Scotland could become a beacon for a brighter future … I envy you

Scotland could become a beacon for a brighter future … I envy you
By Neal Lawson
25.08.13

I look north to Scotland with at least a tinge of envy.

Away from the apathy and dejection spawned by the Westminster sluggers, politics seems to be coming alive in your country, as it must when big and meaningful decisions are entrusted to the people.

The referendum has ignited a political spark. So debate rages for and against the SNP who, along with Ukip, are alone among the political parties seeing their memberships increase, 600 people attend a left-wing gathering in Glasgow to debate independence (a turnout that exceeds, per capita, any political gathering elsewhere in the UK) and think-tanks like the Jimmy Reid Foundation spark into life.

Regardless of the result of the referendum itself, this is nothing but good for the heart and soul of Scotland. The capacity of the Scottish people and their belief in themselves can only be enhanced.

The organisation I chair, Compass, doesn’t have a fixed view on the referendum. Instead we start with this question: what is the good society and the good life as it relates to Scotland? What is to be a fully formed human being in the 21st century? What should we expect for our lives and those we live with?

Just to be asking these questions suggests a problem. Life for most in Scotland is insecure and anxious. All along the income chain most live just one or two pay cheques from economic disaster. Even those lucky enough to be well paid are exhausted by the earn-to-spend treadmill of modern consumer society, where enough is never enough.

Those further down the social ladder have all the pressure to keep up, but have to work two shifts a day to keep their heads above water. No-one has enough time for their friends and family. It’s a life that is simply out of our control.

So the Reid Foundation’s work on the Common Weal strikes a real chord. It says that, despite all we are told by the advertisers, we can’t hope to buy the good society or the good life off the shelf in the supermarket. We can only create it by working together in our communities, workplaces and political.  systems. It is a simple but compelling insight that our wellbeing must be common to us all – and that our fulfilment cannot be bought at the expense of others.

Will independence help or hinder the birth of a new common weal for Scotland and the shift to a good society that is much more equal, sustainable and democratic?

I see the referendum split political friendships and families north and south of the Border. I can see both sides. Why would other fellow progressives want to leave their comrades in England to the eternal mercy of the Tories? But equally, can’t Scotland show England and Wales what a progressive future looks like as an independent Nordic- style social democracy?

The debate and the decision will reverberate. It is already rippling south as the English question unfolds in its wake. Quite rightly it is up to the Scottish people to decide.

For those running the campaigns it will feel like a life or death struggle, a once-in-history chance the settle the national issue. As some- one who was at the forefront of the last national referendum, just 18 months ago on the AV voting system, let me tell you it isn’t.

Electoral reform, far from being dead, will be hack on the agenda the day after the next general election if first past the post delivers another hung parliament or gives office to a party which came second in the popular vote. Likewise in Scotland, if the Tories fail to win a single Scottish seat and yet rule the country, the national question will be quickly back on the agenda even after a referendum defeat.

Democratic renewal tends to occur around big revolutionary style events like these, not gradually. Scotland is facing such a big event. Whatever the outcome Scotland can become a beacon for a different and better future – a good society based in part on the notion of the common weal. But only if it embraces the power of the democratic surge that is being unleashed by the brave decision to let the people decide.

What will then be awoken may not just be a sense of Scottish national independence but something, dare I say, even more important. What will stir is the transformative capacity  of the Scottish people to determine their collective fate in their communities, their workplaces, their public services – as consumers and citizens – to make their world together.

The common weal can only be created by daring more democracy and trusting the people to manage their lives together. Democracy is the means and ends of the good society. The light from the north flickers and We are drawn to it – but will it burst into life?