OpenSpace Q&A with Pat Kane: Talking post-capitalism, activism and more!

Maxine Blane

All the questions and answers from the OpenSpace Q&A with writer and activist Pat Kane

ONE OF THE veteran voices of the Scottish left, writer and activist Pat Kane was online answering questions on Thursday 6 October between 6-8pm. Known also for his work as a musician as one half of Hue and Cry, Kane is an active commentator on cultural, social and political issues in Scotland. An activist and advocate for an independent Scotland, Kane writes a column for The National and was answering questions on post-capitalism, activism, his hopes for an independent Scotland and more.

If you missed it, don’t panic: We’ve collated all the questions and answers below, and they are also available to download as a document over on the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial. We’ll be uploading all the Q&A sessions hosted on OpenSpace to CommonSpace, and as downloadable documents that you can use as resources to share or start a discussion, so even if you can’t be online when a discussion is happening you can still get involved.

Join the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial now to make sure that you stay up-to-date with all the upcoming guests and what they’ll be talking about. If you’re not on CommonSocial, our editor Angela Haggerty has written a wee guide on how to sign up, and once you’re on you can join OpenSpace, or any other space you have an interest in and get a discussion started!

Q: Max Wisniewski

Hi Pat. What do you think is the best way for the Left to be seen and perceived as the sane wing of politics and the economy? 

With the right wing focussing on immigrants, taking us out of the EU, causing austerity and ruining the real economy, how do you think the Left should fill the void? Is it a presentation issue, a public/media-relations one, and/or something else?

A: Pat Kane

Let me take the last few points you make first. 
Public/media-relations: Robin McAlpine's always made the point that the left have to try and be competent, in terms of how they serve the needs of working journalists and editors. Treat them as professionals who are under (increasing) pressure to produce copy, and who need clear lines, usable quotes, in-time material – in a sense, no matter how radical the content. Given how much more static, settled, older audiences rely on the top-down media, to simply not be able to service the standard media well is to not be properly in their minds. I think most leftists (including myself) could benefit from a LOT more media/marketing training – not to dilute what we do, but to make it more effective. As Manuel Castells has been saying for 30 years, it's not the "media" AND "politics" – the mediaspace IS the primary political zone. We have to keep developing our skills in that. 

I'm not emphasizing that to downgrade what we're doing on platforms like this – not at all. But I think we have to accept that we're building the consciousness and willpower of *activists* here – utterly necessary, of course. But there's this world, then the world of Strictly, Footy and 6 and 10pm news – and then a vast inbetween, pretty much straddled by Facebook and "warmer", more emotional social media (Instagram, Snapchat, etc), the National/Sunday Herald. I think the left needs to examine that middle bit a lot more – it's why I've been so involved in curating festivals over the last few years, which both get people out of the house, but also entertain, stimulate and provoke them when they're there. Of course the Yes campaign was a trailblazer for this "convivial" politics, which Momentum picked up with its World Transformed event in Liverpool this year. 

But how the left "cuts through" – and of course this is a different question either side of the Tweed – is to me a really interesting question. Which we need to keep answering with forms of cultural and social experiment, as much as our resources and energies permit.

The "and/or something else" bit is, for me, to keep up with the flowering of left analysis that's come both from the Yes movement and the Corbyn moment, but is also (mostly for me through Twitter) provides with the kind of timely commentary and strategy that you need to keep reacting well – in circumstances that are accelerating in ways that are sometimes headspinning. 

I think what might be most helpful is to identify a few tweeters who for me generate the best content:
Will Davies is a brilliant historian and critic of neoliberalism, and is currently the most insightful voice on the meaning of Brexit. See his essays on his PARC department at Goldsmith's 

Paul MasonPaul's book on Postcapitalism is the best and most exciting overview of what the left could do with digital technology to create a post-market zone, but also correctly reckons with the powers of state and capital ranged against that – or seizable to enable it. Paul has chained himself to the Corbyn moment, as a possible vehicle to seize the UK state for PostCapitalism – but however unrealistic you think that is, the way he brings his huge thesis into contact with insurgent and activist groups all over the world is instructive and inspirational on a daily basis. 

If you’d like to be involved in future Q&A sessions, head over to OpenSpace now!

Q: Alex Stewart

Hi Pat, do you really think Theresa May will be the beginning of the end of neoliberalism? And does this mean Paul Mason is right – are we getting close to an era of post-capitalism? what do you think is our greatest challenge to ensure that the left take this opportunity to make real change ?

