Start As We Mean to Go On
There is another big question facing Scotland… what happens on September 19th?
A day of dancing in the streets – or crying into a pint of wine?
Is it now looking inevitable that it might be day of disappointment for almost half the population. But we can choose to make it different, make it be a day of neighbourly leadership… a day of empathy?
Some hysterical headlines would have us believe that there will be violence on the streets. A few in my social media feed fear ‘possible repercussions’ from those whose vote ends up on the side of the minority. I think it’s no coincidence that those voices are coming largely from undecided positions or from those who lean towards staying in the union, for these are the people whom the grassroots discussions may not yet have reached. While the social debate I see happening all around me fills me with confidence that there won’t be violence, I do fear how we are going to come to terms with our losses, individually and collectively.
At the ImagiNation Festival of Ideas John Curtice said that the turnout would certainly be above 80%. Some are predicting above 90%. That’s a massive engagement, and represents swathes of people who do not normally engage in politics. The types of questions this referendum poses and the way that we have been exploring those questions has fired a personal investment in politics that even leaders from the trade union heyday, like Jim Sillars, have never seen before.
This is different. We have become different.
And if that is really true, we are going to need a different kind of response to the fallout of this vote. We can’t just say ‘well, that’s politics’. We cant expect folk to just ‘get over it’, because this isn’t an election campaign. We don’t get to choose again in another five years and it’s not the what we are choosing from a menu of policies, we are choosing how we want to makes Scotland a better place. We’re not dealing with victory/defeat paradigm. Everyone wants to do the ‘right thing’ – the only thing we disagree on, is whether we think Scotland can choose the ‘right thing’ to do, or whether a parliament in London can choose the right thing. We will all be losers after this vote unless we remember what it was all about in the first place.
It’s about making this world an improvement to the world, and regardless of the outcome of the vote that is what we must keep doing. I urge you to take the energy and the spirit of your campaigning and debate and use that to embrace your neighbours, your family members, even complete strangers, on the 19 September and create a space where everyone can hold each other and find something we can individually pledge to make Scotland thrive. For those of us that believe in mutualism, this is especially important. Let us conduct the reconciliation as we would in a better Scotland: take cakes to a neighbour, build a campfire to gather around for music and conversation, lets start a mass action to go camping and walking in the outdoors over the referendum weekend… Simply saying ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ to people is enough to start making a difference that will set the tone for how we want to be in future.
This isn’t just about empathy, it isn’t just about integrating our communities, it’s about how we choose to practice politics. So if this referendum, more than any other political process in history truly represents a change in the way we engage with power, we’d better keep our eyes on the ball.
We’ve reached a point in history where for a short window of time the old power structures will be somewhat permeable and we must seize the opportunity to stick a wedge in there and ensure that we don¹t give back the power that we¹ve amassed over the course of this referendum process. If we want a more mutual society, we have to ensure that it¹s not the same people in power over and over again. It’s no good crowd sourcing ideas and participation at the local level, if at the centre point (and there is always a centre) the leadership looks the same as it always has. We need serious reform of what leadership looks like, who it looks like, and how we do it at all levels in society. The New Leadership Assembly is a progressive initiative that is investigating the options and processes by which we might reach that aim and calling for proportional representation according to demographics in all levels leadership. The National Council Scotland petition at nationalcouncilscotland.org explains that ‘Immediately after a Yes vote the Scottish Government will begin to appoint a negotiating team to negotiate the terms of Scottish independence. The core of this will be individuals with the best negotiating skills available which would be likely to involve people from political, trade union, business and legal spheres.
However the terms on which they negotiate the mandate they are given should be established through a participative national debate. So in parallel the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament should set up a National Council.’
The Common Weal project is morphing into a ‘think and do’ tank under whose banner anyone can set up a local group to work towards its aims. The Common Weal book, is based on 50 tried and tested reports and proposals which are going to be presented to each of the political party conferences this Autumn.
Even the London papers are beginning to cotton on that this is a different kind of campaign, a process of reexamining democracy. But what is really going to be different in the long term?
