Anti-Capitalism - Policy & Ideas

2007 - 2022

A Deep Democracy for Scotland

Between now and 2014 do we need a society-wide dialogue on how best to trail-blaze the rebuilding of resilient communities in a resilient ecology?

As Svenja Meyerricks put it in her excellent article: “An immense amount of local knowledge is being generated through participation in community matters – why not learn lessons from these for more democratic participation, a sort of ‘deep democracy’?” Is deep democracy at the heart of a socially just, ecologically resilient, vibrant society? If so, then what might such “deep democracy” be?

Would Deep democracy be about transforming work places from places where a few rule all to places where different skills are equally valued, would it be about schools which start from the assumption that (and so create a context in which) children learn best by developing their autonomy and ability to self-organise, would it be about actively legislating, funding, trusting (and so creating the conditions for) communities to regain their ability to be mutually dependent on each other and on the well-being of their environment, and about accelerating this through radical urban to rural land reform that returns the land from those who took it by force to those who wish to relearn responsibility and re-skill themselves and their community?

Deep democracy would be very different to the shriveling form of democracy where we have a choice every four or five years between possible parties of Government, all of which are committed to using public money to bail out the banks, and committed to an economic growth machine that needs those banks to perpetuate and accelerate a throughput of stuff that is destroying the ecological fabric and deepening inequality.

Even without considering climate change, this industrial growth machine is destroying and poisoning the oceans, forests and topsoil, and the same processes are driving up CO2 emissions rapidly.

James Hanson recently pointed out that, if we had started in 2005 we would still be needing to reduce emissions by 3% a year to have a chance of staving off runaway climate change, by 2013 we will need to start reducing emissions by 6% a year, and if we leave it another 10 years we will have to reduce by 15% a year. Reducing by 15% a year would require us to reduce industrial activity at a rate that may well be completely impossible without extraordinary hardship.

If we start now to re-localise food and energy production, expand and deepen community ownership, rapidly reduce private transport and the long-distance transport of goods, ban supermarket expansion and advertisements, reign in the financial sector so it is based on ecological and social ethics rather than being legally obliged to improve shareholder dividend whatever the social and environmental costs; if we start now then the slope down the energy descent pathway is steep but probably manageable. Every year we leave it, the slope we have to descend gets steeper and more difficult, until within a few short years the slope will have become a cliff, and there will be no way down without falling fast and hard, painfully and probably fatally.

Recent research shows that those who deny climate change are overwhelmingly white, male and retired, while – in apparent contradiction – other recent research shows that, compared to the young twenty years ago, the young today are much more concerned with getting stuff than dealing with social and environmental issues. So how might these pieces of research connect with “deep democracy”?!

Holding tightly to the status quo – refusing to change habits and society despite this economic system destroying our ecology and deepening inequality, or desperately seeking worth through salary and gadgets – is about being unable to respond to each other and the world in a way that recognises new information, that values others lives, and that seeks solutions that are inclusive, democratic and that make for new beginnings that build on experience.

If Deep Democracy is about recognising that we can’t sit back and hope that others (status quo, revolutionaries, technocrats, whoever) will sort things out, then what we need is not Devolution, Devo Plus or an Independence that perpetuates the status quo. What we need is Independence Plus.

‘Indy Plus’ means independence from a system that is destroying the planet. It means reaching out to other movements that are seeking to ensure that communities and ecologies can live and prosper, recover and thrive, in a way that benefits each other. With ‘Indy Plus’ Scotland’s foreign policy would not be embassies and war, but be about supporting and learning from communities elsewhere in the world who are seeking to protect or regain resilience and autonomy. It would be about supporting and learning from social movements across the world who are seeking social justice and ecological resilience.

There is huge potential for Scotland to be the trailblazer, to show by example how this can be done, and to demonstrate this in a timescale that means others in other parts of the world recognise that there IS an alternative. Whether people are driven by the desire for social justice, or by the desire to be living on a planet then is still habitable for humans and similar species, this movement is going to have to catch on like wildfire if we are to stand a chance.

Of course ‘this movement’ has always existed, and over the last century a huge number of seemingly ‘impossible’ social goods have been achieved against a status quo hell bent on holding onto power and wealth. We have seen this more recently in the Arab Spring, in the swathe of new Governments in Latin America that have rejected American corporations dominance, in indigenous people the world over resisting extractive industries, and populations the world over rejecting those who dominate them.

