By Mike Small
“We have given ourselves the permission to be ambitious.” More than anything among a barrage of new sensations (collective relief, delight, and unbridled optimism) it was the sense of the possible…the hopeful that followed Thursdays election that were unfamilar and very un-Scottish feelings. We are supposed to be ‘canny’, cautious, always looking for the negative. This result seems wild reckless and ridiculously bold. It’s wonderful for that.
This is an altered state, as was witnessed by a phone-call increase in powers on Friday night and David Cameron and Michael Moore’s immediate concessions to Salmond.
For those arguing that the result was either a muddled mistake or masks a deep antipathy to real constitutional change, I’d remind them that only in December 2010 TNS polling had the following numbers: Union 45%, Independence 40%, Undecided 12%. How to win a referendum – and what the process is (legal and political) – will be next up in a different article, for now let’s look at an ambitious programme might look like?
Working on the assumption that the best way to empower people and feed this growing self-confidence is to see BIG THINGS working well and change that’s good, we are asking: What’s the big idea?
We know that there’s big economic hits coming, so sloshing cash around isn’t possible, this is why the corporation tax, oil revenue and Crown Estate issues are so important. Until we know how these can be resolved we won’t know how the economics will look, but let’s look at what some key ‘ambitious’ policy hits might be. All of these have a common link of being about creating a ‘way in’. This is about departure not arrival.
Sorting the education system is a must, from smaller class sizes to pre-school education to free universities. The new Scottish Government should take on and shake up the university sector with its bloated hierarchical structures. In 2009 Scotland’s 18 university principals received an average salary of more than £225,000 – up nearly three times the rate of inflation. This is unacceptable in the new Scotland of fairness, openess and equality.
The highest-paid principal is Professor Duncan Rice, from Aberdeen University, whose salary package rose by 17% from £256,000 to £299,000. The next-highest-paid principal is Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, from Edinburgh University,who is paid a total salary package of £286,000 after an increase of 7%. Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, is the third-highest-paid with a combined salary package of £283,000. These are ridiculous salaries and a bold and ambitious move would be to set some sort of restructuring of these roles and pay structures. This would be both a real saving and a symbol of a shift towards a more democratic, leaner higher education sector.
ARCHITECTURE OF PARTICIPATION
Who’s excluded from taking part in society and the debates that shape decision-making? This is a key question for any ambitious programme.
Ambition, if it is about anything, is about something for everybody. Ambition in this context is by definition inclusive, encompassing. We are not hear talking about the bogus culture of ‘consulting’ which has served as a mask for taking responsibility from politicians to quangos and everyone in-between. This is the opposite, devolving decision-making to ordinary and extraordinary people (Us).
So how do we create systems, structures and forums where people can have their voices heard, but where this discussion is meaningful? The basis for open participation and co-creation is (technologically) there for the taking, we now need to understand why this is important and work to deliver it.
Some of this is just basic joined up thinking. If you’re a gaelic speaker this meant having BBC Alba on Freeview (if we’re creating great content it makes sense people can access it). If your a child under six it means having access to better pre-school education. If you’re anyone at all it means having access to your own cultures vast back-catalogue of literature, history, drama and storytelling. You can’t have that if you can’t read, can’t get access to good theatre or if no adult in your life has the time or capacity to narrate.
Raise High the Roofbeams.
It might seem obtuse or obscure to relate storytelling to digital platforms, language and history to political literacy, or Knives in Hens or Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off or A Disaffection to an emerging deep citizenship. But the debate on who we are who we want to be won’t have any resonance if it’s not bedded in a sense of selfhood. This is not about a glorious glossing re-telling of our triumphs. It’s about putting those triumphs in amongst all of our many failings deficiencies and disgraces in a historical context, good and bad.
Renewing the democratic intellect in digital form would seem to be as good a place as any to start building this ‘architecture of participation’. This would mean understanding the Scottish tradition of generalism, and applying it in policy, education and between the two. It would mean all of us having a grounding in digital technology so we are equipped to participate to the extent that we want or need to. This can allow us to be a dynamic binternational globally connected society. Crowd sourcing, the semantic web, exploring the potential of 3G democratic consultations, the potential is enormous and largely untappped.
But the real task of creating an ‘architecture of participation’ must be a communal one. It will be immediately defeated if its handed down from high.
Nor should this be seen as some sort of techno-haven, divorced from season, earth or the vitality of offline play time, manual work or jumping in the sea. Alongside any transformation of access and digital communications must be an acknowledgement that immersing ourselves solely in this realm is potentially dehumanising. An ‘Unplug’ variant and parameters is as essential as making proper use of the new media forms.
OPEN SOURCE SCHOOLING AND THE CURRICULUM FOR EXCELLENCE
Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law. Now 1 in 5 of young people leave school with literary issues.
Instead of doing deals with Microsoft, the SG should be working to create the world’s first open source schools network linking primary to secondary and connecting the meme of open source with the idea of self-determination through the applied skills of the global digital citizen.
It needs to be closed down now. It’s a completely unacceptable entity in modern Scotland. The UK govt has accepted as such and now should be forced to take action to stop this treatment of children and families that discredits us all.
As a sign of looking outwards and creating a better example to the world and ourselves there could be no more ambitious or ‘participatory’ totem than saying we want to treat immigrants and asylum seekers far better than the British State has.