Reviews

So Much Wind – The Myth of Green Energy
Struan Stevenson (2013), Birlinn Books (£7.99)

The book’s preface contains a favourably reference to Nigel Lawson’s attack on the UK’s 20 per cent renewable targets as a “fatuous obsession”. It comes recommended by the Scientific Alliance, a supposedly independent climate change denying front for big energy and the pro-nuclear lobby. Chapter headings include “the Rape of Scotland”, “the New Clearances”, “the Myth of ‘Green Jobs’”. Oh and Struan speaks favourably of Donald Trump!

Yet the book and Struan himself appear to contain contradictions. Struan as well as being an anti-wind farm and anti-pylon campaigner is also President of the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Intergroup at the European Parliament. In the first chapter he endorses the 20 per cent by 2020 reduction goal and says “we need to aim for zero CO2 emissions and the technology is already here to achieve this goal”. Yet most of the book is an unremitting attack on virtually every initiative taken by particularly the SNP government to reduce carbon emissions. Only towards the end under Alternative Energy sources, does he look for other ways to tackle climate change – unfortunately most of these technologies are decades from implementation.

The early chapters are as expected; an attack on Wind farms. Stories of individuals blighted by badly sited turbines; local council objections overturned by the Scottish government; arbitrary changes to planning laws; dumbed down environmental teaching in primary schools “brainwashing our kids”. Then follows “assessments” of the possible effect of badly sited windfarms on tourism, wildlife, humans, ecological systems and even national security e.g. interference with radar coverage. Every environmental group and indeed the Scottish Government opposes windfarms in inappropriate locations and accepts that individual mistakes have been made. None of these criticisms invalidates current policy on wind.

Of more concern are Struan’s assertions on the risk of supply disruption, who pays for wind and the lack of green jobs. There is some substance to these criticisms. However, the main culprit is not the Scottish Government, it is the UK regulatory system set up following the disastrous privatisation of energy under Thatcher. Unwittingly Struan makes an excellent argument for a completely new regime to be constructed in an independent Scotland.

Taking these in turn: “the lights will go out”. At times wind doesn’t blow, rain doesn’t fall so power is required from backup power plants. The present regulatory regime does not pay for standby capacity so none have been built in recent years potentially leading to future grid instability. The Scottish Government is arguing for this to change in the new Climate Bill. I agree with Struan – we need many more combined power gas plants now for backup purposes. Not in opposition to wind, rather to use wind to produce hydrogen which will be stored and reproduce electricity when needed. We could start with the mothballed SSE gas plant in Fife which with minor modifications could test the technology.

“Robbing the poor to pay the rich”. The Duke of Roxburghe will gain £1.5 million a year in Feed in Tariffs from the turbine farm in Lammermuir Hills paid for by poor households future fuel bills. Had investment been made by a nationalised industry through 30 year bonds, bills would be far lower.

“No green jobs”. Most turbine manufactures are foreign, power companies are in effect on investment strike blackmailing the Tories on the energy bill subsidies, looking for 40 years of guaranteed profits. This can only really change through a completely new regulatory regime promoting local industries to take on this work. That can only be effectively done after independence.

Why is this book contradictory? Struan Stevenson is after all a Tory MEP on environmental committees, he dare not appear a climate denier. Yet that is the logic of his argument. Cut CO2 in a far future once the technologies are right, meanwhile let big oil, gas and nuclear pollute the environment.

Gordon Morgan


Empire, Industry and Class: the Imperial Nexus of Jute 1840-1940
Anthony Cox (2013), Routledge Edinburgh South Asian Studies Series, pp. 270, £90

Writing in 1934 Hugh MacDiarmid described Dundee as “a grim monument to man’s inhumanity to man”. Comparing the city to the bustling, commercial Glasgow, he saw Dundee as having nothing “to mask its utter degradation”. Dundee was almost totally dependent on the jute industry – and dependent in a very particular way.

Tony Cox’s path-breaking study, Empire, Industry and Class: the Imperial Nexus of Jute 1840-1940, reveals the complex reality of this degradation and uses the city’s special relationship to the Indian subcontinent to develop arguments about imperialism and working class politics that are of much wider importance.

