Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: March, 2017

Municipal Socialism and Social Democracy

This is a very encouraging article. My only criticism is that it seems to place Municipal Socialism and Social Democracy in opposition to one another, whereas I don’t think they need necessarily be. Municipal Socialism is the common ownership of services and resources by democratic local public bodies that hold them and manage them in trust for the people. Social Democracy is the mitigation of market inequalities, primarily through forms of public social insurance and transfer payments. To me, the two seem to complement each other quite naturally – perhaps even necessarily.


From the Presbytery of Lanark to the Parliament of Scotland, 1706:

“As ministers, Scotsmen, and subjects of this free and independent kingdom, we cannot but wish and pray that our civil government may be rectified as to the execution of good laws without being dissolved; our monarchy may be regulated and limited, without being suppressed; our Parliament may be secured from English influence, without being extinguished; and the just rights and liberties of the Nation … may be asserted, without being resigned in bulk, to the will and disposal of a British parliament, who are strangers to our constitution.”

Goodbye to old boots


This weekend I said goodbye to my old boots.

These were the boots I wore in Iraq. They are ventilated with breathable canvas panels which makes them comfortable in the heat (although completely unsuited to wet climates). I found them much better than the issue ‘Desert Boots’.

Anyway, they’ve been living on a shelf for more than a decade now, and I wouldn’t wear them again (although they have plenty of wear left in them), so my wife suggested that I might get rid of them. I agreed, but I was ill prepared for the emotional response of actually seeing them packed in a box to go to the charity shop. It’s one thing to say ‘yes, they can go’, another to actually see them go.

It felt like part of me, part of my past, my story, was being ripped away, leaving a very raw wound. I have so few connections now to that part of me. It was an important part, a formative part, of my life – even if it was one that I had to put behind me. I invaded a country in these boots. I got shot at in these boots. I was complicit in great evil in these boots. I put a gun to a man’s head in these boots with my finger on the trigger (he surrendered). I walked past people being tortured in these boots and didn’t say anything because I thought it was normal and I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I almost put the same gun to my own head in these boots. And it’s hard just to let all that go.

Today is the first day in about three years when I’ve had a serious PTSD attack. I thought I was over it. But that same crushing nausea and self-loathing that I used to know so well came rushing back to me. Barely made it to work. I’m sitting here numb, just rambling about these old boots.

I don’t want sympathy or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes a pair of old boots is more than just a pair of old boots. Sometimes, those old boots represent something that’s hard to carry and even harder to put down. And sometimes its easier to express these things in writing than to actually say them.

Clinging Desperately to Hope

Today I am clinging desperately to hope. I watch what the Tories are doing, what the bankers are doing, what the US Government and the Russians are, what ISIS is doing, and it nearly overwhelms me. I look at the poverty, ugliness, despair and destruction around us (not just in far-flung places shown on TV, but worryingly close to home as well) and I am tempted to give up hope.

But then I remember Vaclav Havel, “Work not for something because it is likely to be successful, but because it is good”. I keep going because I know it is the right thing to do, even when the future looks so relentlessly bleak.

I cling to hope because, somehow, in ways I cannot quantify and do not begin to understand, I believe that ‘crucifixions’ can be turned into ‘resurrections’. What looks like certain death is not necessarily the end. All things are being made new.

This is all that enables my fragile hope to be kept alive in a world that seems – if we walk by sight and not by faith – so utterly hopeless. We might have lost the garden, but we are stumbling and shuffling our way towards the distant vision of a ‘shining city’, a place where the common good abounds, and where no one hungers because they cannot make a decent living, or dies alone in a squalid bedsit, or suffers from a preventable or curable disease.

That is the highest vocation of humanity, as sentient, morally responsible stewards of the world: to take part in this process of making all things new. To restore the world, to bring healing and peace and love, to realise that the way of war, exploitation and destruction is not the right way. Slowly, creakingly, in the midst of this great and enfolding darkness, we can be little shafts of grace that break in and change things for the better.

My heart aches and breaks today. I am crushed and weeping for humanity. But my belief in hope is sustained when I remember that there are people all over the world, in great ways and small, in political action and charitable deeds, who are doing their best to make life better. 

The Spirit and the Bride say come.



A Plea for a Scottish Defence Institute

An independent Scotland, like almost all other nations, would have to have its own armed forces and provide for its own defence and security.

There are a range of choices open to an independent Scotland in terms of its military organisation. At the outset, there are some basic high-level decisions that need to be made about the size and shape of the armed forces, and in a democracy these decisions must be rooted in a fairly broad political and public consensus about Scotland’s strategic interests and foreign policy orientation.

Scotland’s priorities might be rather different from those of the UK. These decisions must be considered not from the perspective of a UK region, but from that of a relatively small, maritime, northern European nation.

From a naval perspective, the (UK) Royal Navy since 1945 has mostly spent its money on nuclear submarines and global power-projection capability (aircraft carriers, landing ships, destroyers and large frigates). That makes sense, given the UK’s long slow retreat from empire, its desire for ‘Blue Water’ capability, and its pugilistic attitude to foreign intervention from Aden to Iraq. However, the UK has neglected investment in modern  offshore patrol vessels that are optimised for constabulary, anti-terrorism and security duties; the only one the UK does have – the ironically named HMS Clyde – is permanently based in the Falkland Islands. This is despite the fact that Scotland has 10,000 miles of coastline and an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone that are often left inadequately defended.  I cannot speak about land or air warfare, although I expect that similar principles apply; we have the armed forces of a thinly stretched belligerent empire on the wane, not those of a small, peaceable, northern European democracy on the rise.

There’s also the question of how the administration, logistics and support of Scottish armed forces should be arranged. That means there are a lot of potential savings that could be redistributed to other parts of the budget.

For example, the Royal Navy provides accommodation for its personnel, either in naval barracks for single people or in married quarters for families. This is a product of a time when the navy had a global reach, and people had to be relocated around the world every few years. In contrast, a Scottish Navy might only have one major (Faslane) and one minor (Rosyth) base, and people might expect to serve their whole career in a much more limited geographical area. In that case, it might be reasonable to expect them, like police officers and firefighters, to find their own accommodation. An increase in pay would be necessary, but would be more than outweighed by savings on the maintenance and administration of a huge MOD housing stock.

Likewise, the armed forces currently provide a boarding school allowance, on the assumption that while Tommy and Jack were defending the Empire in Burma or Belize, little Johnny Jr is being properly beaten into shape by prefects at an expensive boarding school. That seems completely unnecessary for Scottish armed forces, geared towards home defence and operating primarily from their home base.

However, I find myself quite alone in even asking these questions and opening up this line of thought. There’s a sore need for more intellectual work in this area. All we have seen so far is an occasional critical comment about the UK government closing military bases or reorganising Scottish regiments. That is really neither here nor there when one is trying to build a convincing case for a viable and successful Scottish state. Just as Scotland needs a constitutional think tank to prepare the institutional way for an independent democracy, we also need a Defence Institute that can pool expertise, conduct research, and provide non-partisan space for informed open debate on all aspectes of an independent Scotland’s defence and security policy.