Let’s not go back to our sofas

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Robin McAlpine speak about the Common Weal twice in recent weeks.  And I hope he’ll forgive me for borrowing his Heroic Granny for this blogpost.

Heroic Granny is a wee wumman he met at one of the many public meetings on the independence referendum he’s been speaking at.  Possibly only Colin Fox and Jim Sillars have covered more miles in the last few months.  Anyway, this wumman approached him at the end and told of how the referendum had sparked her interest and enthusiasm.  For the first time in her life, she’s become a political activist, delivering leaflets, chapping doors and holding conversations with friends and family. She’s having the time of her life, she said, and after the vote? “I’m not going back to my sofa“.

This desire encapsulates the motivation behind the campaign for a National Council for Scotland launched today. Neither pro nor anti independence, it is instead the beginnings of a movement for a more participatory approach to democracy in Scotland.  Should there be a yes vote and negotiations required for independence to become a reality, ordinary people should be involved in Team Scotland to agree the division of the assets.  Should there be a no vote and moves begin in earnest to devolve more powers – we can only hope – then ordinary people should have a say in what they might be.

As the campaign’s press release says, “Scotland cannot be allowed to revert to the closed-shop, behind-closed-doors politics that has left the UK as the European nation with
the lowest level of trust in its government and in its political processes.”  Amen to that.

Instead, it is proposed that a National Council for Scotland is established, involving all citizens and organisations in a “wide-ranging but tightly timetabled debate on all
of the relevant issues.” The process would be conducted physically and virtually, through public meetings, citizens’ juries, hearings and other engagement activity. It would conclude with a “Citizens’ Assembly” in which a group of individuals would be selected in a randomised way to represent a cross-section of Scottish society.  The Assembly would consider the conclusions and recommendations from the National Council, as well as gather its own evidence, before setting out a series of proposals to be presented to the team negotiating whatever constitutional powers the vote in September results in.

The intention is to avoid the future of Scotland being carved up by a handful of un-mandated people, handpicked to fulfil the role from the narrow ranks of Scotland’s elected and corporate elites.  It aims instead to give all of us a stake – an active, real stake – in determining our future.

The proposals for a National Council and a Citizen’s Assembly have been developed by academics who have looked at what works elsewhere in the world.  And they are proposals I support.

I’ve long advocated the role and use of Citizen’s Assemblies and similar participative mechanisms.  Through my day job, I regularly get to spend time with people whose voice is not encouraged, who are rarely heard and even less likely to be listened to.  They are as every bit as expert as the rest of us, and often more so, having first hand experience of some of the social issues that vex our influencers and decision-makers.  With the right support and environment, people – ordinary people – are just as capable of giving their views as the great and the good, and often they come up with better and more pragmatic solutions.  We all have assets to contribute, if the determination is there to enable them.  And what better purpose to seek to put all the assets of the people of Scotland to work than in determining our future?

As Lesley Riddoch, one of the original co-signatories to the campaign, puts it :
The referendum has stimulated discussion about more than just the constitutional arrangements with rUK. Town and village hall meetings have been full to overflowing, all sorts of “hard to reach” people have been organising, social media is alive and all manner of subjects from local democracy to land reform are being discussed on a daily basis. Business as usual after the indyref is now unthinkable – whichever way the vote goes.

This National Council proposal provides a launching pad for transformational change in a topdown democracy which is well past its sell by date. There should be no more tablets of stone delivered from on high, no long term arrangements made behind closed doors, no more “politician and invited guests only” forums for debate. The people of Scotland have untapped capacity to participate in the remoulding of their own society. Now is the time to make that happen.”

I couldn’t agree more.  And if you agree too and want to make sure your future – our future, and that of our children and grandchildren – isn’t determined by the few instead of the many, support the campaign.  Get off your sofa now and sign the petition at www.nationalcouncilscotland.org  And don’t go back.





9 thoughts on “Let’s not go back to our sofas

  1. I entirely agree with Peter A Bell, and the ones at the forefront making sure we have NO increased powers, indeed reclaiming some of them, who?, who else but the Scottish Labour M.P.s.

