Creating an ideas-rich environment for Scotland

scotland-2021-BIf we look at Scotland today with a cold, hard light, you would struggle to describe us as an ideas-rich environment. The legacy of the independence referendum has been changing that as activists become more interested in what is possible. Brexit poses massive new challenges. In this context what you might refer to as our ‘collective thinking infrastructure’ has not been particularly strong, and obviously that needs to change.

What do I mean by this? Well, let’s start from the reasonable assumption that it is rarely governments or political parties that create the big ideas that define an era or the small detail which dictates success or failure. Reagan didn’t invent Reaganomics – that was the ‘Chicago School’ of right wing economists. Thatcher didn’t invent Thatcherism – that was right-wing think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute. And if Blair took ‘third way’ theory from Clinton, Clinton in turn took that from a range of well-funded centrist US think tanks.

So where, generally, do ideas come from? It is tempting to begin with academia where the blue-sky thinking is meant to be done. And it does – but a lot of the outputs of academia are generally not yet ready for practical use. The concepts and analysis they develop can be crucial, but they generally need to go through another stage of development before they have influence.

That is where public and semi-public institutions and think tanks come in. It is important not to see think tanks as primarily policy-focussed vehicles. Throughout the independence campaign any think tank that opposed Scottish independence was treated as if it had been set up by philanthropists whose only interest was in the betterment of society as a whole. In reality, think tanks were devised in the first half of the century by the public relations industry as a way to ‘launder’ bad ideas and make them look respectable.

Now it is very unfair to suggest that all today’s think tanks are a PR exercise (as someone who runs one, I hope we’re more than that). But think tanks should be thought of not as neutral seekers-after-truth but rather as campaigning organisations which come from one political direction or another. What it does mean is that unless there is a wide range of think tanks and unless they are properly funded, they risk being completely unbalanced and on occasion little more than blogs with pretensions. But a rich think tank environment is a good way to bridge the gap between academia and a more practically focussed consideration of public policy.

Another place where this takes place is in public and semi-public institutions. These might be public agencies tasked to deliver policy objectives which have their own policy function, membership-driven organisations campaigning for member interests (for example trade unions), supra-national institutions such as the World Bank or the European Commission – and of course the civil service or the direct public bureaucracies in other layers of government such as in local authorities.

These can be a mixed bag. Some are enormously risk-averse, seeing radical ideas as a threat to ‘neutrality’ and viewing change as something which is politically loaded. Some are simply undemocratic and wholly captured by ideology. A lot of them see themselves as institutions of management and delivery and shun the idea that they are about big ideas. Some are simply seen as vested interests. And all of them tend to be afflicted with all the usual problems of institutions and bureaucracies – slow to change, staffed with people who do well out of the status quo, keen to please paymasters and so on.

Then there is a campaigning and advocacy sector. This sector is mostly on the more liberal and left end of the scale (right wing and business interests tend to prefer buying direct influence…), but not wholly. So while there are lots of visible campaign groups on everything from the environment to racism to gender to poverty, there are also religiously focussed campaign groups and single-issue campaigns which sometimes tend in the other political direction. What is slightly strange is that campaigning groups are routinely written off as vested interests in a way that think tanks and business interests aren’t. Their analysis and ideas often tend to be treated with more suspicion, in a ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they’ kind of way.

A next layer you’d expect to find in an ideas-rich environment is a broad media sector. This does not just mean strong, daily newspapers with well-commissioned opinion and analysis sectors, it means specialist policy publications, investigative journalism, new media discussion sites and basically any other medium via which the ideas produced by others can be looked at, scrutinised, discussed and debated. But if you want this to function well, it requires balance, a readership and an audience. If every newspaper is owned by one wing of politics, if every journal is geared towards an internal readership and if no one is investing in investigation, this sector will not fulfil its job.

Finally, there are vested interests. In various ways, much of the above lies in the public domain. They are public discourses to which we can all be party (if we want). Beyond these is a large, very well funded and almost completely secret world of lobbying in all its forms. Sometimes lobbyists use think tanks to ‘launder’ their ideas (oil companies, big tobacco and those involved with pushing for GM crops are particularly bad for this) or use the media to press their concerns. Other times they just push government for policy and spending decisions directly. Mostly, they don’t want public discussion of these ideas; they just want to cut deals directly and in private. It is possibly reasonable to argue that this line of ‘idea generation’ has a greater impact on final public policy than any of the others outside the civil service itself. And of course, the private lobby sector works closely with and on some occasions has actually placed itself inside the civil service.