But there are powerful forces resisting this global movement, and this is evident in the way unelected economists have been appointed as the Prime Ministers of Greece and Italy in order to ensure that it is their citizens (not global financiers) who pay the price for this disastrous boom and bust financial system. The UK Government does not need such an unelected Prime Minister, since this Prime Minister is only in power because those voting Lib Dem to keep the Tories out found their votes used instead to sweep the Tories into power.

The UK Government is overriding its citizens will as it destroys the health service, reduces tax on the rich (even a majority of Conservative voters oppose this), slashes services, increases fuel poverty and deepens inequality.

In contrast, Scotland is in a unique position to demonstrate that a different path is possible. But if a Scottish Government tries to replace the UK monetarist Plan A path of slash and burning society to pay the bankers debts, if it tries to replace it with a Keynsian Plan B path of seeking to boost growth through massive infrastructure projects, then it will stand little chance against the circling financial vultures, and even if it is successful it will simply be refuelling the boom and bust cycle, and building CO2 emissions rather than reducing them.

That is why there is a need for a Plan C, for a Community Resilience (and climate survival) pathway that rapidly restores economic and ecological resilience, and so rebuilds social and political goodwill through rapidly reducing inequality. Communities here – whether through the Transition, Occupy, Development Trust, or Land Reform movements, are showing the way to recover and reclaim power and creativity. Communities are rising to the challenge, as was evident at the Community Land Scotland conference in Tobermory last month.

The Scottish Government has responded to this upsurge in some very helpful ways – not least the £6 million Scottish Land Fund announced last month to help rural communities acquire their land. However, in the Scottish Spring Mike Small describes the SNP – despite it’s left of centre position, and its commitment to scrapping WMDs, promoting renewables and supporting communities – as being a ruling party that:

“is still wedded to fossil fuels, committed to export-led growth, has little idea about creating an ‘architecture of participation’, and often woos big business as if they are the panacea rather than the illness.“

Mike suggests that “perhaps it is not the role of professional politicians to guide a movement to its fruition”, but also wonders whether the SNP can:

“connect with a wider movement with deeper aims, to take it from party of government to one of liberation? Can the party tap into its more radical roots to go from slick campaign to movement for change?”

So perhaps it is not up to the party of Government; perhaps it is up to those who choose their government. Shouldn’t we encourage the party of Government, and all the parties in and outside Parliament, to join us in a more fundamental move from the failed boom and bust economic growth model? Shouldn’t we welcome them to join the trailblazing? And where better to start that process than by asking ourselves as a society if we are up for it?

If we are giving ourselves almost three years to consider whether we want nominal independence, why not use that time to ask an even deeper question, to consider an even more fundamental shift?

Do we want to create a deeply democratic society that is rebuilding community resilience, by resisting the siren calls of the financiers who insist that our only option is to benefit from their disembowelling of ecology and society, or be a victim of it?

Can we do this by (1) bringing in sweeping urban to rural land reform that creates the conditions for people to secure food and energy and well-being in a way that doesn’t cost the earth, (2) bringing in cap and share, a system for capping and rapidly reducing fossil fuels entering the country while redistributing wealth and accelerating non-carbon forms of energy and material production, (3) mutualising and shrinking the banks and financial sectors so that they provide services to society that are responsive to society’s needs, and (4) making social and ecological well-being the measure of success not shareholder profit which drives the boom and bust system that promises infinite growth and delivers a demoralised society and devastated planet?

As the old saying goes, “If the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow”.

Are we up for leading? Can we make a pathway down from this increasingly unequal, stuff filled, impoverished, bloated, apathy-inducing and so largely undemocratic system, by protecting, strengthening and enabling a more fulfilling, independent, connected, healthier society?

Is the real choice between Indy Max and the status quo?

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  1. Just discovered the P2P website which studies the impact of Peer to Peer technology and thought on society. See the excellent videos there.

  2. leavergirl says:

    Ah… but the how, that is the question, eh, Justin?

  3. Peter A Bell says:

    Perhaps the proper role of government is, not to do things, but to create the environment in which things get done. It seems to me, at least, that the overarching ethos of successive UK governments has been to facilitate the imperatives of ideological capitalism while actively obstructing the exploration of alternatives. We may be expecting too much if we trust that the Scottish Government will revolutionise “the system”. Perhaps the more realistic hope is that we can have a government which does not devote itself to fighting meaningful change.

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