2007 - 2022

Business as Usual is a Failure for our Climate Emergency


An emergency requires an emergency response:
the Scottish Government’s Response to the Climate Citizens Assembly’s recommendations is ‘Business as usual’ , by Kate Dyer, Justin Kenrick & Eva Schonveld  (Extinction Rebellion and Grassroots to Global) and Scott Herret & Mim Black (Grassroots to Global).

The Scottish Climate Citizens Assembly will gather for its final weekend on 4th to 6th February 2022, to consider the Scottish Government’s response to the Assembly’s 81 recommendations.

The Government is generally comfortable with the Assembly’s recommendations. This apparent alignment hides the fact that Assembly members were generally only allowed to think within a business-as-usual model that prioritises profits over a healthy planet, and financiers over key workers.

The Government has treated the Assembly as a glorified and very expensive focus group to test and tweak the acceptability of existing policies, rather than enabling it to democratically mandate the urgent action needed to deal with the climate emergency. 

Whether it’s done well or badly, we have been able to transform society overnight in the face of emergencies before – whether re-orientating much of the national economy in response to Covid or moving onto a war footing against fascism. Having declared an emergency in response to the climate crisis, this Government has failed to act as if it is an emergency. 

Perhaps out of fear of rocking the boat, the civil servants guiding the process insisted – in effect –  that the Assembly take the Government’s 2045 net zero target as their aim. Assembly members were not given the chance to assess whether the current response is adequate, nor to assess the depth of the crisis and its root causes, nor were they enabled to develop their own picture of a joined up transformative response to the crisis.

The Government supports, partially supports, or approves in principle 69 of the 81 (86%)  Assembly recommendations largely because they don’t challenge business as usual. Instead the Government’s response is to highlight climate change as an opportunity to “grow our economy” and to support “businesses to innovate and change to realise these economic opportunities.” (Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes MSP). This is exactly the business as usual mindset that has caused and continues to deepen the crisis. 

The Government supports, or partially supports, 52 of the recommendations (64%). This tends to be when recommendations are vague (e.g. ‘to make our towns, cities and neighbourhoods safer and more appealing to walk and cycle in’), or where the Government is already active (e.g. ‘the carbon sink potential of the marine environment’) or where recommendations relate to behaviour change rather than structural change. 

The Government states it ‘supports in principle’ a further 17 (21%). This response effectively means ‘not now’ or ‘you don’t understand the issue’.  This is when existing corporate interests are challenged by a recommendation, or when recommendations come with a specific target date. Finally, it responds to a further 10 recommendations (12%) by saying it is unable to act due to reserved powers or it needs to act in concert with other parts of the UK, rather than by promising to lead the way.

Where Assembly members have made some effective, challenging and timebound recommendations the Government’s response is to kick the can down the road. 

For example, the Assembly made a very clear and effective recommendation on building quality (buildings produce 20% of Scotland’s emissions through heating). This was to ‘Update building standards to ensure that, within the next 5 years, all new housing is built to Passivhaus standards’, and retrofitting of all existing homes by 2030 to be net zero’. This was agreed by 97% of the Assembly members (one of the highest levels of agreement). This would not only help reduce carbon emissions drastically, but would reduce the cost of infrastructure, bring homes out of fuel poverty, create thousands of jobs and reduce the burden on our NHS by improving the living conditions for hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. Instead the Government’s response was – in effect – to ignore the urgency of the issue, dismiss the recommendation, and refer to ongoing consultation, meaning many people will continue to suffer ongoing damp and mould problems in their homes up until 2040.

Likewise with transport, the biggest single emitter of emissions in Scotland, the Assembly recommended we ‘Make public transport cheaper, or free, by reviewing tender processes to focus government subsidies into nationalised public/private partnerships or not for profit public transport providers.’ The Scottish Government response shows zero appetite for structural change, but instead disregard the Assembly’s deliberations, promising only ongoing generalised reviews of fares rather than making public transport free or removing the profit motive from public transport. 

An emergency situation requires an emergency response not business as usual.

This is obviously not a criticism of Assembly members, who worked really hard to arrive at some very good specific targets and recommendations. The Stewarding Group came up with an astute question, but the very weak process then put in place inevitably produced results that do not match for the scale, severity and urgency brought by the climate crisis.

Extinction Rebellion Scotland left the Climate Assembly Stewarding Group before the Assembly had begun. Despite our best efforts it had become obvious that this process was not being designed to be balanced, proportionate and effective.

The Assembly seems to have been training assembly members to speak the language of Government, rather than enabling them to find their own language and understanding based on fully assessing a wide and deep enough range of evidence.

As a country we have been badly served by this process. 

The Government has in effect co-opted the concept of an emergency and used a weak Citizens Assembly process as inclusion theatre, to make it seem as though everyone agrees that all we can do is continue with the business as usual that is causing the emergency.

The Assembly proposals and Government response takes us a few steps in the right direction on an escalator that is fast moving us the other way towards ecological disaster.

What next?

Will a weak outcome from this Citizens Assembly undermine confidence in deliberative democratic processes? Will it be taken as evidence that Assemblies don’t work? 

Such conclusions are mistaken. This Assembly process failed to enable meaningful thinking on the climate emergency because those who shaped it clearly had greater fear of rocking the boat, than of the boat plunging over the waterfall.

Assemblies can be the way to break the business as usual logjam that is paralysing effective action. For that, they need to be given the time and range of expert input to be able to arrive at their own understanding of the level of the emergency, and the transformations needed to address it. They could look at 30 years of failed COPs and rapid global heating, at Government targets that grab low hanging fruit and boast about success, whilst distracting attention from the actual drivers of the crisis – which are rooted in our failing economic model. Assemblies need to have the chance to look at  fossil fuel companies’ stranglehold on government and society, including the billions in tax breaks that they receive, and the chance to see that it doesn’t have to be this way.  

Designed and facilitated by a group who are not afraid to step up to the challenge, the outcome could have been very different. 

The five Extinction Rebellion Scotland activists who were most involved in trying to help the Assembly to succeed have gone on to form Grassroots to Global. We see no point in demanding that the Government create an effective Citizens Assembly – clearly the current system cannot save us from itself: citizens need to create our own people-led Citizens Assembly to democratically achieve what political parties have proved themselves incapable of doing. 

Grassroots to Global has been drawing on the experience of Assemblies in places like Chile, Mexico, Spain and India which have enabled deep political transformation – sometimes at regional levels, and sometimes at national levels. We have been working to create collective processes which enable people to really listen to one another and think creatively together as citizens. For us, ‘citizenship’ is not something the State has the right to withhold. It is something all who live here possess. We all have the right and responsibility to decide the future of the community and the country where we live. 

The current system is manifestly not working. Politics-as-usual has failed us. We have to stop outsourcing politics to politicians. We need to get skillful at the difficult, messy and creative business of deciding together how we live together. We need a deeper democracy to deal effectively with the root causes – not only of the climate and ecological emergency but also of the many other social and economic  emergencies folk in Scotland face every day. 

We plan to develop this over the next two years, working with groups and individuals across Scotland to help catalyse and support a range of People’s Assemblies at different levels in Scotland, working towards a people-led Citizens Assembly in 2024 which could decide, for example, on a manifesto for government-by-assembly to run in the Scottish elections in 2026.

