Fairer Scotland

What do you want?

June 22, 2015 by 5 Comments | Category Uncategorized

Yestival lecture

By Robin McAlpine [Director, Common Weal].

“What do you want?”. It can be the jovial offer of help from a cheerful shopkeeper or the terse suggestion that you should probably go away as uttered by a harassed parent or a deep, existential question about your hopes for the future asked by a friend in the wee hours or the exasperated cry of a partner weary of ingratitude. So how you ask a question can be just as important as the question you ask.

These are exciting times in Scotland. Whatever side you took during the referendum, the act of being asked the question ‘what do you want to be’ opened up a million conversations that stretched well beyond a Yes or No to independence. Many of us, activist or not, got into the habit of asking big questions of ourselves and our friends about the kind of society in which we want to live, the kinds of values we want to shape our nation and so on.

This felt so refreshing in part because asking big questions of ourselves and each other is not something the political culture of the West has encouraged over recent decades, a period dominated by politicians-as-managers and citizens-as-consumers. A lot of people in politics and in the media came to believe that people didn’t really want to talk about or think about the big issues of the world, that people just wanted security and comfort (possibly with a dash of greed and self-interest) and a big, father-like state to ‘just do it for us’.

Consultation sort of took over from involvement, so rather than be involved in shaping your community or your public services or the debate about how government should operate we were instead given questionnaires to fill out. Then, when what happened as a result didn’t match up to what we said we wanted when we filled out the questionnaire, we began to believe that no-one was really listening, that our views weren’t really wanted, that the whole thing was not about helping us to shape government but about helping government to manage us.

This does none of us any good. It does us no good to distrust how our society is run because we become cynical and we expect the worse and then come to accept it. It does government no good because it becomes alien to the people it is supposed to govern on behalf of, becomes mistrusted.

So we have to change how we do things, and I believe the idea of a ‘participatory democracy’ is our way forward. There are a whole range of ways that we can give people control over the decisions that are made on their behalf, or get them deeply involved in designing the services they use, or let groups of citizens provide advice on which direction to choose. However we move forward a democracy that sort-of assumes that its citizens are either disinterested in how their lives are run or are somehow incapable of making decisions for themselves is bound to fail in the long term. We’re not idiots and we don’t like being treated like idiots.

So we should very much welcome the question being asked by the Scottish Government. ‘What do you want?’. It is, I’m reassured, being asked because everyone involved really wants to know. So it is a question being asked honestly and openly. I want a society which is based on mutual respect and sharing, which provides us security from fear and anxiety (of ill health, of economic distress, of hunger and cold, of our personal safety), which encourages us to be better and more engaged citizens, not just more avaricious consumers, which values social spaces where we can meet and share (from your community hall which should be just round the corner to the children’s play park which ought to be at the end of your street), which really tries to leave our environment in a better state than we found it, that tries always to reduce violence, that lives peacefully in a world family of nations. I want to be happy. I want my family and my friends to be happy. And I want the many people I don’t know to be happy too.

So how you ask a question matters – but so does how you answer it. If the Scottish Government comes to your town and asks you what you want, and if you don’t take the chance to tell them – really tell them – then that’s your fault. If they don’t listen, that’s their fault. So don’t let anyone off the hook. It is time for us all to talk about how we want to live, what we want our nation to be. And its time to state that answer in such a way that we can’t be ignored again.


  • Mark Bishop says:

    I want a *Can Do* policy in Scotland. Far too many people use the word NO in every day conversations or business meetings. It’s depressing and is holding us back. I want the country to seriously work at being healthy and wealthy. Give the schoolchildren milk every day and the adults Vitamin D. Ban the fast food outlets or make them produce and sell healthy meals. Have designated live in clinics where people can be weaned off drink and drugs or lose their benefits. I want the Methadone Scheme stopped, it costs a fortune and robs people of initiative and self motivation. I want every person on benefits to go to a 9-5 daily training programme. I want a sharp, effective, efficient Scotland which stands on its own two feet and stops moaning about being hard done by. We need to show the world we CAN do it.

  • Debs46 says:

    I want a Scotland my son and his children can be proud of. I want industry and skills being sourced and built in Scotland first. I want young people leaving school to learn a trade in this country and to stay here because they are getting looked after properly and because they want to invest in the future. I want people to be proud of where they come from and of their young people and of their mentors passing on skills and expertise. I want people to build communities something I haven’t seen in my lifetime and my son doesn’t know exists. I want resources such as housing to be built around a community lifestyle like I’ve heard has been done in places like Norway. With shared areas such as washers and dryers and people living together helping each other out. I want places for folks to grow fruit and vegetables and share these resources with their communities. I want farmers to raise and sell produce locally without having to compete with the supermarkets. I want supermarkets to stop throwing away perfectly good food and items that are out of detected to give it to homeless shelters or refuges or anyone else who needs it. I want people to have enough to live on and a much much more fairer distribution of wealth. I want People to have a real say in what happens where they live and I want a fairer way of electing our local government officials. I want people to have faith in the system because they are part of it. I want to have our elderly and sick and disabled taken better care of by abolishing competitive tendering for social care and by paying people the appropriate rates of pay for the jobs they are doing. I want services to fit people and not the other way around where budgets will be controlled locally and distributed more appropriately. I want to abolish fat cat bonuses everywhere by making sure wages and taxes are paid appropriately and fairly and evenly throughout the workforce. I want massive penalties and sanctions for those who continue to play by their own rules and who dodge reform. Most of all I want no Westminster mps holding the purse strings for Scotland and holding our children’s futures dangling over a cliff edge.

  • Kirsty Macdonald says:

    I want a Scotland where we can fulfil our enormous potential to be a better, kinder community: where it is the norm to care about those around you, whoever they are, wherever they are; to take your part in the community, offering your time and skills in appropriate ways for the benefit of the whole; to aspire to finding a balance for people, profit and place; to be creative and innovative and have fun. (Better weather would be good too….!)

  • Helen Norton says:

    I want a Scotland free of sectarianism, bigotry, racism, etc, etc…
    Basically I want a Scotland where people have a community spirit and nobody looks down on anyone or for that matter with suspicion.
    I’d like a Scotland where people do not assume I’m thick as mince, a five year old or invisible just because I’m in a wheelchair.
    And I want a Scotland safe and free for our children.
    That’s an awful lot of wants for one wee comment, but I’d like to add one more.
    I want the strength to work towards these as if I’m not prepared to work for them then they are not going to be handed to me on a silver platter.

  • Helen Noble says:

    I want a Scotland that does not have fracking, underground coal gasification or any other unconventional means of extracting fossil fuels being carried out on/in or under it’s land and water.

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