The announcement from the Sunday Herald couldn’t have been imagined a few years ago (‘The prize is a better country. It’s as simple as that.’) We’re in the middle of rapid change. This isn’t to suggest that the big change that needs to happen isn’t political. It is. But it’s worth looking at how the referendum is part of a wider change movement.
Here’s ten positive ways that Scotland has, and is, changing. We could publish a top ten of the dire ways in which Scotland is fixed and stagnant, but hey, we’re feeling positive. Tell us where we’re wrong and what we’ve missed …
MEDIA The Sunday Herald has taken a brave step, but the fact that it’s such a big news story – a newspaper supporting democracy in the country it publishes in – tells it’s own story. What has changed, just by virtue of having this debate at all, is that it’s suddenly not acceptable for even the pro-Union papers to have a complete absence of columnists with different views. In this sense the referendum has forced and accelerated pluralism into the Scottish public sphere.
Of course there’s a long long way to go. But these first steps are welcome and there’s huge energy and technology giving options for change.
One driver is the collapse of print media. Iain Macwhirter, writing in the Saltire Pamphlet series ‘Democracy in the Dark’ reports that the Scotsman only sells 22,000 full rate copies and has managed to lose 80% of its readership in a decade.
Channel 4 News broadcasting from Stornoway is a marker, as is James Naughtie, Libby Brooks and Sarah Smith returning to Scotland. Even if Jon Snow’s blog – generous warm and intelligent – also felt patrician and oddly colonial (‘From the Farthest British Isles’) – it’s a sign of change.
The fact that the column sent George Foulkes into apoplexy shows a further change. The leaping Lord complained that the Channel 4 Newsman must have spoken to ‘indyluvvies’. He is, it seems, the Gatekeeper in Ermine. That’s the biggest change, the collapse in deference and the loss of credibility of the Labour Party, a move closely tied to the shift in media power.
SPORT In the 1970s, 80s and 90s you’d assume qualification for the national team to a World Cup. The debate was how far we’d get. We should have beaten Brazil in West Germany in 1974, where we were unbeaten. Nowadays it would be seen as a triumph (and a minor miracle) if we qualified at all. Kids today will grow up assuming it’s the natural thing for Scotland to have a top-three-in-the-world tennis player.
Murray winning Wimbledon already seems unremarkable. Just as Scotland being beaten by Italy at rugby would seem too.
I still believe that Scotland’s under achievement in sport is due to a calamitous combination of chronic under-funding, poor strategic leadership, under ambition and a failure to create a mass pool of engaged, motivated and healthy-active young people.
Of course the biggest shift is in league football. The Old Firm don’t exist any more, and the biggest derby next year in the SPFL will be in Dundee, where a revived Dundee United under a young manager face a promoted Dundee FC under Paul Hartley.
The Herald reports today that ‘Rangers’ may have only sold 2000 season tickets, as the trust between fan and board has completely evaporated in face of gangsterism, greed and fiscal incompetence on an industrial scale.
Club entities like the Rangers FC and Heart of Midlothian may re-emerge in new forms, but with Aberdeen resurgent and the highland clubs holding on to a credible place in the top tier, and with two cup finals without a Glasgow giant, Scottish football’s death has been exaggerated.
Yes it’s going through a painful process of restructuring and downsizing to an appropriate scale. But this is a healthy and essential process after years of excess.
CROWDSOURCE FUNDING There’s a real benefit in volunteer energy and amateur zeal. But there’s also a need for some resource to be brought into projects and campaigns. Previously people were caught between having to commercialise their work (not always appropriate) or having to apply for grants, which can form another sort of dependency.
Now, a brand new tool has arrived giving an easy way for projects to gather small amounts of money from many pockets. This collectivized financing is going to allow lots of creativity as people unlock better ways to connect.
RENEWABLES It didn’t get the recognition it should have at the time, perhaps, ironically, swamped by the referendum coverage, but the expansion of the Cruachan plant near Oban is a huge unspoken step forward to a sustainable future. Without the endless fruitcake Nimbyism of the anti-wind power brigade, hydro is the quiet giant of Scottish renewables.
The station, near Oban, can currently produce up to 440 megawatts (MW) of electricity, but if expanded it could generate 1040 MW.
