Building “Radical Scotland”: An Interview with Pat Kane

Categories: Features

In the run-up to this month's Radical Independence Conference, we'll be interviewing figures on the Scottish Left about it's future, Scottish independence, and the real issues facing working class people today. This week, Kezia Kinder spoke to one half of the pop-duo Hue & Cry and political activist, Pat Kane.

Pat Kane has been active on the Scottish left for thirty years. Within that time he has been a lead singer, journalist, campaigner, rector, radio presenter, author and academic. Now, Pat is on the advisory board for Yes Scotland as we enter the final year until the referendum. I asked Pat about his thoughts on the referendum so far, his hopes for the Scottish left in the future and how his ideas and Scotland’s ideas have changed over the past three decades.

As an advocate of Scottish independence we begin by asking whether he thinks we’ll win next year’s referendum:

“Yes, I do. I think the essential case for independence – not just in terms of Scotland’s viability, but in terms of the principle of completing the powers of the Scottish Parliament – is inarguable.”

What do you think of the independence debate so far? While there have been some moments of inspiration, it’s not how you imagined it, is it!?

“No, actually, it is quite as I imagined it!

I don’t think Scotland is like Catalonia – we aren’t facing an implacable foe, tainted with dictatorship, who denigrates our language and culture. We are a very well-developed, English-speaking nation that can lay claim to being one of the birthplaces of modernity itself, through the Scottish Enlightenment. So I always thought that the debate would be factual, steady, discursive. The passion will build on the basis of a dour Scots rationality working its way through to a settled conclusion.”

The debate so far has been very much dominated on the pro-independence side by Alex Salmond and the SNP. So are alternative, more radical voices beginning to permeate through to the public at large?

“I thought the recent Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland poll was completely fascinating on this. They identified that don’t-know voters are a bit more lefty, green-supporting and republican than the average Scot. But some of the other “social” questions were a combination of comforting and alarming – majorities for a council tax freeze, EU membership, a written Constitution, and a publicly owned rail system: and majorities against Trident, bedroom tax, fracking, and Page 3. But also majorities for NATO membership, retention of monarchy, harsher workfare, the death penalty, nuclear power stations – and majorities against minimum alcohol pricing, votes for prisoners, and a compelled 50/50 gender balance for MSPs.

I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Maxwell’s writing in the last few weeks – and he counsels that “left-wing types should be patient”, in terms of the existing support for the kind of “radical democracy” (as opposed to social democracy) he asks for. The historical legacy of Scotland in the Union – a querulous middle-class compromised and unable to lead in a progressive direction, a self-defensive working class battered by war, industrialisation and de-industrialisation – means that we have to fan the flames of radicalism in Scotland carefully and sustainably.

The SNP are an alliance of interests across the ideological spectrum, always have been, always will be – but the necessary fact for the left in Scotland is that they, and not an alliance of pro-indy parties (which would have been my desired option), are the ones in the electoral position to bring about independence. I think they have to wisdom to know that they are the midwives to a new Scotland, and that they will – and should not – own the entire result. That’s why entities like Yes Scotland, RIC [the Radical Independence Campaign] and Common Weal are so important. They articulate the basic principle of full powers, and raising ambitions for what we could do with them, in a non/all-party space – which, in all good faith, we cannot expect a political party like the SNP to do effectively on its own. It might be a temporary alliance between the SNP and the left in Scotland, to bring about a Yes vote – but what it will enable is a permanent change in the life of this country.”

The Radical Independence Conference will take place on 23rd of this month – what are your hopes for the conference and will you be there?

“I’m afraid I am out touring with Hue And Cry throughout England at that point, so I can’t be there. My hope is that people talk to each other, find strength and optimism in each other, and that there are more events where we sit down and work through the detail of better institutions, legislations and practices that we can campaign for in an independent Scotland. You should give yourself the realistically-utopian chance to imagine the first 5-10 years of an independent Scotland very concretely.”

You’ve mentioned on twitter your hopes for a new party post-referendum of ‘social democrats and democratic socialists’. Can you elaborate on this for us?

“As the 80′s magazine used to say, I think there is a “Radical Scotland” that should begin to look at itself – across left-greens in the existing parties (SNP, Labour, Green, SSP, maybe even some Lib-Dems), the labour movement, voluntary groups, NGOs, environmentalists, etc. – and ask whether there is a clear and common platform, to the left of where an SNP election manifesto might be for the first Holyrood elections under indy in 2016, that it could campaign on. Similar to the Front De Gauche in France at the last election.

The Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project might be the policy basis of that. But I think, when we get a Yes vote, there will be a lot of bewildered Unionist party members – particularly in the Labour party/movement – who will find it cognitively dissonant to stay within their party structures, so virulently will they have argued against the new reality. I think they need to be provided with a home. This might also apply to those within the SNP who didn’t vote for NATO membership, and who might see it as incredibly important to raise a voice for neutrality or distance from that Alliance, now that independence is a reality.”

So, what are your hopes for the Scottish Left in the future, and do you think there are differences between the Scottish Left and the English or “British” Left?