The last paragraph begins ‘finally’. It shouldn’t. There ought to be some mechanism where ordinary citizens are given the access and power to discuss, debate and influence ideas. But other than in some small and mostly experimental instances (such as developments in participatory budgeting), they don’t. Ideas are something that the elite do, not the wider public. (And this was what made the Scottish independence referendum such a breath of fresh air – ordinary people in their own communities really did get involved in a debate about ideas.)

So if this maps out the components of an ideas-rich political environment, what does it look like when it works? Put simply, there is breadth and depth, balance and transparency. Think tanks would come from many different political stances and have something like equal resources. Academia would be better funded for public policy and be a bit more orientated towards policy-makers (while being protected from increasing encroachment on their academic freedom from their managers). The media would be diverse, properly funded and properly read. Campaign groups would be listened to as much as big business and very little of this would be done in secret. The civil service and other public agencies would be able better to balance the need to take risks and the need to ensure some kind of policy continuity and stability. There would be much better mechanisms for public engagement in ideas. And politicians would have more incentives to make the best decision and not the safest one.

So much for the ideal – what do matters actually look like in Scotland? Well, not like that. Academia is fairly uneven in its relationships with government (and the regimes in Scottish universities are undemocratic and career structures discourage trouble-making and risk-taking). There are few think tanks and they’re barely resourced (that Common Weal is the biggest is a constant source of surprise to me, given how little resource we’ve got). Also, they are not generally all that well integrated into decision-making processes, partly because none really have the resources to meet the demands that would place on them – but also because they’re mostly all new.

The ‘traditional’ media seems like it is on its last legs. There are few policy journals about Scotland and fewer people who read them. The print media is disinvesting left, right and centre and its readership dwindles seemingly by the hour. Our ‘national’ broadcaster is seldom viewed in a particularly positive light when it comes to big thinking and covering national politics. And while there is a comparatively flourishing new media scene, it is barely funded.

Our public institutions are steeped in a low-risk mindset and are mostly utterly conventional and content to manage their own little fiefdoms. The civil service in particular is an uncomfortable amalgam of big thinking and administration. Because of the lack of alternative source of ideas it is often the civil service which is tasked with doing the blue-sky stuff (and I should add that there are many very good and very bright people in the Scottish civil service). But as they also have the task of implementing policies, and as success in implementing policies is generally measured as ‘no-one noticed’, there is an internal conflict of interests. There is a strong incentive to scale back big thinking to meet the ‘safety first’ imperative of implementation. So we often don’t even know if there was a big idea in the first place.

We have a reasonable series of campaigning organisations in Scotland, but it is not as rich as it was. Though cooption as some big NGOs became contracting bodies for government services, because of the steps to limit the campaigning activities of charities by right-wing government in Westminster and because of the general scaling-up and corporatisation of the NGO sector, we have good, smaller campaigning groups in specific areas but not in others (for example, Scotland has never had a dedicated anti-PFI campaign and no real lobby for high quality social housing).

The combination of all this means that we have a comparatively empty ideas agenda – and this is a vacuum the lobbying sector is happy to fill. A lot of economic policy in Scotland in particular looks rather like a straight life from some of the corporate interests. It is important to be clear that Scotland does not have anything like the corporate capture that we see in Westminster – but then it has less of the balancing think tank and campaigning sector either.

When it comes to the ideas environment which surrounds the Scottish Parliament, it sometimes looks a bit better suited to a large regional authority than it does a national government. And it is perhaps because Scotland still seems to be caught somewhere in between these two notions (national and regional) that we haven’t developed that fuller ‘thinking infrastructure’.

And this really matters. Say what you like about the direction of travel in government in Westminster, but it is ambitious, radical, determined and detailed. It is a right-wing programme which has been developed by a wide range of right-wing thinkers dedicating serious resource over a sustained period of time to create that agenda, from the dismantling of a wholly-public NHS and the neutering of the BBC to the permanent protection of tax havens and the radical overhaul of the structure of state schooling. If there isn’t an agenda in Scotland, we will drift. And drift is a very attractive attribute to the secret lobbyist who is happy to bring ‘easy, non-risky’ solutions to the table.

So what can we do to fix this in Scotland? Here are four specific suggestions. Two of these could be seen to benefit Common Weal directly so I will do no more than outline the ideas generally.

