A Little Bit More Conversation

By Alan Mackie

So far we at Common Weal Fife have had three meetings, and three well attended meetings. We should be pleased – the fact that people are coming to Kirkcaldy from all over Fife to meet on cold (and sometimes wet) weekday evenings is something to acknowledge. From what I’m seeing and hearing from across Scotland, we’re not the only group with lots of people showing up regularly. Attendance at various political meetings and events across the country seems to be a fact of life for a great many of us now. What drags us out each time will no doubt be personal to every one of us. For some it might be boredom (I hope not, but you never know!). For others it might be meeting new faces. For others still it might be a political awakening (or continuation). I have a hunch, though, that for many of us (and certainly for me) it is the opportunity to discuss politics.

It’s been evident, I think, that for us at Common Weal Fife, one of the things that has got people buzzing, got people going, has been the parts of the nights when we’ve been in our wee groups sharing ideas, sharing viewpoints and discussing the issues that matter to us. This is fantastic. Something I hear (and read) now and again, however, is that we don’t want post-referendum politics to be a ‘talking shop’. I understand this point. With political renewal comes a conviction for action – a need and desire to get out there and start making a difference to the world around us. This appetite is to be celebrated. But we need to acknowledge the fact (I think it’s a fact?) that for many people this is a new sphere. I’d go as far as to say for most of us this is a new sphere, whether or not you were politically active or engaged pre-referendum. The number of people seemingly engaged in politics now is extraordinary. And this means that the level of political chat now is unprecedented. Yes, yes, action is important – believe me, I’m not dismissing it. But I want to argue that political conversation is equally as important as action, if not more so in some ways. There is nothing wrong with sitting in a room with friends (and strangers) and talking politics. When has it happened on such a scale previously? Not in my lifetime as far as I am aware – and I’d be happy to be corrected on this point.

The importance of conversation cannot be overstated. In talk we work through our feelings about issues, events and, essentially, how to lead our lives. It’s also a chance for us to challenge one another – to unpack ideas, to explicate convictions and to have our own prejudices challenged. In this we renew ourselves. It also gives us the opportunity to either reform or strengthen our personal positions. Indeed, talking is the very bedrock of a healthy democracy. Where people can come together and discuss the direction they want to see society take then they can feel that they have a stake in that society. In our various organisations we can replicate this on a smaller scale. For too long we’ve had politics done to us and not with us. It is essential that we give each other time and space to express ourselves and to listen to one another – to engage in meaningful dialogue. The conversations we are having across the country could be the starting point for doing things differently.

Conversation and discussion also gives us an opportunity to connect. Firstly, with one another – at a very basic level it means that we meet one another and make friends, acquaintances and allies. Secondly, we can start to make the connections between the political issues and direction under discussion, our personal politics and any dissonance between these. Thirdly, to ensure that there is a connection between fully discussed ideas and any action that is taken. And lastly, to ensure that everyone has had their say and feels connected to (and has a stake in) any decisions and action that follow. Again, I want to make it clear that action is important – extremely so. But we should value conversation and dialogue in and of itself. It connects us, it educates us and it invigorates us.

I feel that we, across Scotland, are at the start of something. Whilst the referendum has ended, something else has begun. And, in danger of slipping into hyperbole, I get the feeling that it is nothing short of a political awakening for a great deal of people. For me, I’m learning as much as I have ever done. Fracking, TTIP, currency issues and energy are just some of the issues we have discussed in Fife. Through dialogue I have gone through a learning curve as steep as anything I have experienced. Such learning cannot and doesn’t sit idle but gets passed on in other conversations. The ripple effects from conversations we are having across Scotland don’t go to waste, of that I am certain.

In times like this I think it’s important to place a central importance on conversation. We’re social beasts and talk is important. And political talk perhaps most of all. One of the fundamental reasons that the Yes vote rose to 45% was the information sharing that went on during the referendum – both online but more importantly, I’d argue, amongst ourselves – with friends, colleagues, family and strangers in the hubs across the country. I think it is clear that appetite for this hasn’t waned and with elections coming up over the next two years I’ll wager that it won’t anytime soon. As the old saying goes, we’re living in ‘interesting times’, so we’ve plenty to talk about. Let’s make sure we keep on talking and listening to one another. As long as we do that, I think, change is inevitable.

Comments (17)

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  1. Lorna Sharp says:

    This is a good article and I agree with what’s been written. It is good to talk. However I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ every time I am courageous enough to show my colours to friends and family. I feel so stifled. This is the milieu I find myself in – I only seem to know people who voted No, except for my husband and two sons. I think it’s a snob thing. Most are ‘comfortably off’ and want to preserve the status quo. I see that as selfish and it has sadly affected some close family relationships. Most are not well read and it’s just the way they were brought up, i.e. To think of themselves as middle class conservatives! How I wish the scales would fall from their eyes.

    1. Alan Mackie says:

      Thanks Lorna, is there no groups locally for you to get involved with? It could be a good starting point – to start off getting involved with like-minded people. There are so many groups now, Common Weal, Women for Independence, Radical Independence and issue based groups (38 Degrees, anti-fracking, anti-Trident, People’s Assembly etc etc – as well as the pro-Independence parties themselves). It might be worth looking up to see what’s on in your area and on at a convenient time?

    2. Kangaroo says:

      Tell me Lorna what were the main reasons they voted no? Specifics would be useful eg, they thought that it was important to have a joint defence force.

      I am at a loss to understand why?