Comments (30)

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  1. John McLeod says:

    THe awful truth, and urgency of the stuation we find ourseves in (and how misguided many current solutions are), is summarised in a recent book: Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert.

    At the same time, we live in a democracy. It does not seem realistic to me that a citizen assembly and government response, in Scotland at the start of 2022 would come up with proposals that would meet the expectations of Extinction Rebellion or Jensen, Keith and Wilbert. As I understand your blog article today, you are arguing that (a) the Assembly was forced to operate within certain parameters, and (b) the Scottish Government response is not strong enough or fast enough. But presumably you agree that most of it is at least heading in the right direction? By agreeing to all these actions, the SG is opening itself to pressure to do better.

    I think that one of the problems is that there is not enough sustained attention, coverage and dialogue about these issues in the Scottish media, local meetings, and everday conversations. The Assembly report and SG response includes about 80 recommendations – probably more, because some of them break down to several fairly substantial sub recommendations. To do justice to this agenda calls for at least one substantial news article, TV programme, public debate or other event EVERY DAY,. Why is it so hard to imagine anything along these lines ever happening? The more discussion there is (e.g., a kind of assembly process that in principle involves everybody all the time), the more awareness there is, and the more pressure on the SG.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Sadly, the media in Scotland stopped giving any serious attention to public policy issues long ago. As I recall, the response of BBC Scotland to COP26 was to put Gary Robertson on the roof of Pacific Quay.

  2. John Monro says:

    Sisyphus might recognise the problem here. AKA beating your head against a brick wall. I don’t know the answer, I wish I did. Civil disobedience on a big scale is the only thing that ever actually achieves much. National strike, Tax strike, That might get some daily coverage. Urban guerrilla warfare without guns or fists. But here I am, 75, suggesting something I might be pretty fearful about doing. I wouldn’t wish to be fined a lot of money for instance, as that’s my pension. So what am I personally willing to give up for our future? Uncomfortable thoughts.

    1. John McLeod says:

      I agree – these are very uncomfortable thoughts. I am also uncomfortable with the statement in the article: “Politics-as-usual has failed us”. I agree that politics as usual has not faced up to the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity etc in an adequate way. I have often wondered whether the Scottish cabinet has been briefed about the reality of what is happening, and then whether they (a) are personally not able to take it on board, or (b) actually understand the reaiity but are worried about the electoral consequences of admitting it or acting on it. But ‘failed’ …. ???? I still believe that in Scotland (not the UK), on the whole we have poltiicians who are genuinely doing their best for the country. Yes, it is long past time for a renewall of democracy, in terms of more power to communities, more assemblies, more dialogue, etc. This will happen as soon as the result from the forthcoming independence referendum is announced (whatever the result is).

      Why so few BC readers responding to this important aricle by Kate Dyer and colleagues?

      1. @ John McLeod says:

        Here’s a response:

        We do need deeper democracy; a trend away from ‘outsourcing our politics to politicians’ towards assuming greater responsibility ourselves for our public decision-making. We need it for the sake of greater autonomy.

        But how do the authors of the article know in advance of the fact of the decision-making itself that the priorities and agenda an autonomous demos sets itself through its citizens’ assemblies (or whatever) will accord with those that they themselves have identified?

        The whole article is very prescriptive and presumptive of the issues the demos should address and decide. How would the authors enforce its prescriptions and ensure that the demos turns to and remains on the same page that they’re on?

  3. Alastair McIntosh says:

    Excellent comments here from John McLeod and John Monro. I think we’re looking at 3 types of failure.

    1. A failure of leadership. (That’s an easy target to point at, but in a democracy leaders have to live with electoral consequences, therefore….)

    2. A failure of mandate. (In a recent UK-wide poll, the Green Party was on only 3%, and rarely climbs above single figures, possibly because of….)

    3. A failure of options. (I have seen no worked out plan for how the UK could even approach XR’s demand for net zero by 2025 without social chaos, and even 2050 (2045 in Scotland) is being pushed back on and interim targets missed. Why? Because there is a deficit of easy answers that can add up to the public’s demand both for relieving poverty of the poor, and much bigger, sustaining the profligacy for the well-to-do.)

    A citizen’s assembly can be great as a kind of extensive and fast-educated focus group. But for governments to take its recommendations as more than advisory or aspirational, the electorate would have to accept deferring some or all of its authority to an oligarchy (government by the few).

    Plato might have approved. That would approach his philosopher kings aristocratic ideal (government by the best), but it failed to win the day in Ancient Greece, and whatever the failings of democracy, most people would probably still choose for decision making power to rest in the hands of those they elect. Especially so, when tough decisions have to be made that many, sorry to say, may perceive as limiting their consumerist freedoms.

    There, in my view, lies the trilemma. There’s a dearth of answers that add up given how the world works and the current state of human consciousness. To bounce matters on to a CA lacks sovereign political mandate because a CA doesn’t have to answer to an electorate based on what may, within the short temporal horizons of electoral considerations, prove to have uncomfortable consequences – and especially so in what, for many, remans a narcissistic and hedonistic age with folks voting from their hip pockets.

    1. @ Alastair McIntosh says:

      ‘A citizen’s assembly can be great as a kind of extensive and fast-educated focus group.’

      Perhaps, but that’s not the primary function of citizens’ assemblies, which is to bring decision-making down from the more abstract heights of central government and closer to the neighbourhoods those decisions most immediately affect; what the UN’s global development network, the UNDP, calls ‘local action for global goals’.

      Both national and international government has shown itself incapable of large-scale sustainable action in long-term response to capitalism’s serial crises, of which the climate emergency is only the most politically spectacular; only small-scale local actions are sustainable in the long-term. We’re only going to get through the immanent collapse of capitalism through community development and empowerment, and not through political spectacle like COPs and national government consultations masquerading as citizens’ assemblies.

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        I’m a bit puzzled by this post, folks, the one that’s headed “@ Alastair McIntosh”, as it looks as if it’s a repy from me, but it’s not. Perhaps it’s a Bella ediorial response? Anyway, I’m just wanting to be clear that it’s not me. And thanks to John McLeod for his response. This afternoon I had a DM from Justin (one of the original authors) saying he’s away this w/end but hopes to reply, so watch this spot, and John, I’ll hold off until Justin chips in and then reply to whatever might call for a response. Cheers.

        1. Hi Alastair – no its not a comment from me. It’s a confusing new habit.

    2. John McLeod says:

      Alastair’s three types of failure offers a valuable way of looking at the situation. To expand:

      1. Failure of leadership. While I believe that the First Minister and senior ministers of the SG are offering leadership in a lot of areas, this does not include the area of the climate crisis as an actual emergency. As far as I can see, none of them talk about this issue from a basis of personal experience and connection with the land – compared to, for example, Alastair himself, or Andy Wightman.

      2. A failure of mandate. I am not so sure about this. Looking beyond parliamentary votes and opinion polls: (i) all parties in Scotland (not sure about Conservatives) give the climate emergency a high priority in their manifestos, party conferences, etc ; (ii) surveys of the public – and particularly younger people – report very high levels of concern, fear etc. ; (iii) my prediction would be that green policies would clearly be at the top of the agenda in the first parliament following independence – we are (sadly) in a phase of waiting for that major political shift to happen, before being able to work on actually creating a different society with the tools that are available. So there is a mandate for action. Maybe not a mandate on specific policies that might be unpopular – but part of the function of leaders is to explain why certain changes are necessary in order to achieve desirable goals.