First, Scotland has no funding of any sort for alternative media. In fact, there isn’t really any direct funding for media at all (though public sector advertising helps to keep some publications going). Scotland has a media which is in existential crisis. The overheads of print media in relation to their declining sales means sustaining them is a difficult problem to solve. But funding for new and on-line media (probably in the not-for-profit sector) is much easier and cheaper to support. We really do need to take media more seriously, recognise it as an important part of our democracy, accept that what we have is almost certainly not fulfilling that role – and dedicate a little money to it. The kinds of sums we’re talking about here are negligible in the scheme of public budgets. Of course there are difficulties in being seen to be even-handed, but the imperative to support places where debate and discussion can take place is too strong to do nothing.

Second, even more difficult to balance is the question of funding campaigning and think tank work. Inevitably, public funding for campaigning and think tank work has been made controversial by Westminster and the right-wing media which constantly questions whether ‘unpopular causes’ should get ‘your taxpayer’s money’. But then what they really want is that only organisations which can get money from rich donors are able to participate in democracy. While there would be some political hurdles to overcome, recognising that a society without a non-governmental, independently minded civic sector which deals in ideas, thinking and analysis is not properly serving its democracy would help us to move forward. We need sustainable and reasonably funded think tanks of every political persuasion if we want a strong policy debate in Scotland. Some modest public support would help enormously.

But that’s enough of what might look like special pleading. There are other important steps we can take.

A third one is to democratise decision-making generally, opening up closed systems to public debate. Common Weal has written and published quite a bit on how to make participatory democracy work. Particularly relevant here is the way in which advice and consultation processes are carried out. At the moment the standard model is to create either a consultation managed by the people making the proposal (who will clearly have vested interests in certain outcomes) or to set up an enquiry of some description, generally made up of ‘experts’ in any given area.

These both have major problems associated. It is pretty universally recognised that consultation almost always takes place too late in the process or has too little impact on actual outcomes. They also tend to be passive processes, attracting only restatements of the already-established positions of organisations which are resourced to respond. There are much better ways to manage consultation. Taking responsibility for the act of consulting away from the body which is making the proposals would help. So would using much more supported practices which help many more people engage with an idea – and at the very earliest stage. Genuine public participation in ideas at an early stage is a realistic goal. It could very easily increase the quality of ideas being generated.

Even more importantly, the process of enquiry and advice should move from being one controlled by insiders (or ‘experts’ as they are generally referred to, in the way my cat is an expert on mice) and rather make it a more neutral space controlled by citizens. Rather than a number of people from very similar backgrounds with very similar views getting together and agreeing with each other in private, processes such as citizen’s juries and deliberation polls open this process up. Of course expert views are crucial – but rather than controlling the process of developing thinking, they would simply be feeding in their views along side others who generally have less privileged access. If expert advice is persuasive enough, it will of course shape decisions. But it would enable ideas to be tested much more fully and completely, and would create a solid avenue via which alternative ideas can be fed in.

Fourthly and finally, for the purposes of this piece of reflection, we need to address the weaknesses in the ‘blue sky’ and analytical part of the process. The dual role of the civil service as thinker and doer is problematic – because as explained above, these two responsibilities can very easily be in conflict with each other. Unfortunately, the civil service is not devolved to Scotland so any substantial restructuring or redesign is not possible here. However, the civil service in Scotland does have extensive ability to second people to external organisations. This is an effective route to developing a better system

Scotland could establish a series of ‘policy academies’. These would probably be set up by linking them to universities (though the governance would be entirely independent). Policy academies could cover any range of subjects wanted – a Economic Development Policy Academy, a Poverty, Equality and Social Justice Policy Academy, a Policy Academy for Towns, Cities and Housing, a Rural Policy Academy and so on.

Once they are established each would be staffed through a process of seconding civil servants, attaching practicing academics and by enabling other organisations to be located in and around the academies (with very great care taken to ensure equality of access and to avoid issues of ‘capture’). Each academy would be governed in a transparent and democratic way, providing access not only to interest and expert groups but also using the best practices in participatory democracy to engage the wider public. There should be means and routes which would enable individuals or organisations to submit ideas which would be examined and where appropriate developed. Government would go to an academy as a first port of call when devising big new policy ideas. Parliamentary committees would ask academies to scrutinise and comment on government proposals. It would be expected that academies may well produce ‘plural’ outcomes – more than one opinion, more than one proposal, more than one piece of advice. In the end it is for elected politicians to decide. The role of academies is to think, not to dictate.

