The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A shout for a #LabourNo

(I'll explain this better
in the cold light of day,
but I'm voting No,
And here's what I say)

Let's team up together,
Keep the Tories out,
We all have English friends,
Give them a shout.

We have a common enemy,
English ain't all Eton Boys,
Let's get them out together,
And make some noise.

Westminster don't represent
The Ferry or Newcastle,
So let's get together,
And show them some hassle.

The Tories hurt us all
Let's show them how it's done
Let's team up together
We'll fight them as one.

-- by a Young Lady Comrade
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Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Perspectives

You wait ages for an issue of Perspectives then - like buses and currency Plan Bs - two come along at once. More precisely: issue No 39 of this consistently interesting and wide-ranging Scottish magazine was delayed several months, and No 40 came out a few weeks later and on time.

That current issue, dated Autumn 2014, aptly enough leads with the Scottish independence referendum, in a long and thoughtful editorial that seeks possibilities for progress in either of the possible outcomes. Other articles survey the Great War, feminism, Piketty, the arts and independence, and more, all in some depth and from contributors who know what they're about: Shonagh McEwan, Meaghan Delahunt, David Purdy ... You get a lot of reading for your £3.

Likewise in No 39, which as well as featuring Jim Swire and James Robertson on Lockerbie, Ken Currie and Sandy Moffat on art, and Allan Massie on national identity, has an article by a less distinguished contributor (me) on SF and the future. This piece originated in a lecture last year at The Academy on 'Man's Future Nature', and is mainly a critique of the idea of the Singularity, both as a practical possibility in the near term and as an ideological construct which, I argue, limits our imagination of the future.

Again, a lot of reading for £3. Get it (and read recent back issues free) here.
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Monday, September 01, 2014

Writers Together: the Motion Picture

Thanks to Francis Spufford for coming up with the idea; to Summerhall for hosting the event, to David Rushton of Summerhall TV for recording and editing the video, and to Sarah Stone of Better Together for helping to organise it.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writers Together

Very short notice but ... Francis Spufford and I are speaking this evening, 7.30 to 8.30ish (no later than 9) attempting to make an ambitious, progressive, utopian case for keeping the union of Scotland, England and Wales. The event will be recorded and the result uploaded to YouTube, hopefully before the referendum. If you intend to come along, please drop me an email: ken at libertaria dot demon dot co dot uk. Details: the Cairns, Summerhall, Edinburgh, 7.30 pm Thursday 28 August, free.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Alien encounters, this week and next

This Friday, 8 August, I'm giving a talk on Saucers, Skeptics and Science Fiction as part of a daily series of free Fringe Festival events, Skeptics on the Fringe.

I'll be talking about how I became fascinated by the UFO phenomenon in my childhood, believed all kinds of rubbish about it in my teens, how I eventually became a sceptic myself -- and why I've nevertheless drawn on the UFO mythos for several books, from my much reprinted novella The Human Front to my latest novel Descent.


Friday 8 August 2014, 7:50 pm - 8:50 pm
Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street

The following Wednesday, 13 August, 9.30 pm is the time and Charlotte Square is the place for 'Breathing Life Into Zombies', an Edinburgh International Book Festival event featuring me and the vastly more famous and prolific writer Mike Carey, talking about and no doubt reading from our respective recent novels of dystopia and conspiracy.

Details and tickets here.

Finally, here's my schedule for the long weekend of 14 August to 18 August, at the London Worldcon:


Friday 10:00 - 11:00, London Suite 5 (ExCeL)

Ken MacLeod, Stephanie Saulter

Autographing 7 - Ken MacLeod

Friday 12:00 - 13:30, Autographing Space (ExCeL)

What is I?

Saturday 16:30 - 18:00, Capital Suite 14 (ExCeL)

What is consciousness? What is it that we think we are? What does science, religion, mysticism say about this, and are we any closer to working out what 'I' is? Ken MacLeod (Moderator), Tim Armstrong, Russell Blackford, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Martin Poulter

Iain M. Banks, Writer and Professional

Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, Second Stage (ExCeL)

A panel led by Ken MacLeod discusses the career and works of our Guest of Honour, Iain M. Banks.

Ken MacLeod (Moderator), David Haddock, Michelle Hodgson, John Jarrold, Andrew McKie

Reading: Ken MacLeod

Sunday 17:00 - 17:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)

The Politics of the Culture

Monday 11:00 - 12:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

In her review of Look to Windward, Abigail Nussbaum suggests that the central paradox of Iain M Banks' Culture is that it is "both a force for goodness, freedom, and happiness in the galaxy, and an engine of its citizens' selfish, childish needs to imbue their lives with meaning, to which end they will cause any amount of suffering ... both are true, and both are reductive." To what extent is the Culture, as a political entity, built around this unresolvable duality? How do the Culture novels grapple with the contradictions at the heart of this utopia? And how do the actions of the Culture connect with the more immediate political choices we face in the present world?

David Dingwall (Moderator), Rachel Coleman, Ken MacLeod, Gemma Thomson, Lalith Vipulananthan Lal
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Imagining Future Scotlands

A surprising proportion (now that I come to think of it) of my stories are set at least partly in Scotland -- of the novels, the only exceptions are The Cassini Division, Dark Light, Engine City and Learning the World, and all but the last of these have characters whose adventures began in Scotland. I explored some of the reasons for this in an essay, The Future Will Happen Here, Too in an issue on Scottish speculative fiction of The Bottle Imp, ezine of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies.