      3. A failure of options. I do not agree with Alastair here at all. Lots of people have lots of ideas, and there are many wonderful projects underway, such as wilding, planting trees, plastic-free shops, people deciding not to own cars or fly, and so on. I am not sure whether it is possible or desirable to have “a plan for how the UK could even approach XR’s demand for net zero by 2025 without social chaos”. It is too complex a problem – a plan that was too rigid and prescriptive would run the risk of excluding initiatives and ideas that emerged in the course of a creative response to that complexity. However, I do think that it might be useful to have a strategy. In my first post on this thread, I was essentially suggesting a strategy based on a constant dynamic between the government doing everything possible to support local action, and at the same time communities and groups applying constant pressure and scrutiny on the government to deliver on its promises (for instance, the commitments made in the SG response to the climate assembly recommendations). For this to work, the issues need to be in the front of the national consciousness. This then leads to the other strand of the strategy: using all possible cultural forms (newspapers, TV, internet, events, museums, art, drama, music, street theatre, pilgrimage…) to make the emergency their primary focus. Every day there should be at least one government report or speech, every day the emergency should be the at the forefront of the TV news, and so on.

      Another point: “…without social chaos”. There will be chaos. That is a very frightening prospect. Any liminal stage, beyond the familiar and known is experienced as chaos. The old stories don’t make sense in these times.

      Finally – @ John McLeod (an earlier post on this thread) is not me. Its another John McLeod. If we are going to respond to BC articles, it would be useful to agree some variant on our names.

      And also: if you have a look at the book by Derrick Jensen and colleagues, mentioned at the start of my first post, you will see why Alastair’s campaign to stop mining in Harris/Lewis was such a precious and historic contribution to our society. The book explains in graphic detail what mining really means in reality. It also explains what solar panels and wind turbines really mean in reality (i.e., more mines) – but that’s another story.

    3. This comment is from Justin K one of the authors …

      Hi Alastair

      I’m up Glen Lyon getting more and more snowed in, so only swiftly replying now.

      I’m aware that Eva is responding on our (Grassroots to Global’s) overall approach but I just wanted to respond on one small aspect.

      XR Scotland has long differed from XR UK in many ways.

      XRS prioritises the need to tackle the system driving the crisis rather than simply focusing on the climate, and (whether it’s judged a success or failure at it) the focus of XRS is in including the marginalised whereas the focus of XRUK is on including what they perceive as a Tory voting English general public.

      XRS has always demanded a citizens assembly but has been open minded as to whether that should be created by Govt (we now know that can’t work) or by citizens.

      A lot of folk who were in XRS have moved on to other creative ways of responding or have burnt out. My sense is that such movements come and go. They don’t define people, but offer a space for peoples love and care and passion to express themselves, and for people to connect with others who care and then go on to do other things together – whether living lives, forming workers coops, transforming society – or moving on to other ways of trying to address the same crisis.

      What Roger Hallam thinks is not that crucial to most who were blockading roads. It did become critical in the October 2019 rebellion when an instant poll of XR folk on the streets of London found that the vast majority objected to a proposed blocking of the tube, and only a few per cent supported it. The majority of us in XRUK Political Circle also objected, but the action went ahead and we missed the moment when we were about to have Corbyn and many other political, religious and civil society ‘leaders’ come to Trafalgar Sq and help build a majority for transformative change.

      Those of us who have moved on to creating Grassroots to Global (G2G) still see the need for creative disruptive NVDA, but we don’t accept Roger Halham’s or XR’s overall strategy, in that we don’t believe the focus should be only on the climate and ecological emergency, on reaching only 3.5% of people and filling the jails, on making demands of an inevitably failing representative democracy.

      We believe that we can do so much better than that. Democracy can be so much better than that. It has to be. We have to make it work for everyone’s needs. We have to undertake a politics of care rather than outsource responsibility to others who we then make demands of and blame.

      Citizens assemblies are being used to do some going work (from one perfectly valid perspective) and to greenwash inaction (from another perfectly valid perspective. They are not being used in the transformative way we need.

      Representative democracy is just one form of democracy. Most of the communities I work with and know of in Africa and many other places use forms of democracy based on assemblies not on the isolated experience of casting a vote alone in a voting booth for someone you don’t know to represent you, after very little genuine public discussion, and before they (or rather their party) then goes on to decide everything regardless of you, until the next time voting comes round.

      Our society is so anti-democratic (the UK in particular) in that we are trained from early on, from our experience of school, to be obedient, do what we’re told, that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer (and now with the well-intended but dementedly-implemented ‘curriculum for excellence’ – that there’s only one way of expressing that ‘right answer’) and therefore our work places are run not as democracies but as dictatorships, and we’re taught to outsource our story telling to the media, our politics to politicians and our economic well being to a Ponzi scheme of financiers who’s job – whatever their personal preference – is to fleece us

      We can do so much better than this. We don’t need an independence for Scotland that just reproduces the same.

      Not sure if you caught the last few paragraphs of our article.

      We’re aware that we have to succeed within this system without becoming it, if we’re to have a chance of transforming it utterly and giving ourselves a chance of survival.

      We’re also aware we’re just a few folk trying to create a new politics in a context where folk are persuaded there is no alternative. There is and shears was an alternative. We all experience it, if only in relationships in the family and amongst friends, where we know that we and others do things out of care for others not in the basis of coercion or calculation.

      Humanity isn’t the problem. The problem is an inhumane system. It is just one wonderfully emergent human system amongst the tens of thousands there have ever been. They all end. Lets end this one well, rather than be ended by it

      1. 220206 says:

        “XRS prioritises the need to tackle the system driving the crisis rather than simply focusing on the climate…”

        And more power to XRS’s and G4G’s elbow for so prioritising the structural/systemic dysfunction of capitalism rather than the symptoms/ideological forms through which that dysfunction expresses itself; e.g. the whole discourse ‘climate emergency’.

        Both national and international government has shown themselves incapable of large-scale sustainable action in long-term response to capitalism’s serial crises. The climate emergency is one of those crises; the structural/systemic incapacity of our current government institutions and general régime of representative democracy to act sustainedly is another. Only small-scale local actions are sustainable in the long term. We’re going to survive the immanent collapse of capitalism not through the political spectacle of COPs and national government consultations masquerading as ‘citizens’ assemblies’, but only by pursuing an ongoing régime of community self-development and self-empowerment.

        The value of citizens’ assemblies lies not in serving government as ‘a kind of extensive and fast-educated focus group’, but in bringing decision-making down from the heights of national and international abstraction and closer to the neighbourhoods those decisions most immediately affect; what the UN’s global development network, the UNDP, calls ‘local action for global goals’.

        The thing about more direct democracy and greater neighbourhood autonomy in decision-making, however, is that its agendas can’t be controlled (which is kinda the idea). We can’t guarantee that local neighbourhoods will prioritise the issues we think they ‘should’ prioritise; e.g. the issue of climate change. We can’t know or legislate or prescribe or presume or otherwise control in advance of the fact of the decision-making itself what the priorities and agenda an autonomous demos will set itself through its neighbourhood assemblies. That’s the thing about autonomous neighbourhood assemblies and direct democracy in general: they’re just as likely to enact a pogrom as they are a community garden or a scheme that will make it self-sufficient in the generation of clean energy.