These four steps – funding media, funding think tanks and ‘thinking NGOs’, putting in place participatory democracy practices, and creating national policy academies – would for the first time give Scotland some serious ‘thinking infrastructure’. It would make us a nation where producing big ideas was normal, engaging people with those ideas would be everyday, a citizen with a bright idea would have somewhere to go with it, proposals would be effectively scrutinised and vested interests would find their voices balanced by a wider range of other voices.

Scotland is in a fascinating, transitional period. It is being changed from a regional administrative centre of the British State to being an independent and independently-minded nation of its own (whether than nation has a state or not has yet to be finally decided). But in that transition it is sometimes trying to behave like a nation with the intellectual infrastructure of ‘the provinces’. This is a recipe for bad thinking and for policy capture by vested interests. We can do better than this. We have all the ingredients necessary for a much better nation with a much richer ideas environment. It would require so little investment for the returns it would generate that I have come to believe this could be one of the most valuable developments we could see over the next few years.

I really do hope that a wider community begins to see just how important ideas are – and just how shallow is the pool from which we are currently fishing. Scotland has an amazing tradition of innovation. This would be the perfect time to rediscover that tradition and to engineer our public life as a place that thinks big thoughts. If we do, we’ll all benefit.

**

This is an extract from Scotland 2021.

In forty chapters we explore practical radical innovation and policy challenges with contributions from Irvine Welsh, Joyce McMillan, Maggie Chapman, Robin McAlpine, Kathy Galloway, Tom French, Vonnie Moyes, Anuj Kapilashrami, Niamh Webster, Michael Marten, Milja Radovic, Talat Yaqoob, Jan Bebbington, Adam Ramsay and dozens more.

Buy from Waterstones £12.99 here.
Or Word Power Books £12.99 here

Scotland 2021 edited by Simon Barrow and Mike Small (Paperback) (ISBN: 9780993294235)

Comments (31)

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  1. jwmackenzie says:

    Why is this book not in the Glasgow Libraries?

  2. Darby O'Gill says:

    It seems that ‘ideas’, or at least inviting the public to come up with ideas, is very much in vogue at the moment, what with Gerry Hassan’s recent Festival of Ideas, Commonweal’s Book of Ideas, and 2016 being the Year of Innovation, Design and Architecture. Even the Scottish Government are currently funding a series of events around Scotland looking for ideas, under the title ‘Creating a Fairer Scotland.’ So if Nicola thinks it’s a good idea to have ideas, then who are we to disagree. So this is my idea. Actually it’s an idea about ideas

    Instead of making resolutions this New Year lets have some ideas: ideas with no restrictions on scale, but always in the interests of the common good. Call them your personal manifesto for the May 2017 elections. They don’t have to be original, so long as you acknowledge the ‘author’ where appropriate, and you should not seek copyright over them. Treat them as gifts.

    Ten seems to be the optimum number of things in lists. So to get us started. I’m on my second lot of ten already. Like Groucho Marx’s principles, if you don’t like these, I have others. And I hope you do too. Maybe we can start something and hopefully find a platform to publish them.

    1. c rober says:

      When I have time I will do a longer piece on the article.

      Darby-

      IF democracy was meant for the people then they would be allowed to shape it , ticking a box is not shaping our future – its shaping the politicians future for between four or five years ,in other wrods their income for four years , only listening in the last one in order to work on the next four years.

      What I propose is that certain things are taken away from politicians , in order to free up their time to work for today as well as tomorrow without them.

      America , I know I always go on about the failure of their version of democracy for the poor over wealthy , but they do have one important thing Propositions.

      With Scotland and its 4 levels of elections , WM , Holyrood , Council and European – then thats 4 in a 4 or 5 year time span in which to get started on some serious local and national decision making.

      These are , or can be , a force for good , where the electorate votes on items that matter to them , and importantly where it can be local as well as national. Example – Deciding on how council land is used after the amalgamation of a school for example , ie using for more housing “social” , or for preventing private executive over the largest local need , even to the point of using for local car parks where parking is a nightmare based on old planning.

      It can also be a mini referendum , on whether to remain in EU , UK , or even Scotland with regard to the Islands , even if its merely used as a poll , ie have we served you well ? The end result at least being keeping the politicians informed on whether the public regards them as doing the job as expected… and preventing the likes of Brexit in the first place simply by listening.

      Think of it like job appraisals and assessment with council elections , holding long term civil servants to task for failure – or rewarding them with longer employment , not the current status qou of no change until retirement then a replacement understudy for more of the same.