A: Pat

Hi Alex, great to see you here. I began to answer that in previous comment. The excitement of the postcapitalism arguments – and Williams and Srinicek's Inventing the Future should be read alongside Mason's book – is that they are "post"-capitalist. IE, they see how networks have created the *possibility* of a "common space" (to quote a term!) of sharable resources (digital at heart, but also powering automation, and perhaps biology too), that can be generated *right out of the heart of the current system.* Here we are, right now, using an open-source platform with so much organising and publishing potential that we hardly know what to do with it! 

But like Mason, I think that we have to BOTH encourage bottom-up usage of these tools, to enable people to at least some degree live "as if" they were in a kind of digital-socialist society. AND try to translate the worth of it to more traditional sources of power, and kinds of politicians/officials – whether that's municipalities, cities, regional bodies, national parliaments – who could feel confident about supporting and nurturing post-capitalist spaces. (Keep an eye on Michel Bauwens work at the P2P Foundation to see what that "partner state" might look like. Also search on "platform cooperativism" – sounds clunky, but it's a serious attempt to think about new forms of social ownership in the age of eBay, Uber, Facebook etc.).

In Scotland, I think we could ally our "land politics" with our "digital politics", ie, have these commons overlap and reinforce each other, a lot more than they currently do. I would like ScotGov to grasp the opportunities more here – with concepts like the "social wage", they already understand what power the state has to support people's flourishing with measures that aren't just in the market place. The Scottish Greens probably have a real educative role here.

But in general, I think the left's bigger challenge is to carefully identify levels of effective power and governance – I think town and city level is promising – and make those citizens feel that they can "invent the future" *at that level*. Ada Colau in Barcelona is really attempting this

As to what Teresa May is heralding… Will Davies article on Mayism and her "protective state" today is brilliant and disturbing. I couldn't do better than quote his last three paragraphs: 

"It sounds as if the ‘protective state’ is ready to discriminate, and won’t be ashamed to admit it. It will discriminate regarding good and bad economic activity; it will discriminate between good and bad migrants; it will discriminate between good and bad ways of life. May is not afraid of trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. This may be why grammar schools symbolise something important for her, regardless of the evidence pitted against them. In that respect alone, there is continuity with neoliberalism, which sought to divide ‘winners’ from ‘losers’ in a range of different tests and competitive arenas.

"The key difference from neoliberalism is that the latter uses rivalry itself to identify the worthy. The neoliberal state offers no view on what a good company or school or artist looks like. Instead, it uses rankings, contests and markets in order to discover what rises to the top. The question that any neoliberal or liberal might now want to ask is this: on what basis do you distinguish the worthy from the unworthy, Theresa May? Are we now simply to be driven by the contingency of biography, where Timothy is fuelled by the anger he felt as a lower middle class boy in the early 1990s, or May is guided by the example of her Anglo-Catholic clergyman father? Is the fact that liberals haven’t experienced being the victim of regular petty crime or a failing school now going to be the main basis for ignoring them?

"Politicians have always used cultural tropes in order to build popularity and even hegemony. Thatcher spoke a nationalist, militarist language, while doing considerable harm to many institutions and traditions of Britain. Blair had his football, coffee mug and badly-fitting jeans. Conservatives have often struggled to find a coherent post-Blair cultural scheme, alternating between fake displays of liberalism (Cameron’s huskies) and the embarassing reality of their party base. Right now, however, it seems as if the small symbols are no longer merely semiotic in nature. Matters of nationality and cultural tradition no longer seem like window-dressing: once the state is offering to look after some of us, but not all of us, how one looks, talks, behaves and learns might come to be the most important political issue of all.”

In short: Behave justly. Or just behave.

A: Alex

I really appreciate you taking the time to go over this with me Pat. If I'm honest, I've not finished Mason's book yet, so it's good to hear your thoughts and other recommended reading. 

I was reading a paper by Compass the other day (inc you as a contributer) amd it also heavily argued that we are living in unique times as a 'networked world' – the potential for real progression is unprecedented. I feel invigorated when I imagine such a future, but then the skepticism creeps in. I worry that the biggest challenge is the 'bottom up' – will we take this chance?! 

It's so easy to think we are all politically & socially conscious – a deep thinking nation striving for change. But then I'm still surrounded by a majority of people that roll their eyes when you try to discuss politics, Facebook inundadted of selfies and pouting, those who still believe your bank balance determines your worth.

