By Andy Wightman
It’s Edinburgh. It is now August. That means Festival time.
I’ve always taken the view that profound political change is fundamentally a cultural phenomenon and that culture is often best placed to capture and indeed to drive political change. That’s because it gets (literally) to the heart of people. So I did expect to see some shows that addressed the big issues of our times such as climate change, the financial crisis and the debate over the future of Scotland as a nation. Maybe there is something out there but I’ve yet to spot it.
As the debate builds toward the independence referendum in 2014, tough questions need to be asked about what kind of Scotland we would like to live in. How best can we tackle the levels of poverty, exclusion and inequality that continue to challenge the myth of an egalitarian and progressive society? How should we respond to the financial crisis? What lessons and ideas can we legitimately learn from other European countries?
A couple of months ago, Lesley Riddoch and I spent a day wandering around Skye pondering such matters and decided that we would put on a show at the Festival to explore some of these ideas in front of a live audience. Over the course of two weeks we will be setting out thoughts on core issues of finance, money, democracy, governance and land together with other daily themes ranging from early-years education and renewable energy to Nordic comparisons and macho culture in Scotland.
We believe passionately that many of the solutions to some deep-seated problems lie in the shared minds of the citizen and that if folk had far greater political power, they could begin to resolve many of these issues – not all of them by any means and not completely of course. Falling memberships of political parties and trades unions pose further challenges to engagement in the political process.
Big changes will take political muscle but the nature of the power relations embedded in finance, democratic institutions and property mean that too much power has been ceded to institutions that respond more to their own interests than the collective interests of the people.
The current financial crisis, for example, is a symptom of the freedom bestowed upon a feral elite who have wrecked havoc on our economy for their own personal aggrandisement. Instead of an economy designed to deliver prosperity, opportunity and equality, we have one built on the privatisation of the financial system, the corruption of our democratic institutions and an expansion of private debt and consumption. The result is a level of inequality in society last witnessed in 1854 when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times.
We have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who, in 2006 travelled to Dublin and claimed that “Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policy making, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.” Two years later the Irish economy collapsed under the weight of a property bubble recently described by the Financial Times as “a sort of Northern Rock on steroids.”
Scotland has the opportunity if it so chooses to chart a different course from the neo-liberal consensus but there are few signs from the main political parties of any alternative route to greater prosperity and equality.
Amidst all the confusion, however, some lessons can be learned from other European countries – from the German Volksbanken and Sparkasse to the huge Scandinavian forestry co-operatives, Basque Mondragon Corporation and localised kommunes and municipalities of Denmark, Sweden and France. A prosperous, sustainable and equitable Scotland is possible and can be delivered by (among other things) expanding local democracy, democratising finance and monetary supply, and returning the land to the people.
Let’s talk about it and if such matters float your boat, or you’d just like to come for the banter, come along to the Scottish Six.
Dates 14 -17 & 20 – 24 August 2012, Time 6 – 7pm, Venue 127 St John’s, Princes Street
Tickets are £6 to cover venue costs. And check out our website www.scottishsix.com