  2. Totally agree with you on this, Kate. There have to big changes in Scotland whatever the result of referendum. Have signed the petition.

  3. Can I use some bits of this in other YES work please

    • Bill ol ogives for the delay in replying. Yes I’m sure you can. Go to the website, full details there. I’d just include a website link in anything written? To be polite but also encourage others to find out more.

  4. Pingback: Let's not go back to our sofas | Referendum 201...

  5. I am very much in favour of participative democracy, and the proposals for a National Council and a Citizen’s Assembly would seem to serve that purpose well. But I can’t help but be more than a little perplexed by what seems like a suggestion that any of this might happen even if there is a No vote. The most polite word to describe such a notion is “quaint”.

    Let us sweep away such romantic notions and be very clear what a No vote means. It obviously means rejecting our nation’s independence, But, more than that, it means rejecting the very popular sovereignty which is crucial to participative democracy. It simply makes no sense to suppose that the people of Scotland can both reject the sovereignty we will hold in our hands for 15 hours on Thursday 18 September 2014 and yet hope to continue to exercise sovereign power having forsaken it.

    It gets worse. A No vote is not only a vote to reject independence and popular sovereignty, it is a vote to empower the very forces for whom popular sovereignty and participative democracy are anathema. It is, or it will be held to be, an affirmation of the union as it is now. A vote of confidence in the old order and the old ways. A vote AGAINST transformational change.

    There is no way that the British state is going to hand effective power to the people of Scotland having just been victorious in a battle to keep that power in Britannia’s jealous grasp. The people we are empowering with a No vote are are the people who fought tooth and nail to prevent the referendum ever happening BECAUSE they did not want to put that kind of power in the hands of the people. They are the people who refused to put a “more powers” option on the referendum ballot BECAUSE they didn’t want the people to have the authority to decide what powers their parliament should have.

    When, in all of history, did the victors in a power struggle concede to the vanquished the very thing that they had been fighting over? Far from hoping for a National Council and a Citizen’s Assembly, if we vote No then we can barely hope to keep the powers that our parliament already has.

    If I have interpreted Kate Higgins aright and she has, indeed, suggested that, in the event of a No vote, “ordinary people” might yet have a say in deciding what powers the Scottish Parliament should have then I must, respectfully but forcefully, point out that this is the utmost folly. It is quite irresponsible to have people going to the polls thinking they can vote No and still achieve the social, political and economic transformation that we know would be possible as an independent nation.

    There is no such thing as “independence-lite”. There is no alternative route to the powers we need to realise our aspirations. There are no consolation prizes for a No vote. The ONLY way is Yes.

    • Now that IS scaremongering! Let’s have a look…

      “A vote of confidence in the old order and the old ways. A vote AGAINST transformational change” – You appear to have a habit of making claims and then not bothering to provide evidence that would allow us to take those claims seriously. Care to break that habit?

      “They are the people who refused to put a “more powers” option on the referendum ballot BECAUSE they didn’t want the people to have the authority to decide what powers their parliament should have.” – Is this the same devo max that the SNP never wanted and still don’t? Did you not notice that the SNP only wanted Devo Max on the ballot paper at the very last minute? Why would the want it on the ballot paper if they are against it? Simple – it’s the most favoured option and people will vote for it. That way, they can still could out as the winners even if independence lost. In other words, a cynical ploy, albeit an utterly unsurprising one.

      “if we vote No then we can barely hope to keep the powers that our parliament already has” – Again, evidence? Just sounds scaremongering to me. And mean actual scaremongering and not in the sense that the Yes campaign use when dismissing concerns without a moment’s thought.

      Do you know why I’m voting No, Peter? I’m voting No because I am sceptical. I was brought up to say no to anything that sounds too good to be true. And the Scottish Government/SNP’s plans for independence are the archetypal example of “too good to be true”. Would you believe an organisation who downplays the risks of their agenda whilst exaggerating the positives?

      In your reply, could you please be reasonable and gentle instead of your, er, usual style?

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