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.