banksint09.htmlTEXTMSIE,2,2mBINqC Interview Scottish Socialist Voice November 1996

Reject Complicity


Banks on Socialism -
"People still have ideals. It is still possible to appeal to them for a society that is fairer. That is what Socialism is largely about, a fairer society."
Banks on Labour -
"I can't bring myself to vote for a party that is so-called socialist, Labour - but is to the right of Ted Heath's last government."

Banks on the Tories -
"Complicity is definitely an anti-Tory book. They short-circuit everything that is decent in society".

Banks on writing -
"The best writers are able to still see the world through the eyes of a child. They have a refusal to grow up."


Iain Banks writes about murder, sex, greed, and the future. His first novel, The Wasp Factory, published to great critical acclaim in 1984, is about to be made into a film. Another acclaimed Banks novel, The Crow Road, is currently being serialised by the BBC.

For someone who has an Edgar Allan Poe edge to his writing, he cuts a figure that would not look out of place lecturing at a university. So how does he manage to write about mad religious cults, sex-crazy journalists, and future societies that he likens to communism?

"I am still working on a backlog of ideas. When I am writing I can almost call up those ideas at will. I am, lucky that way." With an enthusiasm that is infectious. Banks explains that he did not start writing for any mystical reasons. Just that he was "good at it". At school he always got good marks. Couple that to the fact that people actually get paid for writing and the way was cleared for a career that can only be described as remarkable. "I still enjoy writing, but it is my job, I get paid for doing it. I like to think that I perform a service, that I am an entertainer."

Although he doesn't see himself as part of a radical fraternity of Scottish writers - "I am Scottish and a writer, that's all" - Banks suggests reasons for the strength of Scottish literature. "We have been used in the class war for generations. The landowners used us as cannon fodder. We get very annoyed about this. We use writing as a way to get this across."

Although he writes very powerful fiction depicting real life in Scotland today, science fiction is his first love. William McIlvanney he likes, and admits to being influenced by. Kelman, he admires. "The last writer that I got really excited about was Irvine Welsh. His Trainspotting and Acid House were superb."

Banks' politics are most definitely anti-Tory, anti-establishment even. His hatred of the Tories and of corruption in high places is laid bare in Complicity."I think that corruption in power short-circuits everything that is decent in society. It is a barrier to progress. Society takes its lead from the attitude of the people in power." Sleaze is the word that sprung to mind as he was talking. He didn't rule out a "right wing Blairite government" going the same way. Banks believes that critics can sometimes read too much into novels. Nonetheless, the message of Complicity is clear : we elect the government every four to five years, and they are supposed to represent us. But what actually happens is that they all end up as "genocidal maniacs, lining their own pockets."

He is not wholly convinced of a Labour victory at the next general election - and doesn't see things getting any better even if they do win. He also believes that economically, Scottish independence is a realistic proposition.

However, he disagrees with the SNP's (Scottish Nationalist Party) policy of jumping straight to independence without first going through the stage of devolution. He describes this policy as "madness". Perceptively, he says : "If you look at every revolution on the planet, concessions have always been granted by the ruling structures under pressure - then the people want more. It always happens - why would it be different in Scotland? With devolution, people would say : 'oh a bit of power, that's nice, give us more'.

Banks would prefer to see what he calls the bigger solution. "I would rather have a genuinely socialist Britain and a devolved Scotland within that, rather than Independence in Europe now."

Science fiction writing gives Banks an outlet to express his passionate interest in the future. Tales of "The Culture" in books like Consider Phlebas, and his latest offering, Excession, show a society where machines are used for the benefit of all, releasing people from the drudgery of work. Is this perhaps how he sees communism in it's true form? "Yes definitely."

Back down to earth Banks talks about the coming general election. In an interview broadcast on Radio 5 recently, Banks revealed that he was thinking of voting Scottish Militant Labour. He explains why. "We now have a situation where Roy Hattersley is on the left of the party, where Labour is all for Trident and is even talking about getting tougher with the unions. You could even vote for the Liberal Democrats nowadays - they are well to the left of Labour."

I discussed with him the new force in Scottish politics, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, and how it offers a genuine socialist alternative to Labour and the SNP. He reveals that despite all of Labour's shortcomings, he still wants to see Blair win the next election. At the same time, he says : "if Labour win they won't change anything. Why should I have to pay taxes that will be spent on Trident instead of being used to give people decent jobs."

He believes there has to be a very strong protest vote so that there is maximum pressure on a Labour Government to give people a better life. "I would want to be a part of that movement. I support the call for a minimum wage of £4.26 an hour."

It's time for him to go. His writing season is nearly upon him. What's next? "It's another dark one I'm afraid." Labour had better watch out - Banks may well be writing about them in a few months time. Could it be on a placard?


This was originally published in Scottish Socialist Voice - the paper of Scottish Militant Labour, Novemeber, 1996.
Interview by Iain Parker. Thanks to Alistair for the interview.

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