      Democracy 2.0 can be supplied , but unfortunately those that have an income based on the orginal democracy would fight tooth and nail to prevent it happening – which is why we dont have Props.

  3. Alf Baird says:

    Having worked on many EU projects for over 25 years, and specifically on maritime transport policy matters, I can offer a few contrasts:

    – civil servants from other EU and non-EU states (Norway, Russia etc) were always involved in these projects, yet Scottish Government civil servants were never involved and never sought to participate;

    – civil servant project partners from other EU and non-EU states more often that not held postgraduate qualifications of relevance to the projects (e.g. MSc in Transport Policy/Ports/Logistics/Economics etc) – in contrast Scottish civil servants tend to be ‘generalist’ bureaucrats, who transfer from areas like health, education, transport etc but they have limited specific expertise relating to the policy area in question.

    – many EU collaborative projects resulted in ideas and innovations that other states would progress fairly rapidly by the partners, whereas much of this innovation simply passed Scotland by, civil servants ignoring my (published, academic) suggestions (e.g. http://www.maritimetransportcluster.eu/)

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      That is not an accurate picture of the involvement of Scottish Government civil servants in cross-border collaboration in Europe. As a civil servant in the Directorate for the Built Environment, I was active in EU collaborative projects for the last 10 years of my career, particularly in projects involving Ireland and the Baltic countries. Between 2011 and 2013, I led an ESPON research project on indicators of territorial development involving partners in Ireland, Latvia, Iceland and the Basque Country. As Scottish Government civil servants, Colin Imrie, Jim Mackinnon, Jim Millard, Diane McLafferty and Stephen Fox have all been very active in promoting and participating in EU collaborative projects and their work is highly regarded internationally. Many others have been involved too.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        This is not my experience in maritime transport matters Graeme, where ‘generalist’ Scottish civil servants have limited themselves to domestic matters, much in line with their devolved limitations and policy mindset and Scottish Office responsibilities pre-devolution. Had they been involved in EU projects they would hardly still be making constant mistakes with issues like CalMac/CMAL/NorthLink, the lack of a Scotland-Continent Motorway of the Sea to develop EU trade, or the strategic mistake waiting to happen at Aberdeen’s new harbour, or absence of urban ferry transport (Forth, Clyde, Tay), or ignorance of Scapa Flow global trade/transhipment opportunities, etc etc etc. Perhaps one of Scotland’s biggest institutional problems/constraints is the UK ‘Home’ Civil Service?

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          You have written about your personal experience in a specific policy sector. It is unsafe to generalise from that to broad assertions about the level of involvement of Scottish-based civil servants in European collaborations. I know from personal experience that many professional and generalist civil servants have been active and effective on this front for many years. I do believe that Scotland would benefit from a higher level of professionalisation of its civil service and a critical examination of it managerialist culture.

          1. Alf Baird says:

            Appreciate there may be more engagement in some policy areas. However, given the focus of the SG paper this week on trade and Brexit options, one would have thought civil servants would twig to the significance of maritime transport policy. During the last Holyrood term I coordinated a European maritime policy meeting at Holyrood sponsored by an MSP and attended by civil servants of at least 5 other EU states plus Norway, but yes you guessed it there were no Scottish civil servants in attendance. If they had attended meetings like this our civil servants might have had less chance of getting confused by the difference between ‘maritime policy-environment’ and ‘maritime policy-economy’. Whereas Scotland’s civil servants have a focus only on the former (e.g. Marine Act/Marine Scotland), they have demonstrated no interest, knowledge or policy for the latter. Yet when combining the two we get what our EU colleagues call an Integrated Maritime Policy, which they have, whilst Scotland does not. Scotland’s trade and hence our economy is all the weaker as a direct result. See for example: ‘Driving Economic Growth with an Integrated Maritime Policy’ in – http://stsg.org/str/str52.pdf

  4. John B Dick says:

    No suggestion then that new policy ideas might be expected from elected politicians? Their role is as party line megaphones, and thinking is not wanted.

