official list of names is an attack of personal freedoms, when in reality it protects their culture and traditions from dilution and eradication. And they forget that you know a Scotsman or woman because so many of us have a surname beginning with ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’.
It follows that I am addressing first and middle names. I am all for a child given two first names. They can choose which to use when older. Those first names should have a linear, identifiable heritage. It does not matter if the name originated in Ireland, Italy, Norway, Denmark, France or Timbuktu. If a name can be proven to be extant in Scotland for, say, 100 years or more, they should be permissible as a Scottish name. A national register can be augmented year by year, if people wish new names added to the list that are discovered in past records, and that includes their spelling.
I expect this attitude to protecting our heritage the most challenged, such is the belief in the cult of the individual together with deeply ingrained feelings of ‘Britishness’. A national register of Scottish names avoids the schizophrenic disaster of the ‘Amber McClutchie’ sort, or ‘Wayne Clint MacGlinchy’, rapper and basketball cheerleader.
Caring for the vulnerable
A nation can be judged by two things, the cleanliness of its public toilets and how it cares for the vulnerable. We know our nation is a wealthy one, always was, hence England holds tight to our taxes and resources. When independent again, some of that wealth ought to be ascribed to a minimum wage as good as any in Europe, and a pension just as equitable.
A 4-day working week
The few experiments carried out in countries such as Finland, in a limited way, prove to have great benefits for the population’s health and happiness. Not only did their work effort rise knowing they worked only four days a week, but also they had more energy, and people had more leisure time to spend with their family and in leisure activities. The latter presupposes some trades will not see a shorter working week unless they can afford to rotate staff, such as pubs, restaurants, coffee houses, shops and entertainment establishments.
Happiness means finding a balance between your work and your home life. A recent YouGov survey showed 63% of salaried staff would back a four-day work week. In another study, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it revealed that 60% of UK employees work longer hours than they want, with 24% overworking by 10 hours a week. On the flip side, 78% of employees who work flexible hours believe it’s had a positive impact on their lives. Longer hours don’t necessarily lead to heightened productivity.
In Scotland with our limited summer weather and dark winters, I think a shorter week a boon to better mental health. In Denmark, where workers put in four hours less per week on average than those in the UK, productivity is 23.5% higher. More leisure time does not necessarily lead to boredom. For some, voluntary work in the community is the answer to using free time for greater outcome. As the pandemic forces the entire global economy to rejig itself, most of us working from home, as I am on this essay, what better time than now to look again at our working hours?
There are many more changes I’d like to see, three of which is following Alex Salmond’s policy of holding parliamentary meetings with people in different regions twice a year, taking power out to the electorate; planting more afforestation evergreen mixed with deciduous trees, millions of tress, as Japan did in a ten year span, and the reuse of good land left fallow, enriching the soil with the likes of seaweed fertiliser to grow food, and include the rebuilding and regeneration of lost villages that can be made self-reliant.
In time the battle between socialism and capitalism will fade away with the old men who argue about it endlessly. All right-wing cranks and capitalist crooks grow old and acquire the distresses of old men, bald heads, fat bellies and enlarged prostates.
As Candide said, “cela est bien dit, Grouse Beater, mais il faut cultivar notre jardin” – this is well said, Gareth, but we must cultivate our garden. (I added the Grouse Beater bit.) My time will soon be over, but I leave a Scotland with a profound choice to make, to die at the feet of English power fearing the darkness, or thrive as a nation state again and embrace the future as an equal, our world, the only world we have.
NOTE: This is a work in progress.