I'll be talking about how I (and other SF writers) have imagined future Scotlands, reading from my latest novel Descent, being interviewed by Barbara Melville and answering questions tomorrow evening (Wednesday 15 July, 7 pm to 8.30 pm) at a Scottish Writers' Centre event at:

Scottish Storytelling Centre 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR 19:00 – 20:30

Tickets £6 (£4 conc) here.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

An argument against Scottish independence

The debate on Wednesday night went well. The venue was friendly, informal, hospitable and efficient. The Scottish Artists Union, which hosted the discussion, drew an engaged audience of its own members and others. Jim Tough of the Saltire Society chaired with a firm but easy hand. The other participants -- Sarah Beattie-Smith and Kevin Williamson for Yes, and Ewan Morrison for (I think) Undecided-edging-towards-No -- put their points across sharply. No punches were pulled, and despite or perhaps because of that everyone stayed friendly and civilised -- we had a good conversation afterwards at the bar at the back. I like and respect all the other participants, all of whom I've met before -- which, I suggest below, is part of the problem with independence, but there you go.

Forewarned by past debacles, where I learned the hard way that spontaneity can wither in the spotlight and that (for me anyway) irony and hyperbole work better on the page than in the hall, I wrote out all I wanted to say beforehand. It was too long but I managed to say the gist of it, in my presentation or in response to questions and comments from the floor. The event was recorded and no doubt will appear on video at some point.

Here's what I said, more or less.

Every country is affected by the financial crash of 2008. Trillions in public funds have been advanced to save the banks. The resulting debt and deficit is used as an excuse to cut services to those who need them most. This is the case in just about every country, whatever its political system.

Climate change is visible to the naked eye and felt on the naked skin. Military instability is on the news every night. There have been times in the past few months when it seemed that some governments had decided to reverently commemorate the First World War by having it all over again.

None of these are problems to which Scottish independence is an answer.

There is a core of about a quarter to a third of the Scottish electorate that will support independence no matter what. The task for independence supporters is to push that up to 50% of the vote plus one on September 18th.

To do that the Yes campaign has to do two things. With its right hand it has to persuade better-paid workers, professionals and business people that not much will change: hence into the EU and NATO, keep the pound and the Bank of England as lender of last resort, keep the monarchy, and keep a high level of social provision without having to pay high taxes. At the same time, with its left hand as it were, it has to persuade lower-paid workers and poor people - those most likely to support independence, and least likely to vote - that much will change for the better. It has to persuade localists to vote for Brussels, pacifists to vote for NATO, greens to vote for oil dependency, socialists to vote for the City of London and republicans to vote for the Queen. Needless to say, the official Yes campaign can't do both at once, and doesn't even try. It keeps its left hand behind its back.

That's where the pro-independence left, both green and red, comes to the rescue. They canvass the housing estates telling people that Britain is for the rich and Scotland can be ours, and that setting up a new capitalist state in NATO and the EU and under Her Majesty and the City of London is a step towards a green socialist antiwar republic. Funnily enough they're finding forty percent saying they're undecided, double the numbers in the polls. I can think of a few reasons for that!

Let's look at the claim that the SNP government is more progressive than Labour. In some respects, notably opposition to the war in Iraq and to nuclear weapons, it is. But even these are partial - it has no objection to the war in Afghanistan, and no objection to nuclear weapons as long as they're not in Scottish waters. The claimed universal benefits are paid for out of taxes that Holyrood doesn't have to raise, and by cuts to services. Free university tuition is paid for by cuts to Further Education colleges. The council tax freeze is paid for by cutting local services. Free prescriptions are paid for by pressure on other parts of the health service. Free personal care is paid for by running the carers off their feet. Does the pro-indy left expose these as middle class tax breaks at the expense of the less well off? Do they heck. Instead they seize on and amplify every shameless SNP distortion of what Johann Lamont says. Everything is subordinated to getting out a Yes vote, and that means subordinated to the SNP.

Any idea that after a Yes vote Labour, let alone the smaller parties of the left, will be in a position to challenge a triumphant SNP's political dominance or its policies, including whatever it has up its sleeve in the very likely event that all is not plain sailing, is a complete delusion. The SNP would rule the roost for a generation. Its first decade at least would be dominated by acrimonious disputes with the remaining UK over divvying up the assets, with all the love and forebearance you'd expect in a messy divorce combined with a family fall-out over an inheritance. All this national bickering and bourgeois beancounting is not going to make politics on either side more progressive by any measure. To expect, as Irvine Welsh did the other day, that people in the remaining UK would respond to Scottish independence by moving towards a more generous, a deeper and more radical democracy is another delusion. A carnival of reaction north and south is more likely.

How are artists likely to fare under such a government? Well, if you look forward to being dependent on the goodwill of a nationalist cultural apparatus in a small country where everybody knows everybody and memories are long, an SNP hegemony might be just the thing. If you relish the relentless polarization of every last issue of culture and society and nature and beauty along the axis of the national question, go for it. And if the pro-independence artists and creatives protest, as my friends here surely will, that this is not what they want at all, I would respectfully suggest that calling themselves National Collective and Bella Caledonia is not the way to reassure us. If you thrill to the vision of the future that these names evoke, knock yourself out.

But I think most artists would prefer to keep their independence. I'm voting No.
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