  5. John Page says:

    Not a good advert for the book…….I feel I am being talked down to……
    Sorry I am usually quite positive but this is both verbose and patronising. I sincerely hope when I go to the 14/1/17 event, we are not going to be treated to more of this.
    There are plenty of good ideas* around but we need to get independence first and then we can get cracking on a written constitution from which all else will flow.
    John Page

    (* My 10 ideas
    A Land Value Tax
    The constitution to ban the possession, manufacture or research of all WMDs
    The constitution to guarantee the rights both of the people and environment of Scotland
    All corporate bodies to be subject to process of winding up on petition to Holyrood
    All diaries of elected officials and serving officials to be open to the public
    The constitution to guarantee a Scottish NHS
    Monarchy and all honours and titles to be abolished with the role of an elected President or preferably a Guardian to be enshrined in the constitution
    Local government to made local with levels of representation on a par with Scandinavian states
    A citizens income
    A law of ecocide providing for custodial sentences for perpetrators and the winding up (as above) of corporates)

  6. SleepingDog says:

    This article seems fairly reasonable, but perhaps overly-formal and missing some opportunities. Of course, the book may cover more.

    Rather than over-concentration on institutions and funding, we could also look at providing a supportive environment for informal networks, giving self-learning opportunities for citizens.

    As well as specialists and generalists, people with cross-disciplinary skillsets can play a connective role in ideas networks, providing ideas translation and convection, allowing communities of interest to communicate more effectively.

    Accessible, online computer modelling of problems, solutions, testing hypothetical policies can be done on the web or through (massively) multiplayer games or simulations. Creative introductions of new idea combinations should be encouraged, reviewed, tested and improved (science discussion is often advanced by science fiction in many formats, sometimes written by scientists, for example). There should be analyses of current censorship and legal obstacles to works (it was only a few years ago that Scotland’s lèse-majesté laws were repealed): often ideas have to be hidden in fictional form for mainstream media.

    Traditions should be justified.

    There should be a recognition that some improvements can be done continuously and incrementally, others required discontinuous jumps, and still more require revolutions in thought (paradigm shifts).

    There are methods to widely gather ideas (suggestions or requirements), then narrow to design and test a few shortlisted options, then implement and restart the gathering process again (the hourglass model from software development). Using rapid prototyping methods can speed up these cycles significantly. There has to be agreement on what is tested, and how, so that a reasonable majority of citizens can accept the outcome and move forward.

    Public access to open data, documents and other digital resources over the web is also essential for fast and efficient progress.

    Education should be reformed (if necessary) to support critical as well as creative thought. For example, children should early on be taught how to provide construction criticism and peer review; introduced to the philosophical underpinnings of each subject they learn (what types of questions historians or scientists should ask, for example); and role-play negotiations ideally from various sides (like the schools Treaty of Versailles international role-play). Free, online courses already support online learning with a citizenship and policy focus.

    And I think Ben Goldacre’s suggestion of evidence-based policy research including robust trials is a good one.
    http://www.badscience.net/category/evidence-based-policy/

  7. Graeme Purves says:

    I agree with others on this string that Robin’s piece is far too prescriptive and self-interested in its narrative about where good ideas come from. It reads like a Manifesto for Wonkery with a pat on the head for “ordinary citizens” and a dutiful nod to participatory democracy.

    I see no shortage of ideas. Scotland’s communities are brimming with them. Social Bite’s proposal for a village for the homeless in Granton is an excellent topical example. What we need to focus on and get better at is empowering people and communities to put their ideas into practice.

    I agree that there is too much caution and inertia at an institutional level and that Scotland’s civil service needs reform, including the strengthening of its professional expertise.

  8. Angus F says:

    yes the article is a bit long winded and perhaps by being written for a generalist audience reads as a an A-Z on the subject, but good points are raised and it’s useful to think about what you are doing and its effect or lack of it, within a wider setting.

  9. John McLeod says:

    I would like to offer two small suggestions for building an ideas-rich environment for Scotland.

    1. As a participant in the independence movement, I have come across many excellent ideas and projects described on blogs (and in comments sections of blogs) that then disappear. As a medium, a blog highlights the now, and anything from before disappears off the bottom of the page. It would be really helpful if we had an on-line library or archive of ideas, so that good stuff does not get lost.