        We do need deeper democracy; a trend away from ‘outsourcing our politics to politicians’ towards assuming greater responsibility ourselves for public decision-making in our own communities, from the real communities of family and neighbourhood to the imagined communities of nationality and internationality. We need it for the sake of the greater autonomy towards which the immanent collapse of capitalism and its ideological forms (like representative democracy, capital growth, political spectacle, etc.) will release us. But that deeper democracy might not come up with the answers (or indeed the questions) we’d have it come up with.

        1. Eva Schonveld says:

          “they’re just as likely to enact a pogrom as they are a community garden or a scheme that will make it self-sufficient in the generation of clean energy”

          We can’t – and mustn’t – insist on pre-determined outcomes for democratic processes, but we can – and must – insist on high quality process. This is at the core of what G2G is looking at: not ‘how do we get people to agree with us?’ but ‘what are the enabling conditions for people to deliberate and decide together with kindness, maturity, responsibility and care for the future?’ Business as usual relies on keeping us apart from one another with economic and social stratification that pits us against one another rather than against the system. A new system will need to work with the challenging underlying assumptions we all hold that make us reactive instead of listening better to one another.

  4. Alan B says:

    Interesting article and who wouldn’t be disappointed with a process discussing such a mammoth topic and sub topics with a group of randomly selected people many of whom knew little of the topic, it’s urgency or scale.
    The UK gov led CA was a flop and much more about approving existing gov strategy and policy. The Scottish one was a little more open but still led by topic experts who themselves seemed constrained to describe each aspect in a light touch way.
    The top video is the excellent Kevin A, and he provided the most honest presentation of the facts and the falsehoods behind using net zero, etc.
    Broadly I felt that each sub topic needed its own CA. There was too little time for the participants to learn enough about transport, build environment, food, energy generation, etc. the CA in Ireland worked because it was a single topic to discuss. This was way away too big. Equally those coordinating it all didn’t insist on SMART statements and many CA recommendations had no timescales attached. Do X bit no definition of ‘by when’. A massive opportunity for SG to say – we are working on that.
    The CA was just an important part of the journey we are on. It wasn’t ever going to be perfect and it could have been much better, but that doesn’t mean it was a total failure.
    The climate emergency needs so so much more than just political policies. If anything, the failure helps us to gather the confidence to learn from it and to do better.
    Onwards.

  5. Eva Schonveld says:

    Thanks all for engaging so thoughtfully with this piece. Agreed, it’s not surprising that a government CA has failed to make much impact: given the urgent need for change, this is why we are convinced that the response needs to come from elsewhere. We have collectively given much of our power to democratic systems based on outdated assumptions about how good decisions get made and that (as a result) have become disastrously coopted and mired in egoism, personality politics and power games. This crisis of capitalism, brought to a head by climate change, can only be addressed by taking back that power – not reactively – but through carefully developing a better system that enables us to consider issues in a mature and compassionate way. The earlier we attempt this, the more resilience, experience and skill we will have developed in staying human with one another as the old system collapses.

    How do we know people in Assemblies will agree with us? We don’t – and we shouldn’t. This isn’t about a new group being in charge, it’s about trusting that given the right conditions, people who have no vested interests apart from living well with their families and friends are perfectly capable of considering complex issues and developing wise solutions. We need to ensure that citizen-led assemblies are transparent, thorough and well thought through. Grassroots to Global have been, and will continue over the coming year, to pilot different processes and structures which help people to think outside our current, very narrow, set of assumptions about ‘how the world is’.

    Government by Assembly is not oligarchy. Government by the few is what we have now, witness the current bunch in Westminster doing a great job of demonstrating that the democratic process we have at the moment is largely a facade. Government by assembly is Direct Democracy. Using the principle of subsidiarity, local people’s assemblies could make most of the decisions that affect local people, and could come together in wider assemblies to consider issues that need to be coordinated or have wider social impact. This is what we mean when we say politics as usual has failed us: we need a very different way of making our collective decisions. Current systems are failing on multiple fronts, they have been unable to effectively tackle poverty, homelessness, the mental health crisis and many others. Climate change is not an environmental issue – it’s the result of a set of social assumptions that keep a fundamentally cruel and ultimately doomed system in place. The sooner we collectively pull away from it and pool our effort into creating something that stands a chance of restoring balance, the better.

    Agreed, the media also bears a great deal of responsibility for the tragically slow pace of change. Our project focuses on politics (collective decision making), economics (how we meet our needs) and media (the stories we tell ourselves) as three essential keys for change. We aren’t primarily focused on trying to reform our current structures – we’re looking at how we develop better systems that are fit for the needs of these times and which build on the best of human nature rather than (as so often happens just now) the worst.

    Yes, civil disobedience is also needed – and XR is continuing to build on their past achievements, and has apparently learned a lot from its early mistakes: https://extinctionrebellion.uk/2022/01/23/xr-uk-strategy-2022/. That said, XR Scotland has long differed from XR UK in that XRS prioritises the need to tackle the system driving the crisis rather than simply focusing on the climate, and XRS has always demanded a citizens assembly but has been open minded as to whether that should be created by Govt (we now know that can’t work) or by citizens. While G2G (those of us writing this article) see the need for creative disruptive NVDA, we don’t accept Roger Halham’s or XRUK’s overall strategy, in that we don’t believe the focus should be on only the climate and ecological emergency, on reaching only 3.5% of people and filling the jails, on making demands of an inevitably failing representative democracy. We believe that we can do so much better than that. Democracy can be so much better than that. It has to be. We have to make it work for everyone’s needs. We have to undertake a politics of care rather than outsource responsibility to others who we then make demands of and blame.

    In the coming year, Grassroots to Global will be working to develop just the kind of economic plan Alastair and John mention, bringing together those working at the top-end of sustainability and regenerating to work out how, with the right support, what they do could scale quickly. This can be put to Assemblies as one option, giving them a clear vision of how we could navigate our economy down a GHG emissions cliff-face without leaving anyone behind.

    One of the reasons a commensurate response to climate change has been so elusive is our tendency to in/out-group thinking. We rarely make connections between the root problems of our most intractable social and environmental issues and even more rarely examine how we could come together across a range of issues to address them. We tend to point the finger at capitalism, but in fact the root causes are deeper and lie in our unconscious acceptance of and complicity with a culture of domination. We need to uncover, understand and heal these collective unconscious roots that lie within and between us, manifesting in our social processes and structures. Continue to ignore them, and whatever changes we attempt will just end up recreating another dominating system. In creating an existential deadline for humanity, climate change only leaves us one way out: we must wake up or perish.

    1. 220206 says:

      ‘Government by assembly is Direct Democracy. Using the principle of subsidiarity, local people’s assemblies could make most of the decisions that affect local people, and could come together in wider assemblies to consider issues that need to be coordinated or have wider social impact.’

      Indeed, that’s all well and good and laudably idealistic. We do need deeper democracy. But the BIG question is: what actions CAN we take to transform the current (failing) representative and top-down structure of our decision-making into a more participative and bottom-up structure? How S.M.A.R.T. are G2G’s objectives?

