Aye Write! Events and review of Patrick Harvie – The Books that Shaped Me by Pat Byrne
Patrick Harvie, MSP and Scottish Green Party Co-Conveno
The Books That Made Me
Chaired by Clare English
Clare English kicked off by introducing the event as an opportunity for Patrick Harvie to ‘Turn the air Green.’ There was a brief discussion about his recent appearance on BBC’s Question Time, where there was an outcry about the very strange make up of the audience in Dundee, characterised by their hostility toward John Swinney and their anti-Scottish Independence stance. Patrick made the point that: ‘It was not the audience we expected.’ and then put forward the theory that they were selected with a view to both the forthcoming Scottish Parliament Elections and the In/Out Referendum. He doesn’t appear to have been thrown and I think it would take a lot to ruffle the feathers of this calm and unaffected man.
Patrick wasn’t overly keen to talk about himself but Clare English managed to get him to describe himself as a school child ‘cleverish, awkward and small with buck teeth and glasses’ – he didn’t ‘grow into his own skin until University.’ His time at Manchester Metropolitan saw him engaged in student politics, particularly around Lesbian and Gay issues and protests against Section 28.
His mother and father were in the audience and he explained that they were instrumental in shaping his politics – taking him along in his pram to CND rallies and later helping with his mother’s Recycling Charities. Whilst he didn’t adhere to the Daily Mail’s depiction of him as ‘a militant gay activist turned M.S.P. ‘, he was empowered and encouraged to enter politics through his involvement in the repeal of Section 28 Campaign.
Moving on to the topic of books – he wasn’t selling make himself as an avid book lover but said that he had been very happy filling his new book shelves when he moved recently and that he enjoyed getting a chance to catch up on some reading when Parliament was in recess.
His first book was The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
He was enthusiastic about this book and Sci Fi in general – a fan of Dr Who, Star Trek and The Clangers. In particular he enjoyed the way that Adams drew on issues such as who holds power in society, human relationships and dilemmas relating to philosophical questions. He enjoyed writing that dealt with deep philosophical questions in a ‘fanciful’ way; often revealing, for example, that ‘the people who most want power are the people least suitable to having it.’
He spoke of how he would have loved to read more from Adams, who died when he was only 41.
2. His second book choice was Guide to Relativity by James A. Coleman (or Relativity for the Layman?)
This book engrossed him on a number of levels including providing scientific answers to evolution and also the idea that ‘space between us is not a fixed space.’ He was clearly very excited by this topic and it led him onto expressing his view on schools and teaching. I found these views more interesting than the actual book and agree with him that education should not be about preparing children to sit exams – that there is ‘a need to inspire children to explore the world on their own terms and to encourage ‘a sense of enquiry’.
3. His third book was a book his mother gave to him, he thought when he was nineteen and she thought when he was in his early twenties, but no matter. The book was Woman On The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy. Another science fiction choice but this time with a feminist slant. With a main character who had experienced all the rotten stuff that life can throw at you including violence, drug addiction and abuse by the state. In the book the woman experiences visits to another place in time, creating an opportunity for escapist fantasy and a potential future. Providing ‘glimpses of a positive place to be.’
Harvey was particularly enthusiastic about this book and how it can be related to political views regarding social challenge and ideas can be shaped. He spoke about some of the battles that have been, in part, won, including as part of the European Union, including Gay Rights, Feminism and Environmental Policy. He shared some of his own hopes and desires for a more positive future with appropriate use of technology, a decentralised society without strong state impact on lives and without prejudices relating to race, sexuality and gender. Altogether a more positive place to be moving away from a more polarised hyper consumerist world.
He grew very animated talking about this book, which he had actually read way back and concluded hat he’d ‘look for more of Piercy’s books.’
4. His fourth book was by Jeremy Rifkin’s ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism’
Talking about the ideas in this book Harvie seemed very much in his zone and he felt that this book was ‘really exciting’ and dealt with ‘a type of economy already emerging.’ He explained that it dealt with the different stages of economic systems and how they changed over time, for example, through Feudalism, Mercantilism, Industrial Capitalism and Finance Capatalism. The book is important in the issues it raises relating to hyper network systems and the role of communication, the vast amounts of data available and the amazing opportunities this affords. He explained that economic relationships had grown more peer to peer with opportunities to work for the common good. In particular he highlighted the issue of creativity, which is of value to society but where the high value is not usually gained by those who do the creating. He stressed that Capitalism needs to come to terms with economic change.
I’d need to read this book to get my head around the ideas but it does sound very important, current and incredibly interesting.
Patrick Harvie highly recommends it – and even suggested to Nicola Sturgeon that she should read it.
5. His final book was Bread Matters by Andrew Whiteley.
I really enjoyed hearing him talk about this book, which he picked up on an Away Day for his team when they went to Whitmuir Organic Farm – a place where they are passionate about food and food culture.
They certainly passed their passion onto Patrick, who could not have been more enthusiastic with his message of how such a simple and pleasurable task as bread making has been lost to our generation. He questioned the stupidity that after ten thousand years there seemed to have been a decision made not to pass on basic skills i.e. bread making. And I could see his argument regarding why such knowledge is ‘as vital as arithmetic.’ He spoke of how often in order to buy really nice bread you have to pay a fortune, yet it is both cheap and enjoyable to make nutritional, delicious bread. This brought him onto the issue of food culture and how it could be addressed within schools. He compared different school canteens, one in East Ayrshire where there is a real commitment to what he called ‘food care’ and an approach in Glasgow where school canteens are often no more than ‘fuel zones.’
He reckons that teaching children about food culture should be part of the ethos of education.
Clare English closed the session by asking him if there was a book he would like to write. He mulled this over and seemed drawn between writing about ‘the way politics are going in Scotland’ or alternatively, ‘for fun – a Sci Fi book.’
It was an enjoyable and thought provoking event. I’m going to have to buy Jim that book on The Zero Marginal Cost Society and I am definitely going to make some bread.
More Aye Write!
I went along to Scotland and the Easter Rising with Prof Willy Maley, Kirsty Lusk, James Kelman, Sean Bell and Maria Dick. – I thoroughly enjoyed it and was keen to buy and read the book but I think I would have needed the assistance of some power point to grasp all the key points, as this is a huge subject. However, it was very absorbing hearing of Connolly’s background through the eyes of his relative, Sean Bell, and more of the many Scots with a role to play in the socialist /nationalist politics of the time. I loved the anecdotal stories of the women involved and Kelman’s thoughts on the fellowship of the political animals of that time, where solidarity pushed all sectarianism to the side. His point on how poorly we Scots are educated around these events is so true. I need to read the book.
Off back down to Aye Write! today – we are so lucky to have this event in Glasgow.
Today I will see:
Paul Mason and Nick Srnicek – Postcapilasim with Lesley Riddoch
Andrew Michael Hurley and Laura Gibb introduced by Louise Welsh
Tomorrow – the last day of Aye Write! 2016
Criminal Neighbours with Kimberley Chambers, Emma Kavanagh and Claire McGowan
Filed under: Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival 2016, Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events, What's On Glasgow West End: cinema, clubs, theatre, music, events, festivals, community and more
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