It's those that are living the 'comfortable' lives that are scared of change that I worry will be our biggest obstacle. I suppose we keep on trying and never give up? Continue to inspire and make people challenge everything we take for granted.

A: Pat

That's eloquent, Alex. I guess that Compass paper is New Times – co-written by my partner Indra Adnan!  Indra and I are currently drawing a lot of inspiration from a Danish party (10 seats in their parliament) called Alternativet (Alternative) They are a kind of "green/sustainable" party which wants to bring the ways we compose our lives online and through networks – naturally, emotionally, in a sharing and socialising mode – to the very practice of politics itself. I will attach a file of an article from their founder, Uffe Elbaek, who sets out how they're doing this. No manifesto that isn't crowdsourced; no massive political philosophy but six "values" that guide all their actions; and lots of "political laboratories" that combine culture and discussion, commitment and outright fun. A bit like Transition Towns meets National Collective meet the Scottish Greens, but hipper, and – under a proportional system, of course – ambitious to wield its small degree of political power.

And just to add… we're typing on something that's an outcome of what can happen when you manage to mobilise people around the highest ideals of democracy, justice, equality, flourishing, creativity, diversity… which is how I regard the indy Yes movement. And which is how it inspired people the world over – even in Denmark!

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A: Alex

This all sounds brilliant Pat – fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing your knowledge it really makes a difference. Will you be attending IdeaSpace? This sounds like a great opportunity to share more 'radical' ideas .

A: Pat

No, will be in Berlin on business on the IdeaSpace days – but it's a fantastic idea, which I hope extends beyond being just a fringe to the SNP conference, and pops up all over the country.

A: Natalia Bas Hayes

Good morning Pat, with reference to your comments on Ada Colau (and yes, I agree that citizens should take part in "inventing [shaping] the future"), in my opinion she has not been successful in achieving this, thus far, and not sure that she will if she continues with her rhetoric. Her efforts have been mainly concentrated on independence for Catalonia, she goes on and on about it whilst ignoring a lot of the day to day problems of running the city, which Barcelona citizens are getting tired of, as the city seems to be in chaos since she came to power. She seems to only address YES voters, whilst alienating NO voters. She makes no efforts to "unite" both sides, on the contrary, it is as she enjoys provoking the NO voters. I know many YES voters, who basically cannot stand her and want her out, precisely because they want someone capable of running the city, not an independence campaigner (they also view her as harming the independence movement because of her attitude). If she genuinely wants a sustainable city, she should start tackling a big problem in Barcelona – transport! Public transport is not effective and expensive and the traffic is horrendous. Thanks.

Q: Rab Hay

Hey Pat, do you think the left in Scotland would be able to unite behind the right person in our quest for Independence?
Have you ever thought of writing a new national anthem with a political slant?

A: Pat

I think the leadership for independence lies very much in Sturgeon's hands. I do note that Nicola approvingly tweeted Obama's interview with the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin recently – Goodwin wrote the book on Lincoln's presidency that Obama was inspired by, called "Team of Equals". I would say – in her pictures and joint statements with Plaid and the Greens across the UK, in the evident cordiality between herself and Patrick Harvie in Holyrood, and in terms of her own strong centre-left/CND background – that Nicola has the credibility to unite a range of forces around the next push for independence My experience with her in YesScotland – though that organisation had its deep problems – is that she is very comfortable at the heart of a "team of equals". My own sense of tragedy around political leadership in Scotland is the way that ScottishLabour is going to be strangled by its own compromises and conservatism, just at the point where a commitment to independence would a) surely conclusively bring it about and b) rejuvenate their fortunes as a party in the post-indy environment. But they are in a state of utter confusion and meltdown. I'd want to vote for a democratic socialist party in an independent Scotland – however it doesn't look like it's going to be the Labour Party. 

And on writing a national anthem with a political slant: no way! Either "Hermless" or "Freedom Come A' Ye" or "Is there for honest poverty" are already beautiful in their own way. But forthcoming Hue And Cry album has a few post-indyref songs on it… Final plug!

A: Rab

I think you, me and thousands of others will hopefully have the opportunity to vote for a democratic socialist party in an Independent Scotland. I think we will need to unite, maybe not necessarily behind one person, to get to the promised and after we win next time all bets are off and all the political party's will have the option to change to cater to the needs of the people who live here.
Thanks for the answers and the links.


Ok folks, real life intervenes, thanks for you happy few that came on. I think I need to get out on the stump a little more… but great questions from you all. Till next time, best Pat

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