      You see, I suspect that G2G’s initiative might just be another instance of political spectacle, a major feature of which is a disconnection between ends and means; that is, between our aspirations and [a realistic assessment of] our capacity to achieve those aspirations. I really hope it isn’t.

      So, how SMART are G2G’s objectives in relation to its pursuit of direct democracy and the transformation of the current (failing) representative and top-down structure of our decision-making into a more participative and bottom-up structure?

      1. Eva Schonveld says:

        “So, how SMART are G2G’s objectives in relation to its pursuit of direct democracy and the transformation of the current (failing) representative and top-down structure of our decision-making into a more participative and bottom-up structure?”

        We’re not working with SMART objectives. Which isn’t at all to say that we’re not clear about where we’re going – or careless about learning from where we’ve been. But we’re trying something new here – and that entails acknowledging just how much we don’t know, as well as being clear about what we do know. We’re in the process of testing our assumptions and piloting processes based on a series of learning questions. SMART measures may come later on.

        Opinions within our group about the extent to which we’re working towards transforming the current system or working on a completely different system which may have the potential to replace it. For myself, I see no hope in trying to work within the current system. Ideally, I’d love to think that we can be so successful that at some point there will be a graceful transition of power to a beautifully organised, bottom up system of Assemblies, working from the hyper-local to the global, but it may be that we end up being one set of players in a sudden collapse scenario, or that we fail to gain any traction at all and stay in our bubble… time will tell.

        At the AGM of my local Transition group talk turned to revolution – raised by someone else, not me – to general agreement! Even a year ago I’d never have believed it, but it’s a sign of the ever more interesting times we are in that such conversations are happening more and more often. I have no idea where this work will take us, but like increasing numbers of people I have reached the point where I am more willing to embarrass myself by trying something and being wrong, than to sit by and watch the car crash that’s only just getting started.

        1. 220207 says:

          The enabling conditions for people to deliberate and decide together, without conditions or a pre-agenda attached, is the existence of a problem that concerns them enough to overcome their social inhibitions and assemble as an action group to produce solutions to that problem.

          Nothing mobilises a community of interest more than successful outcomes (making a difference). Successful outcomes make all the trouble to which the members of that community have gone, in giving up their time and in overcoming their inhibitions and reservations about ‘getting involved’ to ‘get involved’, worthwhile to them. Nothing demotivates a community more than going to all that trouble just to then be focused by professional facilitators on process (to blather on about how they’re going to act as an action group) rather than produce outcomes (to actually make a difference).

          That’s why SMARTER action is so important. SMARTER action produces outcomes/makes a tangible difference to the situation that concerns the people involved; mapping what we know and what we don’t know and educating people as to how they ought to conduct their action preconditionally (e.g. with ‘kindness, maturity, responsibility and care for the future’; i.e. in a ‘godly’ manner) doesn’t.

          SMARTER action just needs a fag packet and for the community to agree what specific action it’s going to take to improve the situation that concerns them, whether or not the action it’s proposing to take is realistic given the resources it has at its disposal, what needs to be done and who among them is going to do what and when, and how it’s going to know whether or not its action’s been successful. It’s hardly rocket science; community groups employ this process every time they mobilise to arrange a response to some local emergency or organise a children’s gala.

          And it’s not that unusual for such communities of interest to join up in networks and syndicates and cooperatives to produce solutions to issues of mutual concern; such networking is called ‘the voluntary sector’.

          When push comes to shove, people will always come together in their communities to produce local solutions to the crises that affect them, including the global crises that capitalism generates. Let’s not make a moral and scientific song and dance of it; just give us the tools…

          1. Eva Schonveld says:

            A SMART approach, which is great as you say for organising a children’s gala, but it maybe not so useful for changing a system because systems are complex and adaptive and respond in unexpected, unpredictable ways: there are too many elements to be able to be specific about them; they change unpredictably, so impact is hard to measure; our ideas about what is achievable and realistic are totally conditioned by our lifetimes within a relatively stable (compared to what’s coming) historic period which is rapidly coming to an end; and we’re so far behind timely on this that it’s hardly worth taking it into account! It’s not that processes like this aren’t useful – they’re just a really tiny element of what’s called for here.

            And it sounds like you don’t have much time for our approach either. Fair enough – the proof will be in the pudding – and I say that without any idea of which pudding will end up being most helpful. I don’t think any of us really knows how to shift this system or we’d already have done it, so the more approaches we’re trying the merrier! Wishing you very good luck with what you’re up to.

          2. 220207 says:

            Perhaps ‘changing the system’ is a bit too big and abstract a task for direct democracy (‘Government by assembly… Using the principle of subsidiarity, local people’s assemblies could make most of the decisions that affect local people, and could come together in wider assemblies to consider issues that need to be coordinated or have wider social impact.’) to undertake.

            But perhaps direct democracy – leaving people to come together in communities of interest to define and address their local concerns through outcome-driven SMARTER activism, and in networks of communities to address wider mutual concerns through the same process – is itself the systemic change we’re seeking rather than the end you’re trying to achieve through some more other as yet unknown or undecided process of system change. SMARTER activism is really not that problematic; it’s a tried and tested method of getting stuff done democratically, from the grassroots up, rather than having stuff done to us authoritarianly, from the top down.

            System change might really be that simple and less anally retentive.

        2. RalphS says:

          I also support the views of John Munro and fear for the future.

          My experience over decades of employment ( and experience of many cultures in 3 continents) is that mass collective input ends up just supporting the status quo, with minor change.

          Those projecting “good” ideas will only tell you of the benefits, not all the downsides or constraints/ impacts of such an approach.
          Hence just listening doesnt deliver.. and collective assessment doesnt allow for potential outlier solutions to be fully evaluated as they are a stretch too far for all.
          The Scottish Govt CA is a good example of this.

          Change comes by multiple testing of the existing condition to find that elusive way forward… and for that the collective to allow such challenge to take place even though it may not fully align with the collectives inbuilt hopes, prejudices, fears, expectations, timeframe etc

          Hence I too also support SMART, if adequately framed – as each element of that process can test the existing condition over a wide range of options and hence can deliver the required outcome(s) described in the initial frame.
          However SMART often fails because the initial frame definition/ expectation is changed…. in my experience the such change is initiated by the collective (who dont like the pathway that is emerging) or by leaders with inbuilt preferences/ direction etc

          The way forward proposed by the Scot Gov CA and GrassRoots to Global alternative appears to be already disgarding potential options for the future … and hence needs some form of disruptive challenge to their way of thinking , so that all options are assessed/ outcomes identified and potential pathways developed to overcome my fears for the future ( noting that these pathways dont have to be the same for all, given our different starting positions)

  6. Justin Kenrick says:

    Eva’s responded on our (Grassroots to Global’s) overall approach but I just wanted to respond on one small aspect.

    XR Scotland has long differed from XR UK in many ways.

    XRS prioritises the need to tackle the system driving the crisis rather than simply focusing on the climate, and (whether it’s judged a success or failure at it) the focus of XRS is in including the marginalised whereas the focus of XRUK is on including what they perceive as a Tory voting English general public.