Those of us who are old enough to remember other votes, the 1979 referendum in particular, are right to urge caution about promises of power. They’re right to say that once the door was closed the big boys just went back to doing things exactly as they did before. There’s no Devo Max option on the ballot. There’s no collective participation option on the ballot either.
Those who have become engaged and empowered by this process risk losing their voice as the door slams closed again:
The much vaunted ‘missing million’ (that are being reached by Women for Independence and the Radical Independence Campaign and many others) the politically disengaged who are voting out of hope that politics might once again speak from them and their interests; the Labour heartlands turning towards a yes vote because, as Jeane Freeman explained in her storming tv interview with Andrew Neil, they are increasingly coming to realize that Labour cannot deliver the vision the seek, whilst it continues to be in the union; the young and young at heart have discovered through non-centralised self-organizing processes that they can connecting with people, talk with people, and come to decisions about what would be best for Scotland.
It would be foolish to choose to throw that away, all that momentum, all that intelligence, all those networks of mutual influence and action. We need to keep being involved in the power discussion, and we need to keep the narrative straight so that the big boys don’t look to what has happened and misinterpret it to create the wrong kind of participative system to capitalise on your legwork. What do I mean by that? I mean that we must be careful about the distinctions between crowd sourced propaganda labour force, and a truly participative system. Social media has had a profound effect on how we have interpreted the movement of information, influence and power throughout this campaign. This is not limited to the Yes campaign, but there it is clearly of much more significance. So vital to remember is that campaigning isn’t the same thing as democracy. The critical difference is that a campaign ultimately has a message, its wants you to do something. Democracy is different. Democracy doesn’t want you to do one of a small number of options, it’s a process. The shape of democracy shapes us and either allows us into it’s decision making or if it’s broken, it gives us the illusion of control. We must be extremely careful that what we do next creates a process that is genuinely dialogic and is not subliminally coercive. We must be realistic about the limits of digital media and recognise that there are analogies there that we don’t want to replicate… Underneath the cheeky cat photos and ice bucket memes, the social and pervasive media are an ideological battlefield. The US government have for many years been using pervasive media and gaming to shape public opinion and identify with pre-figured economic roles in society.
A participative system isn’t like Rupert Murdoch’s Myspace, selling you ideas and products through ‘interaction’; it isn’t like Facebook where Facebook inc holds intellectual property rights over anything you create; it isn’t like Instagram whose economic impact was compared by the eminent cultural theorist and digital prophet Jaron Lanier to that of Kodak whom it has replaced – Kodak employed 140000 people. Instagram, employs just 13. These are systems that extract the creativity and labour of many and creates a super elite who reap financial reward and prestige from the ‘capital’ created voluntarily by the many.
If we really own this new Scottish movement, it’s network, then we must get to decide what happens next and how we’re going to do it. These are not insurmountable problems, instead we can to look at what we do next as a design process – we can embrace contradiction and these difficult issues as part of the solution and design a new system that can embrace dissent and chaos and reach consensus on action. As James Foley reminded us at the ImagiNation festival, there is that wonderful Leonard Cohen lyric, ‘there’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light comes in’
With ten days to go we disagree equally on the method, but all of us want Scotland to be a better place.
Lets hold power to account in either event of the vote and ensure that we are able to be part of that process, lets demand representation in the negotiations from according to the make up of our demographic. Lets call for a summit to address models of leadership and behaviours in decision making so that we can find a better way that admits invisible people and all of us into power.
Lets get away from the internet, go outside of ourselves and embrace those we disagree with: lets each submit a pledge: what we’re each going to do to achieve the Scotland we want to live in. Keep talking. Keep doing what makes a difference. Be the change you want to see.
Me, I’m going to take my neigbours some cakes and then go camping and making new friends and new plans for Scotland in Shell Bay in Elie.
My friends suggested some other great spots you might want to try:
Beinn Glas campsite Inverarnan, Comrie croft in Perthshire; Rockcliffe in Dumfries and Galloway, Gigha, Lamlash and Lochranza on Isle of Arran; Pitlochry; St Mary’s loch; Ardgualich farm; sca grand gully; glengoulandie; Loch Tay highland lodges; Red Squirrel Campsite in Glencoe; Marthrown of Mabie looks particularly gorgeoups… .