“As above, I think we need to be ready for some fundamental realignments post-indy. I think the first target for the Scottish Left under indy is to form themselves as a decisive bloc of seats in the Scottish Parliament of 2016. Common Weal may well be capacious enough for people to sign up to even from their existing party affiliations – let’s see. But I think it is very important for those Maxwellian “social democrats and democratic socialists” to give themselves the chance to make their voices clearly heard, for the first time, in a Scottish political context worthy of their idealism and energy.

I think there will always be a “Left of these Islands” – I am myself a member of Compass, the Labour-aligned but pluralist group based in London, whose policy agenda I very much agree with, in a Scottish context or not. But I do think Scottish independence is the radical act required not just to forge a better society in Scotland, but to be the shock event that compels fundamental changes on the centre-left in England. An indy Scotland could allow Miliband, for example, to go into the 2015 General Election arguing that Trident should be cancelled (as the UK could not afford the costs of relocation), in alliance with the Lib-Dems on a properly proportional electoral system for rUK, perhaps proposing a new, post-Lords Second Chamber (founded on regional representation) located in the North of England. I’m not that hopeful… but I do believe Scotland should lead by example.”

You’ve written a lot on culture – how do you feel working class culture is different to that of the middle class? And how should we get a left-wing message across to working class people in a way that relates directly to them?

“Stephen Maxwell in his new book The Case For Left-Wing Nationalism has a very useful definition of middle class: “The term middle class is used only to describe those members of society who make their living through utilising significant accumulated assets, whether in the form of education, training or financial capital”. The point being that we have to spread out the possibility of “accumulating significant assets” throughout the entire Scottish population. In that sense the only difference between working-class and middle-class in Scotland is an asymmetry of resources and power. Again I think Common Weal is right on the mark when it points out just how poorly remunerated most Scots are in their work – 70% of the country on median income. We need a combination of a targeted industrial and service planning strategy, growing certain areas of the economy – sustainable energy/engineering and retrofitted infrastructure, food, drink and tourism, care and health, small high-skill businesses and cooperatives of all kinds – that will provide high-skill and high-paid jobs to the majority. We need to say to working-class Scots that independence allows us to make clear choices, to shift national resources towards the majority rather than the minority – and to keep pointing to our European and Nordic neighbours as proof that it can be done, without old-style nervousness about “tax rises” short-circuiting people’s attention spans.”

Working in journalism and the media, Pat began to explore the idea of the “Play Ethic”, writing a book on the subject published in 2006. We asked him to explain the concept of the Play Ethic a little more…

“Max Weber once wrote about “The Protestant (Work) Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” – ie, the set of attitudes about duty, routine, self-discipline, and commitment to labour (whatever the job) that kept capitalism going. I would rewrite that now as “The Play Ethic and the Spirit of Informationalism” – ie, the centrality of creativity, inventiveness, passion and optimism to the information-and-service driven economies of today. The work ethic had its radical potential: the “dignity” of labour demanded its due in terms of better working conditions, and more welfare to sustain a working life. But I think the play ethic also has its radical potential. True “creativity” cannot be commanded or compelled – you have to let people have genuine zones of autonomy and secured freedom in their lives, for great ideas to naturally come through. So the politics of the play ethic is very much into shorter working weeks, guaranteed social incomes, fabulous public facilities – the collectively-constructive “ground of play” that will allow human creativity to flourish.

We need as much ingenuity for our challenges going ahead as we can generate. In terms of Scotland, I think we come at this through education – we’ve just launched a brilliant Play Strategy, and the Curriculum for Excellence is pointing towards letting both pupils and teachers co-create their learning, rather than have their lives testing out of them. My campaign with the Play Ethic has been to get adults to realise they have to build grown-up institutions with zones of creativity in them, not just keep it for the best schooling.”

You’ve been politically active in Scotland for thirty years – how do you think Scotland’s political identity has changed over that time, and how have your own political ideas changed with it?

Yeah, thanks for reminding me Kezia, thirty years…

I think the essential shift has been a growing confidence about Scottish identity, a growing sense of the acute limitations of being governed purely from Westminster, and a period where we saw that even limited powers of self-government allowed us to do progressive stuff, as well as the basic stuff. I don’t think one can underestimate how insecure Scots have been about their own capacities and status for so many decades, even centuries. I am a green-left guy, and I have high ideals for an independent Scotland. But I think the basic achievement of independence will be to make Scots feel like full citizens of their polity, for the first time ever – willing and able to take full responsibility for the shaping of the nation they have decided to live, love, create and work in. I think that final step forwards (and upwards) will have massive psychological consequences for Scotland. We are a lucky country in terms of human and natural resources – but that could just be the platform for real leadership in the world, towards justice and equality. That was my dream for Scotland 30 years ago – and it’s the same one today.

One Response to “Building “Radical Scotland”: An Interview with Pat Kane”

  1. RevStu says:

    Wee correction – undecided voters were NOT in favour of nuclear power.

    FOR 20
    AGAINST 32
    DON’T KNOW 48

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