Today globalisation is often presented as something quite new. In Scotland we should know better. Scotland’s entire commercial and industrial development rested on global trade – often combined with colonial subjection and slavery. Tobacco, sugar and cotton, and, later, the many products of the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America, provided the basis for this country’s commercial wealth. Yet Dundee was special. Its employers were the first to export the manufacture of a major colonial product, jute textiles, back to a colony and then, from the 1880s, more or less run the home and the colonial industries in competition with one another.

The relationship was indeed somewhat more complicated. Only some of the Dundee firms did this. And some of the firms in Bengal were owned by Indian traders. South of the border also the manufacturers of cotton machinery had no scruples about selling their machinery to firms in Brazil or Bombay that locally competed with the Lancashire industry.

What made Dundee special was that jute was the city’s only major industry, the Bengal factories competed against it globally and it was the Dundee employers who provided the management and supervisory personnel for the Bengal industry for well over half a century. It is by examining the character of this ‘exported’ supervision that Cox develops some of his most interesting findings.

The management techniques and assumptions in Dundee and Bengal were very similar. What was learnt in Dundee was applied in Calcutta. And the responses of the two workforces were not dissimilar. Cox punctures myths about colonial mentalities responding to oriental psychologies. In both places the essence of the relationship was about class control and class resistance.

In Dundee, famous for the radicalism and militancy of its handloom weavers in the earlier nineteenth century, employers exploited the mechanisation of jute textile weaving in the 1840s and 50s to break the grip of male weavers and recruit a new and largely female workforce from the city’s rural hinterland and subsequently from Ireland.

In Bengal in the 1870s and 1880s the new factories recruited a more mixed labour force in terms of gender. There were always somewhat more men. But, as in Dundee, they were also semi-proletarians from the rural hinterland. Later, in face of growing militancy, new workers were recruited from more distant areas with differing ethnic and religious affiliations.

In both Dundee and Bengal the same Scottish supervisory cadre was employed, strongly differentiated and well-paid, using highly disciplinarian management techniques to exploit divisions of gender and ethnicity. In both cases, however, the workforce resisted and developed trade union organisation – and, against all the stereotypes, somewhat more quickly and effectively in Bengal than in Dundee.

Also, against other stereotypes, Cox finds in both Bengal and Dundee significant levels of solidarity between (non-supervisory) male workers and their female colleagues. In both also juvenile workers sometimes took the lead – with other sections then coming out in support.

Similarities go even further. For a brief period in the 1880s Cox finds that staffing levels, wages and productivity in Dundee and Bengal were not dissimilar. Though in general Dundee wages were higher, they were pitiful by Scottish standards. The city’s living standards were further depressed by long periods of heavy unemployment as the two industries competed for the same markets. Hence, the ‘utter degradation’ that MacDiarmid observed in 1934. Hence also the high profits syphoned off by the Dundee jute barons. From the 1890s Dundee pioneered Britain’s investment trust ‘industry’.

Finally, Cox’s research throws some light on the peculiarity of Dundee’s politics – the strength of its revolutionary socialist element, the converse weakness of its Labour politics, especially in the interwar period, and the continuing mass vote for the Conservatives and Liberals into the 1950s.

Edwin Scrymgeour, who defeated Churchill in 1922, is best known as a prohibitionist. But he was also a socialist – of a somewhat messianic sort. This tradition of non-social democratic socialist politics was maintained by his erstwhile lieutenant Bob Stewart and also by Willie Gallacher, both of whom were able to achieve votes of over 10,000 for the Communist Party in the 1920s and 30s. Their base, like Scrymgeour’s, was principally among the jute workers, particularly women.

At the same time, the supervisory layer of foremen, the nicknamed the ‘Dundee School’, provided consistent support for Conservative and Liberal parties. Alternating between Dundee and Calcutta, they suffused the aspirant layers of the skilled working class with strongly imperialist and authoritarian attitudes.

John Foster

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