    XRS has always demanded a citizens assembly but has been open minded as to whether that should be created by Govt (we now know that can’t work) or by citizens.

    A lot of folk who were in XRS have moved on to other creative ways of responding or have burnt out. My sense is that such movements come and go. They don’t define people, but offer a space for peoples love and care and passion to express themselves, and for people to connect with others who care and then go on to do other things together – whether living lives, forming workers coops, transforming society – or moving on to other ways of trying to address the same crisis.

    What Roger Hallam thinks is not that crucial to most who were blockading roads. It did become critical in the October 2019 rebellion when an instant poll of XR folk on the streets of London found that the vast majority objected to a proposed blocking of the tube, and only a few per cent supported it. The majority of us in XRUK Political Circle also objected, but the action went ahead and we missed the moment when we were about to have Corbyn and many other political, religious and civil society ‘leaders’ come to Trafalgar Sq and help build a majority for transformative change.

    Those of us who have moved on to creating Grassroots to Global (G2G) still see the need for creative disruptive NVDA, but we don’t accept Roger Halham’s or XR’s overall strategy, in that we don’t believe the focus should be only on the climate and ecological emergency, on reaching only 3.5% of people and filling the jails, on making demands of an inevitably failing representative democracy.

    We believe that we can do so much better than that. Democracy can be so much better than that. It has to be. We have to make it work for everyone’s needs. We have to undertake a politics of care rather than outsource responsibility to others who we then make demands of and blame.

    Citizens assemblies are being used to do some going work (from one perfectly valid perspective) and to greenwash inaction (from another perfectly valid perspective. They are not being used in the transformative way we need.

    Representative democracy is just one form of democracy. Most of the communities I work with and know of in Africa and many other places use forms of democracy based on assemblies not on the isolated experience of casting a vote alone in a voting booth for someone you don’t know to represent you, after very little genuine public discussion, and before they (or rather their party) then goes on to decide everything regardless of you, until the next time voting comes round.

    Our society is so anti-democratic (the UK in particular) in that we are trained from early on, from our experience of school, to be obedient, do what we’re told, that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer (and now with the well-intended but dementedly-implemented ‘curriculum for excellence’ – that there’s only one way of expressing that ‘right answer’) and therefore our work places are run not as democracies but as dictatorships, and we’re taught to outsource our story telling to the media, our politics to politicians and our economic well being to a Ponzi scheme of financiers who’s job – whatever their personal preference – is to fleece us

    We can do so much better than this. We don’t need an independence for Scotland that just reproduces the same.

    Not sure if you caught the last few paragraphs of our article.

    We’re aware that we have to succeed within this system without becoming it, if we’re to have a chance of transforming it utterly and giving ourselves a chance of survival.

    We’re also aware we’re just a few folk trying to create a new politics in a context where folk are persuaded there is no alternative. There is and shears was an alternative. We all experience it, if only in relationships in the family and amongst friends, where we know that we and others do things out of care for others not in the basis of coercion or calculation.

    Humanity isn’t the problem. The problem is an inhumane system. It is just one wonderfully emergent human system amongst the tens of thousands there have ever been. They all end. Lets end this one well, rather than be ended by it

  7. Alastair McIntosh says:

    Hi Folks, I’m just going to make some brief comments on points directed to me, or more or less so. But let me say first of all what a rich and good-natured sharing has unfolded here. I’m going to keep this to a paragraph per person, albeit some rather long ones. I’ve given times below (but not full dates) just as a tag to distinguish between multiple posts.

    To the person presenting as @ Alastair McIntosh at 4:23 – I don’t know who you are, and John McLeod has similarly commented on finding it confusing in his instance: I do see that a CA’s is more intended to be more than an extended focus group, but to make it so requires some degree of sovereignty to be agreed. By sovereignty, I mean political governing or decision-making power. As I’ll expand later, I see this as a question of agency, and whether it is real or a simulacrum (“an unsatisfactory imitation or substitute”) of agency. Your point that “only small-scale local actions are sustainable in the long-term” is one that the dearest part of me agrees with, but also, we live in a nation of 5.5 million in a state of 67 million and a world approaching 8 billion. I believe there has to be an interplay between the parts of the system (the local) and the system as a whole (the global), and the latter is primarily what processes like COP 26 are speaking to.

    To John McLeod’s response at 7:25 – I appreciate your thoughtful response to my 3 points highlighting failure. On 2, I think the fly in the ointment is where you say that there’s high electoral concern about climate change, but “maybe not a mandate on specific polices that might be unpopular.” I am not convinced that independence would shift things. I strongly support Scottish independence (and think that medium to long term, it would be a very good thing for England too), but I rather suspect that one of the first steps might be mortgaging the oil and that, on the ground that if European neighbours are still using it, rather it be ours than from dodgy regimes elsewhere. I may be very wrong on that but at the moment, the SG was able to turn its back on Cambo albeit with potential political cost in marginal NE seats in the next election. In the realpolitik of independence, that high ground may be more costly to occupy. I’m not saying that because I want to see it happen. I’m saying it because, as a senior SNP figure said to me, and I paraphrase, this is not a direct quote: “It’s one thing to sign a pledge, but quite another to see it through and carry the responsibility for consequences”. You say that “There will be chaos. That is a very frightening prospect.” Yes, but for politicians on a 5 year electoral cycle, that liminality is very likely to have electoral consequences. And as you point out in your example of mining (and Derrick Jensen and I had a very rich podcast sharing a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like him, but we got on wonderfully), those consequences are compound and global, whatever way we look at things.

    To Justin Kenrick via Bella Caledonia Editor at 12:13 – Thank you for such a warm response, both you and Eva, especially as I was very aware that my points were a challenge to some of your work and hopes around it. I am very aware that Roger Hallam is not XR Scotland, and I made a point in writing Riders on the Storm to make that explicit. However, much of the thinking that surrounds XR and citizens’ assemblies (CAs) has come from him an his, in my view, regretful missive, “Common Sense in the 20th Century”. Too few have paid attention to the much more cautious and grounded framing that XR gave in its 2020 briefing paper, “The Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies”. Full discussion of this is in chapter 6 of my Riders on the Storm, “Rebellion and Leadership in Climate Movements”, and there’s a summary of parts of that chapter on RealClimate at https://bit.ly/31qzqJX though not, unfortunately, on the CA’s section. For me, what is important in discussion about CAs is, as suggested above, to be very clear about where sovereignty lies. Is the CA to advise elected government, a substitute for it to varying degrees, or some kind of hybrid? Such clarity matters because it defines how power flows, and when power flows, it can do so with power that must be prepared for and with responsibilities and accountability clearly laid out. I understand your frustration with representational politics and yet, I do think you need to have an answer of those who are not among the 100 or so chosen by sortation and who might feel that a CA is precisely what I suggested: an oligarchy, a government by the few, if it has any sovereign powers. Democracy is horribly frustrating, and while we may constantly point the finger at “capitalism” (usually without definition of what constitutes that), we are, at the end of the day, each of us only one eight billionth of a vote in this world. Yes, communities in Africa can function by assemblies, but most of those will be grassroots concerns. Climate change, however, requires not just the bottom up but also the top down. Whether or not to have a HS2 railway system, whether to expand terrestrial wind farms, whether to push heat pumps over gas (and what to do about electricity currently being 5 times more expensive than gas, as I was tweeting today), these are matters which might painstakingly be built up to national policy from local levels, but I do think they require a top down as well as the bottom up perspective. Lastly, you say “the problem is an inhumane system”. Yes, social systems like most systems take on their own emergent properties. In Soil and Soul pp. 108-9 I quote John Steinbeck from The Grapes of Wrath: “We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man [say the owner men] …. Yes, but the bank is only made of men [said the tenants].”

