Edinburgh Book Festival: Paul Mason and Alex Salmond: Has Capitalism had its day?

Edinburgh Festival review
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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Paul Mason, Alex Salmond, Nick Barley
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Alex Salmond has been appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival since 2006. Those he has interviewed over the years have included individuals as diverse in opinion as Douglas Hurd and this year’s guest, Paul Mason.

Mason is well known as a combative interviewer himself, as a journalist covering politics and economics and as an author, whose most recent book ‘Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future’ looks at our common present and a possible future in which cooperation and collaboration are the keys to wealth creation rather than market-driven competition.

Although Mason cited several instances of human goodwill producing goods enjoyed by many – open source software such as Linux and resources such as Wikipedia, all of them the product of volunteer labour, his arguments were largely in the abstract or relied on citing specific examples.

That capitalism appears to be experiencing more frequent and more damaging crises in recent years is undoubtedly true, but whether these predict ultimate collapse remains uncertain. That, certainly, appeared to be Salmond’s implicit interpretation as he questioned Mason on the central thesis of ‘Post Capitalism’.

Inevitably, perhaps, given that Mason is known to most through his television work, the question of his move from BBC to Channel 4 arose, giving both men the opportunity to reflect on coverage of the recent Referendum and that of the BBC in more general terms.

Mason’s observation that the BBC is ‘unionist’ in its attitudes drew no intake of breath from the almost capacity audience, and Salmond’s previous comments that the BBC’s coverage of the Referendum had surprised him by its apparent willingness to accept an entirely pro-union stance were followed by nods and murmurs of agreement.

With regard to the RBS and other bank crises, Mason suggested that, like coverage of the Referendum, any lack of appetite for critical and rigorous examination of the underlying issues lay with the culture and recruitment preferences of the organisation.

Although time precluded a more detailed discussion of this issue, it seemed one that linked the complaints and underlying disquiet of both Mason and his interviewer.

Whether recent anxieties over the state of the Chinese economy presage further market turbulence, or whether the forthcoming session of the Westminster Parliament produces increasing tension between it and the Scottish Parliament are both questions beyond the scope of this review, but what Mason’s most recent book (as indeed is the case with Salmond’s republished one) suggests, is that the questions they raise are unlikely to go away or be resolved any time soon.

Paul Mason: Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future Penguin Books £16.99 ISBN 9781846147388

Alex Salmond: The Dream Shall Never Die; 100 Days That Changed Scotland Forever Harper Collins £12.99 ISBN 9780008139766