    3. Laura Robertson says:

      My experience is similar to yours, Lorna. In addition I feel there is a great resistance to talking about politics, and until recently I felt pressure to shut up and not rock the boat. But I’ve had a bit of a revelation. I now realise that many people don’t want to talk about politics mostly because they are uninformed on topics of the day, and/or they think the discussion has to be Party Political. So now I am talking to people about issues like TTIP and Named Person and what is welfare for and why should we pay tax and whether/which services should always be in public hands (to name a few). I completely resist talking about specific Parties unless I discover that the other person understands the issues as well as I do. I am finding that each time I initiate a conversation it gets easier.

  2. Darien says:

    “One of the fundamental reasons that the Yes vote rose to 45% was the information sharing”

    And one of the reasons the turnout was so large, and postal voting was so enormously high, was that thousands of new ‘No’ voters suddenly appeared and registered, but with no checks made on where these people actually lived.

    While I agree its good to talk, it is important not to lose sight of the depths to which the ‘Better Together’ lot are prepared to stoop.

  3. June Stewart says:

    There are many discussion forums that one could join, I am thinking particularly of Livestream at http://www.independencelive.net where there are daily discussions on elections and politics by many interested parties. Do check it out and consider joining in the conversation…

  4. Our group uses indyscot.info to post our events, and once you are registered you get emails telling you of upcoming events. I think all independence and political groups should look into using it on a regular basis and encouraging their members to register on it.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Sheena

  5. Put very simply Alan I agree with all that you’ve said (and you know this through personal conversations about our learning curve). I find talking politics very difficult with people outside my own milieu and in wondering why I feel it’s because in general left leaning political views take a lot of explaining because the message is never simple (the left is oft criticised for being intellectual, idealist and thus impractical). Extreme centrist politics (and right leaning) is big on headlines that are simplistic and appeal to individuals based on core Neoclassical economic values of people as inherently rational and selfish. The Neoliberals love this as headline policies where people pay less tax (for example) and that the government will stop interfering in your life requires a lot of examination to pull apart and see the long term consequences. This is despite what we’ve been experiencing via this type of politics for a very long time without ever reaching a utopian state where everyone is satisfied. The fact that the media is run by corporations is right behind this so are happy to peddle this: thus self serving to maintain the share price.

    The more confident people can be with talking politics can only help encourage a multiplicity of ideas that people think about rather than just rallying behind a particular brand of a particular political party. The recent rhetoric of the Conservatives makes it clear that they want to retain political and ‘democratic’ power to discourage participative democracy. Labour in Scotland talk like they are the chosen party for the people and act like they are a religion that people just believe in despite the evidence/message. Any entrenchment behind party politics can easily become undemocratic and, for me, that was the amazing thing about the referendum – you could get political for a reason not a party. This is why Common Weal and the new media (Bella, The National, Newsnet, Common Space, blogging etc) are so appealing. So it is good to talk.

    1. Alan Mackie says:

      Cheers Gerry, hope you’re good, man. I agree – I think our position is harder to get across but maybe because, like you say, our viewpoint isn’t part of the mainstream reporting. We have a larger distance to travel initially, perhaps. Plus, a bit like the No campaign, I seem to recall a slogan at one point: ‘If you don’t know, just vote No’ or something. Which shows a tremendous paucity of ambition in getting their message across and their contempt for voters and the education thereof. And I know what you mean about the current message – we’ve had our time so let’s get back to business. Stuff that. Yeah, let’s keep talking.

  6. Stevie says:

    Thanks for putting into positive words what my much more moany and introspective blog piece was trying to say from a very personal perspective http://www.bankierepublic.org/2015/02/shoosh-for-indy-2/

    Keeping people actively involved in politics, debating, questioning, proposing and all the rest is crucial to us achieving our independence and creating a socially just Scotland. Thank you.

    1. Johnson. says:

      Great post Stevie. Local involvement is what it’s all about!

    2. Alan Mackie says:

      Ha ha, thanks Stevie, it’s good to have all views. Doesn’t sound like you are negative, it sounds like me to an extent; that you’re still working through the aftermath of the referendum and looking for somewhere to hang your hat? Debating and questioning are what it’s all about at this stage I reckon. I think writing helps to work this stuff out too, so great to see you are so full of ideas. Writing helps me enormously too. Maybe another blog!

  7. Rosie says:

    An excellent piece – thanks, Alan. That is just what we are doing in Common Weal: Perth and Kinross, in pubs and coffee shops, on a Monday when business is slow, so everyone benefits!

    The duality of talking and acting is a challenging one as you say: “…political conversation is equally as important as action, if not more so in some ways.” I see them as organic, nourishing each other.

    My discovery, through conversations on politics and social justice, is a way to improve my ‘argument’ and develop a clearer language by being with others sharing similar core values. How I and others then turn our learnings and discoveries into actions will have its own form and pace.

    That’s what these post-referendum conversations offer: an opportunity to expand different ideas and develop confidence to express and demonstrate them – and to have fun doing it.

    1. Alan Mackie says:

      Thanks Rosie, exactly my line of thinking. Great to see your group taking off too – we might have to link up at some point. Be good to visit and get some tips!

      1. Rosie says:

        We are having a launch festival 10-12 April in Perth, party with music and Robin McAlpine etc on the Friday, street and book events with Alan Bissett and Ajay Close on Saturday, and a sort of Cafe Conversation on the Sunday afternoon. Tickets will go up on Eventbrite once we convert conversations into actions!
        Watch out for details on facebook Common Weal: Perth and Kinross

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