    To 220206 at 1015 – you also critique my extended focus group comment, and I should maybe have expanded more what I meant by that (I was tapping out on a phone). I thoroughly agree with what you say about “local action for global goals”, and in drawing on the UNDP for that, would point to such – and to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals in particular, as an example of the interplay I call for between top down (subsidiarity) and bottom up (what I call supersidiarity).

    To Eva Schonveld at 11:17 – I’ll try not to duplicate what’s already covered Eva, but again, I hear from you a very understandable profound frustration at the current structures of democracy. One thing I would add to what’s already been said, is that my own approach to UK democracy’s failings is to press for Scottish independence, not least because we have here a PR system. Were such a system to be applied across the UK, the UK’s politics would probably take on a very different colour. In particular, people who currently feel that their votes hardly count, like the Greens, might achieve real traction like they’ve done in Scotland and Germany. My personal work, therefore, has focussed on pushing forward land reform consciousness, and never missing an opportunity to show how that builds up into wider national consciousness. An example, is the People & Parliament process of which I was the prime initial initiator and researcher, moved forward under the chair of Canon Kenyon Wright in 1998-99 while he was also chair of the Constitutional Consultative Committee of the emergent new Scottish Parliament. Our reports, including the full technical report that I drafted, are online at https://bit.ly/34jJWVc. This involved some 500 small groups across Scotland, the bottom-up feeding in directly to the top down, some of it directly via Kenyon into Donald Dewar’s ear. So, my point is that there’s much in what we’ve already got in Scotland that we can put to work further, politically speaking, and much to be advanced by way of independence. I am sure that CAs can play various roles in that, but again, the sovereign constitution of them must be clear. You say, “local people’s assemblies could make most of the decisions that affect local people, and couild come together in wider assemblies to consider issues that need to be coordinated or have wider social impact.” I discuss this in the said Chapter 6 of Riders, citing the example of a New England town meeting that I attended, and research including that from Canada and Switerland. You may already be aware of that, but the main thing I would say, is that one of the main reasons why we have representative democracy is that many people wouldn’t want to be involved with all these decisions and meetings. Deciding whether to spend the budget on fixing the school or the fire engine (as was happening in the Connecticut meeting that I witnessed) can be fine at a very micro scale, but at the end of the day, too much participation becomes constipation. Meetings for this, that and the other fall into the category of Muriel Spark’s: “For those who like that sort of thing,” said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, “that is the sort of thing they like.” One of the concerns expressed around CA’s that’s in the literature I’ve cited is that what can feel inclusive for those who want to spend their weekends or evenings at meetings, and have the freedom to do so, may be very exclusive of others. Why do these concerns matter, especially my repeated emphasis on the extent and limits of sovereign agency? It is because I deplore what I see as the pied piper politics of making people think they’ve got more agency than they really have, and then their disappointment when they stand back, and see that they were merely wheels spinning round in the sand, kicking up dust. I do believe that sometimes we have to stand back and accept that our power is just that one eight billionth, and as we stand back waiting for the dust to settle, dig from where we stand. There’s the localisation. When the Indonesian Papuans were over in the Hebrides they said how little power they had, and we gave them each a souvenir Scottish teaspoon to take home. Sometimes that’s all we’ve got to dig with, but like we saw with Scottish land reform – we started the Eigg trust with £10 in the bank from Malcolm Slesser, the mountaineer and energy professor – when a trickle of water flows into that channel, a stream can start to flow and grow. Lastly, Eva, I could not have put better what you say about “we tend to point the finger at capitalism, but the root auses are deeper and lie in our unconscious acceptance of and complicity with a culture of domination [that] we need to uncover, understand and heal” at its roots between us … “we must wake up or perish”. Which, to me, is what makes these such frustrating, yet exciting times to be alive.

    Folks, I’ve responded with 2,000 words. Sorry it’s not shorter. I’m not even going to read over it or I’ll never get it sent. Treat this as a rough draft response only. I’d be happy to join in any Zoom at a suitable time with any group of you who’d like to thresh these questions further. Go well. Alastair.

    1. 220208 says:

      ‘…we live in a nation of 5.5 million in a state of 67 million and a world approaching 8 billion.’

      No, we don’t. We live in neighbourhoods of 10s and 100s, in streets and workplaces. Nations are abstract, imagined communities. How many of those 5.5 million people do you actually know?

      Neighbourhoods have specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (‘tangible’) needs around which they can mobilise in outcome-directed action groups. Neighbourhood action groups are small enough to enable all their constituent members to participate actively and directly in their decision-making. They’re also small enough and focused enough to have a strong degree of mutuality.

      Both the immediacy/tangibility and the mutuality of the needs around which people can actively mobilise to achieve real outcomes/make real differences to their lives become more attenuated and abstract the further we depart from the real communities or neighbourhoods in which we live and work. The further we depart from those neighbourhoods towards the more abstract communities of nationality and internationality, the more intangible the needs of those communities become, the more difficult it becomes for those communities to mobilise, and the more difficult it becomes for individual community members to actively participate in making the decisions that define and address the needs of their communities.

      Small is not only beautiful; it’s also more democratic and effective of change.

      The problem with the approach to community development that Eva, Justin, et al have outlined is that it seems to be:

      a) too prescriptive with regard to the issues that citizens assemblies ‘should’ be addressing – citizens assemblies work best when they emerge organically; that is, when they mobilise spontaneously around a tangible issue of mutual concern rather than assembled by others (politicians, consultants, government bureaucrats) to talk around the ‘bigger’ issues those others think they ‘should’ be addressing; and

      b) too process-focused – citizens assemblies work best when they’re outcome-driven rather than process-driven; that is, when they’re driven by the desire to make a tangible or ‘SMART’ difference to the lives of their participants rather than to dissect the process by which they might make differences in general.

      And the problem with your ‘top-down’ activism is precisely the problem on which the whole article is premised: that business as usual – the ‘outsourcing our politics to politicians’ – isn’t working:

      ‘Both national and international government has shown itself incapable of large-scale sustainable action in long-term response to capitalism’s serial crises…; only small-scale local actions [‘escalated’ as and when required in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity] are sustainable in the long-term. We’re only going to get through the immanent collapse of capitalism through community development and empowerment, and not through political spectacle like COPs and national government consultations masquerading as citizens’ assemblies.’

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        In describing my account of activism as top-down, 220208, I think you missed what I wrote about “the bottom-up feeding in directly to the top-down”, and the practical examples I nodded to and which my wider work and writing expands on.

        I’m puzzled. You say: “only small-scale local actions [‘escalated’ as and when required in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity] are sustainable in the long-term.” But by deferring to the principle of subsidiarity, you appear to be precisely accepting a top-down framing, as that is what determines what decisions may be made at what levels – at least in the usual (mainly European) articulation of that principle. It is also why many of us have a problem with Devolution and devolved models of federalism, because power allowed is power that can be withheld.

