George Orwell was an Etonian and this genre of authorship has often been a species of voyeurism. A bourgeois hack seeks to prove he can get inside the proletariat, body and soul, and bring its gruesome existence home to his peers, while these sit in some suburban semi during their ample hours of leisure and read in appalled fascination.
No such contortions have been necessary in Loki’s case because he was born into the underclass, so that as a kid he had to cope with his drug addict of a mother chasing him round the house with a carving knife in hand. It comes as little surprise, then, that in his teens he went off the rails and spent the decade of his 20s zonked on drink and drugs.
But he has been able to pick himself up, move on from the mean streets of Pollok and now, settled in bracing East Kilbride with wife and weans, can look forward to the rest of his life, especially with such a literary feather in his cap.
The other week I went to a private dinner where he was guest speaker to a circle of a different social class from him, the loaded luminaries of lush, leafy Edinburgh. From him it was a superbly articulate performance. With his charm, wit and candour, he had them eating out of his hand. People like these seldom come across the underclass except in frightening, despicable or subservient guise. Yet here was a member of it able to speak to them in language they could understand, and convey to them the nature of an alien reality otherwise unknown to them. They learned it was a world in the first place of fear rather than of aggression, with its violence secondary to the dread it instills in its denizens, as a defence mechanism against their degraded existence.
A senior fund manager said to me as Loki took his leave of us: “There goes a future First Minister of Scotland.” Unfortunately it seems the latest phase of his progress along life’s stony path has given him a distaste for politics. He voted for Scottish independence in the referendum of 2014, and still supports the cause. But, like a good many others, he grew disillusioned with the SNP and then plumped for Labour instead. Its appalling performance meanwhile has put him off all over again and now he seems to be just a floating voter. The party that recruited him in future would be doing itself a big favour.
I regret I cannot recreate more of that revealing and fascinating evening here, but let me at least thoroughly recommend Loki’s book to readers of The National. Nowadays there are many books on poverty, and even more articles in the papers, most propounding the same line: it is all due to the evils of capitalism. This book does not wholly disagree, but even so its argument takes a surprising twist.
At a crucial point in it, Loki complains that “we have allowed right-wing movements to monopolise the concept of personal agency and the notion of taking responsibility. Worse, we vilify anybody who implies that poor people may sometimes play a role in their own circumstances, whether they be desirable or adverse”.
Then comes the punch line: “We deny the objective truth that many people will only recover from their mental health problems, physical illnesses and addictions when they, along with the correct support, accept a certain level of culpability for the choices they make.”
Loki knows this is a startling message liable to go down in our political culture like a lead balloon: “Such an assertion has become offensive to our ears despite being undeniably true. When was the last time you heard a prominent left-wing figure speak of the the power inherent within each of us to overcome adversity and transform the conditions of our own lives? I’ll wait.”
Meanwhile, our leftist political culture occupies itself with displacement therapy: “We peddle the naïve idea that everything will be fine just as soon as the current system breaks down. We push the lie that trading one political system for another is merely a painless formality. We set forth the proposition that it’s easier to redesign an entire society to suit our ever-evolving personal needs than it it to make some moderate adjustments to our own thinking and behaviour.”
It’s always gratifying to read an argument which you find comes round to agreeing with yourself, and Loki must have had people like me in mind when he wrote about “reclaiming the idea of personal responsibility from a rampant and socially misguided right wing that has come to monopolise it”.
I would not use quite the same language but I concur, for example, that the aspirations of the Scottish Government, however admirable in themselves, are all the less likely to be fulfilled if they are dictated from on high – which is how the Scottish Government prefers instinctively to do things.
Elsewhere in the book, Loki is scathing about the Scottish poverty industry in general, dominated as it is by a left-leaning, liberal middle class. “Because this specialist class is so genuinely well-intentioned when it comes to the interests of people in deprived communities, they get a bit confused, upset and offended when those very people begin expressing anger towards them. It never occurs to them, because they see themselves as the good guys, that the people they purport to serve may, in fact, perceive them as chancers, careerists or charlatans.”
And now nationalists wonder why it’s so hard for them, after decades of campaigning in Glasgow which had at last paid off, to hold on to their political takeover of the city.
I’ve quoted Loki at length because of his interesting, original thoughts. He has reached the point of feeling free to release his inner libertarian and finds this unfamiliar figure not much at home in today’s Scotland, in particular disillusioned by its politics to the point of switching off. The best way forward for a frustrated nation appears to be independence. Yet the actual independence on offer does not look much like a liberation, more like the rule of just another routine modern regime which may turn out as stifling as the one we have now. Myself, I argue it must and would quickly give way to a Scotland that comes to terms with the real world of global capitalism, once we appreciate that the something called socialism is a dead end. But I well appreciate how others might not share my confidence, and how these are the voters who need to be won over to Yes in the second Scottish referendum.