That would mean hydro power could provide up to a third of Scotland’s generating capacity in the next ten years.
Whilst all forces are obsessed with oil, the real story about Scottish energy independence, and the real ‘future focussed’ story is about the shift from carbon polluting fossil fuels, to renewable energy.
WOMEN in POLITICS With an openly gay Tory leader, a leader-in-waiting in Nicola Sturgeon and with Johann Lamont at the head of Scottish Labour, women in party politics are surging ahead despite the tired cliche of Scottish ‘macho politics’.
The Scottish Government’s recently announced commitment to 40% representation on public bodies is a major breakthrough and this is maybe an area where you can expect cross-party support?
All male panels on tv or public debates are now condemned, and rarer, if still, especially on tv, a persistent problem.
But beyond party politics it’s not difficult to think of powerful articulate woman at the very heart of our public debates: Lesley Riddoch, Joyce Macmillan, Mandy Rhodes, Kate Higgins, Meg Beresford, Shona McAlpine, Saffron Dickson to name but a few.
GAY RIGHTS With Patrick Harvie and Ruth Davidson leading two of the five political parties in Holyrood, there’s a public sign of leadership. In February with couples snogging in the public galleries we had “a historic day in the history of the Scottish Parliament”, which received the front-bench backing of Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Conservative Jackson Carlaw, with MSPs voting by 105 to 18 in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.
There’s loads to do, no doubt,but it was a huge step forward for equality.
SELF-RECOGNITION From the gentle confidence of Katie Morag to the great strength of Celtic Connections, to the participatory and ambitious celebration of the SAY Awards, to Itchy Coo, the cultural cringe, whilst not completely shed has been shrugged aside in many areas.
From the rehabilitation of Patrick Geddes (pictured right) to the recognition of John Muir (coast to coast) we are beginning to get a feel for our own history.
This has some way to go, but the momentum of change is clear.
SMOKING It’s difficult to describe to people who didn’t experience it, but smoking used to be virtually compulsory. Every pub, restaurant, home, bus, and cinema was filled with a thick fug.
Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce a smokefree law in March 2006. It’s a law change that Scottish Labour should be commended for. It’s a classic case of change-resistance. Remember beforehand when people declared that it would be a disaster? There’d be riots. Pubs would close. There wasn’t a peep. Yes a few pubs closed. The results were, as anyone with any sense would have predicted. A Glasgow University study showed a 15% reduction in the number of children with asthma being admitted to hospital in the three years after the ban came into force in Scotland. In 2007 a study of nine Scottish hospitals has found a 17 per cent fall in admissions for heart attacks in the first year after the smoking ban came into force.
Other benefits included:
- a 39 per cent reduction in second hand smoke exposure in 11-year-olds and in adult non-smokers
- an 86 per cent reduction in secondhand smoke in bars
- an increase in the proportion of homes with smoking restrictions
- no evidence of smoking shifting from public places into the home
- high public support for the legislation even among smokers, whose support increased once the legislation was in place
See details here.
This isn’t a political point. It’s an observation about change. What one days seems impossible and immoveable, seems ridiculous the next.
GAELIC In 1985 there were only 24 primary school children being taught in Gaelic; last year the figure was 2,953. Sixty-one schools across Scotland now offer Gaelic-medium education. There’s a time-delayed-revival coming.
But more than that, the appreciation of gaelic as a part of Scottish national culture is complete with only reactionary forces biting back against a new consensus.
POLITICS There’s some key facts to back up what people feel to be palpably true, that we’re experiencing a huge democratic revival.
Voting intentions for young people announced today show 63% in Scotland compared to 31% in London, that’s being put down to the ‘referendum effect’. Funnily enough, if you speak to people and encourage their views, they respond. Who’d have thought it?
The referendum creates changes in its wake.
There’s now more than 98,000 16 and 17-year-old registered to vote. This isn’t a question of Yes or No. Whichever way they vote this is about re-engagement from disenfranchisement.
Whilst there’s a lot of focus on social media (guilty!), up and down the land there’s the return of the public meeting. There’s nothing like unmediated live public events – away from your telly, ‘off the sofa politics’, and that’s the real winner here.