        It is to circumvent such limitations that I have, elsewhere, proposed the counterpoint of “supersidiarity” – building up from the principle, in the case of our own nation, that: “In Scotland, the people are sovereign.”

        I do not know who you are,220208, and perhaps you have professional reasons for needing to be anonymous. But if we ever meet, please consider making yourself known, and we can discuss these issues in ways that can take them deeper than is easily achieved with online discourse. Meanwhile I’ll leave it there.

        1. 220209 says:

          You’re perhaps misunderstanding the principle of subsidiarity.

          Subsidiarity is the principle that social and political issues should be decided at the most immediate (or local) level of social organisation that is consistent with their resolution and are only escalated to more general levels when the extent of the issue’s effect requires it.

          The idea is that any issue that affects only a single individual should be decided by that individual alone (this is the so-called ‘principle of liberty’), any issue that affects only a single household (or syndicate of individuals) should be decided by that household alone, any issue that affects only a single neighbourhood (or syndicate of households) should be decided by that neighbourhood alone… and so on, right up to global level. Decision-making, and the power and authority that goes along with it, thus proceeds from the bottom-up, with each successive level being ‘subsidiary’ or supplementary to the level below it.

          And thus the principle of subsidiary (which is really just an extension of the principle of liberty) reverses the usual top-down flow of power and authority, which reversal seems to be what you’re unnecessarily and erroneously calling ‘supersidiarity’.

          Same hymnsheet, different terminologies.

    2. Justin Kenrick says:

      Many thanks for your very clear “rough draft response” Alastair.

      I think I agree with almost everything in the particular paragraph in which you reply to my response, and I’d welcome a chance to discuss strategy around this process.

      Its funny how this format seems to ask folk to disagree, rather than to tease out convergence and encourage trustful leaps of imagination! I’m wondering what calls that out in this format, and what would be a format that would be far more of a welcoming of difference as mutually emlightening, rather than difference as disagreement?

      So I see a complete convergence between what we are saying (though maybe a difference in strategy, hence my suggesting that we make time to discuss that aspect).

      You write:
      “I understand your frustration with representational politics and yet, I do think you need to have an answer of those who are not among the 100 or so chosen by sortation and who might feel that a CA is precisely what I suggested: an oligarchy, a government by the few, if it has any sovereign powers.”

      I’d suggest that answer is there in the final 16 words of the last paragraph in the article:
      “We plan to develop this over the next two years, working with groups and individuals across Scotland to help catalyse and support a range of People’s Assemblies at different levels in Scotland, working towards a people-led Citizens Assembly in 2024 which could decide, for example, on a manifesto for government-by-assembly to run in the Scottish elections in 2026.”

      So yes, let’s discuss strategy on the basis of sharing a common vision – a strategy focused on the need to build legitimacy from the ground that also takes on board the need to secure legitimacy within the system as it is. I don’t think we need to “either/or” this situation. We need to “both/and” it – but that is way harder in practice, even if the principles are (I think and hope) clear.

  8. Justin Kenrick says:

    Hello someone who’s name is surely not 220209 !

    but who clearly likes the 9th Feb 2022 . . .

    I like a huge amount of what you are saying about subsidiarity.

    Its way of framing the situation and the solution that – usefully – fits well within the dominant system, while pulling against domination.

    However, from the point of view of many of the indigenous peoples I work with, the focus on individual liberty can be part of the problem if it is not balanced by a focus on relationality.

    An Australian friend of mine who works with Aboriginal people put it like this in an email yesterday:

    How can we “enable governments (in this instance) to appreciate that they are governing for plurality? Not ‘liberty’ as in the individual rights that liberal democracies promote, but the space to freely engage in pluralistic world-making practices. This concept is very easy to understand when you step out of enlightenment thinking (i.e. the true-false binary of universal knowledge through the ‘God’s eye view’).”

    There is something about the assembly processes that happen at all levels (primarily community, but – e.g. in Barcelona, Rojava, Zapatistas, Chile – also as regional and national processes) that can liberate this ability to recognise that the truth isn’t in what I’m saying or what you’re saying, that the truth we need here and now is one we can uncover and arrive at through dialogue, through plural perspectives.

    There is a truth, but it isn’t static.

    It is a moment in a relationship between relationships.

    When you happen upon it you can make things happen.

    It creates a molten moment in really practical ways (I’m thinking of successes in the land rights struggles I’m involved in in Africa, of marginalised communities reaching out to more dominant groups in a way that wins them over, or of successes in my community here in Portobello – such as stopping the loss of playing fields by coming together in a way that reached out positively to power rather than simply opposed it, etc, etc).

    Its the relational approach that objects the bulldozer thats’s destroying our worlds but in a way that doesn’t;’t just block the bulldozer but also wins the bulldozer driver, most often through finding out that we were involved in driving it all along, and we don’t have to.

    1. 220209 says:

      I’m sure people whose worlds are bounded by cultural horizons that are different from my own could contextualise the issue of cognitive justice in other, no less legitimate ways. But I operate from an Enlightenment perspective, having been constructed within the bounds of modern European culture, which is why I have to contextualise it by way of the whole Western discourse of ‘liberty’, ‘justice’, ‘equality’, etc.

      And I find that this can take me quite far. Liberty is the principle that we can think, say, and/or do what we like providing that, in thinking, saying, and doing so, we don’t detract from the liberty of others, and that conflicts that arise between us should be resolved by negotiating compromises in which we can mutually acquiesce; that is, which none of us will deem perfect, but which the all the parties involved in the conflict can live with. Liberty can thus provide us with ‘the space to freely engage in pluralistic world-making practices’ by legislating that no one has the right to prevent us from engaging in whatever world-making practices we choose unless those practices detract from the liberty of others to do the same.

      In this way, the principle of liberty can form a foundation for cognitive justice in Western thinking. Thus, the colonisation of indigenous world-making practices by European thinking throughout the modern period represents cognitive injustice precisely because (from a Western point of view) it was illiberal; it detracted from the liberty of indigenous people to engage in their own world-making practices. Other cultures might ‘feel’ and render this differently and no less legitimately for that, but this is the sort of discourse by which those of us who are ideologically constructed by European culture might be brought to ‘feel’ and render it equally.

      Likewise, the principle of liberty is based on a recognition that no one possesses the one and only Truth that they have a right or duty to impose on those who deviate from it. Again, the justification for colonising non-European cultures with European science and religion was and is an illiberal one. The principle of liberty issues in a conception of Truth as a compromise that’s continually being negotiated by the conflicting truths/worlds of different truth/world-makers; a compromise which none of the truth-makers involved will deem perfect, but which all can more or less live with.

      Above all, the principle of liberty requires pluralism for its realisation; just as liberty can provide us with ‘the space to freely engage in pluralistic world-making practices’, pluralism also provides us with the space in which we can all go our own variant ways within a framework of such limits that must be imposed in the interests of maintaining a peaceful and productive coexistence that’s conducive to the best interests of everyone alike.

  9. Gary McIntosh says:

    Very well written raising inumerable valuable points and issues. Why doesn’t EVERYONE care and take action? The mind boggles. This IS an emergency .

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