    2. Taxpayers contribute a high amount to the university system in Scotland. Clearly, we already get a lot back. But there are other things we could get back, that would have little cost to universities and would enhance their standing in communities. Universities have marvellous facilities for holding meetings and lectures. On the whole, these facilities are under-used in the evenings and at weekends. In terms of building an ideas-rich nation, people need to meet and talk, in addition to reading papers and reports. In my view, universities should actively welcome community groups to use their facilities at times when they are not timetabled for students. A further action that universities could do is to take the lead in ideas-dissemination within their communities by hosting and arranging their own local ‘policy academy’ events. Universities employ people who are experts in economy, policing, the EU, the environment, etc etc. These people know lots of other experts. Universities are already assessed, through the research excellence process, on how well they disseminate research knowledge. It would not be unreasonable for each university to offer a series of ‘policy ideas’ events, properly advertised to the public and open to all, over the course of a year. I don’t see any reason why the Scottish Government can’t just tell universities to get on and do this, or earmark some limited funding to motivate them to do it (e.g., the salary of one administrator in each university to organise and manage their programme).

    1. Darby O'Gill says:

      Maybe we could start an ‘Ideas’ Club.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      Soonds like you are advocating ‘innovation by committee’. Best of luck with that.

      One major problem I witnessed with ongoing mass internationalisation of research staff/students at Scottish universities is that the focus of (their) research study is very often not on Scotland at all. For example, Chinese or Spanish postgrads are often more inclined, and may be required (depending on where funding comes from), to research matters related to their home nation rather than to their host nation. Less than 10% of postgrads at some of Scotland’s so-called ‘elite’ uni’s are Scottish, which also raises questions about the make-up of future ‘Scots’ academics. We should not always assume that Scottish universities are necessarily working in Scotland’s economic interest, and Scotland’s lacklustre economic performance does provide evidence that the benefits (of current research) are not as positive as some vested interests might argue.

  10. Redgauntlet says:

    Ideas? Hassan is your man. What are you waiting for McAlpine? Ask Santa for “Scotland The Bold” and you’re sorted, mate…

  11. w.b.robertson says:

    alas ..plenty of ideas – but no bawbeas.

    1. John Page says:

      A bit like our Britannia Unchained neighbours after Brexit……..lots of pretensions to global greatness and punching above their weight……regrettably with the arse oot their troosers.

  12. florian albert says:

    Robin McAlpine writes about the importance of ideas and adds a comment on ‘how shallow is the pool from which we are currently fishing.’

    Around the referendum campaign, a large number of books were published which – to a greater or lesser extent – provided, from the left, outlines of what a future, independent Scotland should look like.
    Jim Sillars (x2), Alex Bell, Lesley RIddoch (x2), Gregor Gall, Gerry Hassan, Robin McAlpine (I assume he wrote the Common Weal book) and Jamie Maxwell come to mind. No doubt there were more.
    Added to this, there were innumerable speeches made and articles written – the latter often producing many responses.

    Has anybody tried to evaluate how far this body of work has laid the foundations for a consensus – however limited – on what an independent Scotland would look like ?

    1. John McLeod says:

      Florian Albert makes an excellent point. There are lots of good ideas already out there. These ideas need to be properly discussed and evaluated. That process will, in itself, lead to the emergence of further ideas.
      Come the next indy referendum, any ideas for a better nation will be subjected to the corrosive attention of the MSM and right wing think tanks. They will also need to be be persuasive enough to convince reasonably minded non-decided voters. We need to make sure that our proposals are well enough argued to survive both types of scrutiny.
      Citizen juries could be a good way to do this.
      Finally – its not just a matter of ideas, but also the available evidence. There are many good ideas that have already been tried out on a small scale, as reported in ‘Blossom’ and the Common Weal book.

      1. c rober says:

        Citizen Juries , sounds like some sort of community council – unpaid localists.

        Noble idea but its the implementation that would have me worried , ie same retired old codgers that have no views on change… not that all old codgers dont have any clue about change , at least in their past. But then the old adage of those that want power etc..

        Could work though , if it went paid , time duration specific , and kept the jury duty selection idea rather than elected or proposed by politicians , but only with randomised decision making on possible qualifying candidates.

        Thinking of it as a glorified “your country needs you(and your experience)” , where their employment at the end of a term is guaranteed back with the employer , I think it would also remove the hinting at an upper chamber trough for the usual suspects also – and create people led democratic decision making locally also with some minor tweaking.

        I reckon it could be expanded further to LA level , if not piloted there to iron out any kinks , where experts can be “outwith” the sphere of influence and police it , removing many of the roadblocks seen by stale protected employees preventing change…. and of course nepotism employment so endemic in our councils.

  13. Brian says:

    A little less conversation – a little more action. Houses aren’t built by talking – same for communities and nations.

    We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves – action helps.

    Instead of telling us what we can’t do and what we have to be careful to avoid, perhaps our self-appointed guardians can tell us how to make their grand schemes work?

