The Scottish school of common sense philosophy has a long and noble history originating in Thomas Reid, one of the great Scottish philosophers whose approach helped spawn the Enlightenment. This school of thought maintains that certain principles – metaphysical, epistemological and moral – are self-evident to all humans regardless of education. Thus sound judgement is deemed to be available to the educated and the 'unlearned' alike. This is the context in which Scotland developed its democratic traditions so renowned that they served as a model for the US constitution. Common sense, in so far as it has seeped into the culture of Scotland, is what makes Scotland 'exceptional', if we must use that dubious adjective.
I was reminded of this characteristic again during the march for independence last Saturday. I can't help feeling that the time is not right for another referendum, and that the majority of Scots can sense this – ebullient marchers, and plaintive calls for the resurrection of the Yes movement notwithstanding. Scottish common sense acts as a brake on excessive change in difficult times, especially in difficult times. An old adage of the far left, and in some factions of the nationalist movement, is that the more people are oppressed (eg Brexit) the greater the chance they will rise up in defiance. They won't. And quasi-religious talk of 'destiny' won't move them either.
Independence is more likely when the nation is at ease with itself. A precipitous move in the current political climate could result in disaster for the Yes movement. Actually, even the language of 'yes' is outdated, binary and over-simplistic. If we are to realise the soaring vision of Pat Kane, it would be common sense to patiently build consensus via Westminster and Holyrood ballot boxes and set aside talk of a referendum any time soon. In the meantime, fight hard for the majority of Scots who voted Remain.
It was Karl Marx's 200th birthday on Saturday. Influenced by my dad, Marx's 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844' (the 'Paris manuscripts') is my favourite work. This tract is as relevant now as it was then. Thinking of Amazon workers, who can be disciplined for taking a pee: 'the proletarian, the same as any horse, must get as much as will enable him to work. It does not consider him when he is not working, as a human being; but leaves such considerations to criminal law, to doctors, to religion to the statistical tables, to politics and to the workhouse beadle.' For the 'workhouse beadle,' think foodbanks.
This young Marx was a forerunner of environmental sociology. His yearning for a pre-industrial era can be read into his dialectic of 'man' and nature: human beings live from nature and must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if we are not to die. To say that a human being's physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that humans are part of nature, and that relation to the natural world is not theoretical, but practical. The later Marx, particularly in 'Kapital', is a searing indictment of the structures that separate us from our nature, and still resonates. Like most utopians from Plato through Rousseau to More, his criticism of the current state of human society rather than the solution, is the point.
Marx would be horrified at much of what was done in his name in the 20th century. If he is to blame, then it is a crime of omission. He never sketched in detail a socialist economy and society that matches his detailed critique of capitalism. Into that gaping lack of detail fell Lenin, Stalin, Ceaucescu et al, and innumerable theorists annotating his work like medieval commentaries on Aristotle.
Much has been written about Scotland being the first country in the world to introduce minimum alcohol pricing. I thought hard about complaints that this policy is a class issue. But the column that most moved me was Euan McColm's honest and heartfelt piece in the Scotsman. Like him, I started drinking when I was 13 years old. In the early 70s our cheap, nasty toxic drink was cheap wine. I remember it cost 50p a half bottle which is around £4.50 today. Cheap booze is easier to access than it was back in the day. I remember getting drunk for the first time, and the high was like nothing I had ever experienced. My wee pals and I were also experts in deceiving our parents, being brought up in a housing scheme where the tenements were so small that outdoor life, or life in the close, was the norm, whatever the weather.
Perhaps this can be considered as childish experimentation. But in truth, drinking from such an early age, like smoking, sets a pattern for life where periodic bouts of binge-drinking are acceptable. This is damaging, not least to mental health. If that isn't enough, the harm it can inflict on those you love most is unforgivable. For me, this way of life came to an abrupt end a few years ago. I'd like to say this was through choice, but it wasn't. Moderation arose from serious illness (not alcohol-related). I can't drink much any more. Alcohol and steroids don't mix, believe me!
And do you know what? Despite illness, life is so much better. It's a sadness, really, that it takes this. If my wee pals and I couldn't possibly have afforded cheap booze, my life's trajectory, like many other Scottish lives blighted by alcohol, might have been different.