    1. c rober says:

      Housing is a protection racket – the big ticket item for the few to profit from , been that way since the move from council housing to private rented and bought. Actually been that way since before then with rents through land ownership by the elites. AS we head towards 100 years post Barbour we are seeing that the conditions may have changed , but the ideaology has returned , we are slaves to our land lords and financial masters.

      Housing 2.0 is that very thing that can change Scotland over from its current financial outlook to a greater one – removing in the process our politicians masters income generators – the banks.

      After tax our next biggest chunk of our income is housing costs , the SNP , Nulabour , Tories same old hymn sheet on housing – profit making for the banks and the few. So much so that we allow builders as politicians , land lords as politicians , and to define our nations housing policy and we blindly accept it.

      There is a reason why land reform was watered down by the SNP while having a majority last term , proving their Scotialist utopia is for the few on housing and land ownership. AGR for land ownership is that solution , and something they wish to ignore.

      For cheaper housing , Holyrood are allowing councils to sell off land for private development instead of councils offering self build plots and contract supply of materials , which would mean 2 bed bungalows for under 80k after vat reclaim. Instead its keeping the national house price average rising , currently over 2x the amount I mentioned , and at over 7x median income main household earner , so BASICALLY sub prime.

      If they were to do this one simple thing , rethinking housing , then Scotland would be competitive as a manufacturer with low wages , but not low quality of lifestyle , as well as seeing mortgages at 3x multiples meaning a shorter mortgage term , thus increased gdp.

      1. Dougie Grant says:

        First time commenter on here but a keen reader. Housing – whilst I agree with the majority of this re affordable housing – we’re DEFINITELY NOT building enough – this helps – copy the link and have a look – http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Built-Environment/Housing/BuyingSelling/lift. Sets a limit on price paid for the property – not perfect by any means but I have personal experience of this helping private sector tenants from £500 per month rent to £200 per month mortgage. Would be better if we had Municipal Banks providing the lending (see Common Weal policy) but this is the only way at present. Thanks, Dougie

        1. Thanks Dougie, really useful link

  14. john young says:

    Why couldn,t we reduce the financial burden on people/businesses alike,identify the areas that impact most on people/business finances and reduce them e.g. wages/energy/transport/mortgages/rent,would this make this country better for investment?,from my very simple way of looking at the economics ,there is no point in earning wage rises if all other commodities go up as well,if it cost you less to run your home to get to work,is it possible that you would have more to spend?

  15. Mike Fenwick says:

    Wrote this in June, spoke at meetings across Scotland, gained support from those attending …

    Vision

    That between now and Hogmanay I set out to find all those who would wish to see change and are willing to commit by depositing a coin of legal tender, and by signing their name, so that a promise can be honoured.

    That between now and Hogmanay all such coins are placed into the hands of the First Minister of Scotland for safe keeping.

    That on the 1st of January 2017, Scotland will see the creation of a new “medium of exchange”, based on those promises, backed by full reserve legal currency for use in Scotland.

    And that it carries a name which will be recognised and respected around the world
    as a “medium of exchange”that can be trusted.

    The Scottish “Hand”.

    … have since made 3 deliveries of the coins collected and placed them into the safe custody of the First Minister of Scotland.

    And next … will what was a vision, just an idea happen?

    https://www.facebook.com/thescottishhand/

    … where you can find a link to one of the meetings held at YES Orkney which provides details of both the idea, and the actions involved.

  16. Andrea says:

    Ideas about what?

    What is the focus for the thinking? “We want fresh ideas about creating a truly democratic system of government for this nation – from the smallest local body to the parliament” for example.

    When the ideas have gushed forth – where are the means whereby, and who is to be tasked with turning them into reality?

    The media – which? And who are you trying to reach? Trying to include? Trying to solicit input from?

    If, after all these decades, this is the current state of play – a siren song for Good Ideas – then something is clearly amiss with the whole creative-generative system. Get it sorted – even roughly. Skip the committees and the unco guid. They can only give more of the same – with a five cm thick, unreadable report to follow.

    And that wibbly-wobbly faith in ‘parliament/Holyrood’ – they can’t! They’re not that sort of person.

    Call in the passionate, intense, lifelong fighters. The creators and makers – not the polite ‘let’s write Something’ people. They come later. Much later.

    Skunkworks and advocates. That’s where we’re up to.

  17. Connor mcEwen says:

    OTHER IDEAS ON ECONOMICS ARE THERE http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=36092

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