Practical Idealism

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The outpouring of new thinking and energy is palpable but what about ideas and policy? Over the last year the Jimmy Reid Foundation has been creating a crowd-sourced think-tank that’s now been brought together in one book, written by Robin McAlpine. It’s a readable affordable blast of fresh air into a tired political landscape. This is an alternative manifesto for a fairer Scotland.

Scotland’s people are in a unique position – we have been invited to imagine our nation afresh. So let’s do it. Let us ask what our country would look like if we were to design it now. Twelve months ago this is what the Jimmy Reid Foundation did. It began work that became known as the ‘Common Weal project’. It started with simple aims – let’s think about what we want to achieve, let’s look around the world to see who has achieved it, let’s examine how they achieved it and let’s learn the lessons and apply them to 21st Century Scotland.

As the project got under way person after person, team after team came forward offering their expertise. In those twelve months the project snowballed. It now consists of over 50 major policy reports by scores of authors on everything from tax and banking to arts and food to industry and work to democracy and land. Together they build up a carefully-constructed, heavily-researched, well-referenced and compellingly-argued case for the transformation of Scotland. This is arguably the single biggest reimagining of a nation state in modern history.

But who can read 50 academic reports? Common Weal is about creating a politics and a society which once again puts citizens at its heart, so if it excluded them on the basis of complexity and jargon it would be hypocritical. A politics that can change Scotland can only be a politics that includes everyone.

So in these pages is an attempt to bring together the content of 50 major reports as a single programme for action. But with self-imposed rules – no jargon, no bullet-points, no footnotes, no graphs and charts, no italics, no language that could not be understood by any school-leaver. If you want these things they are in the reports; these pages are almost in an oral tradition, a story that takes us from the nation we are to the nation we can be.

Of course, in all these many pages of policy work there will be ideas and proposals that not everyone will precisely agree with and there will be other issues people feel are missing or insufficiently covered. But they do offer a consistent approach, a coherent philosophy – and a genuine path to a different future.

All of this takes place in the context of a debate about whether Scotland should become an independent country. This is not meant to be a case for or a case against independence but only a case for a better Scotland. Many of the authors involved believe that change can only come if Scotland takes the powers in its own hands – but some do not. What unites everyone who has been involved in this project is the belief that this must be an agenda for Scotland’s future no matter what the outcome of the referendum.

Scotland cannot go back to accepting the nation it is just now. Inequality, poverty, declining infrastructure, powerless communities, closed politics, profiteering, low pay, overwork, anxiety, stress and unhappiness – it is time to end the myth that we will ever defeat these problems unless we act decisively.

What’s stopping us? It’s certainly neither the desire for change nor the wealth and resources needed to make that change. Until now the biggest barrier has been confidence – we have been trained to believe that no alternative is possible, that achieving a decent society is just too damn complicated, so best not to try.

In these pages you will see that change isn’t complicated, it just requires will and hard work. The idea that in Scotland there just isn’t the savvy to drag ourselves up is nonsense. The idea that it can’t be done is disproved by all the other nations who have done it. And the clever-clever arguments that suggest there is something about Scotland that means we can’t do what they did? You can choose to believe them, but you will need to resign yourself to failure and decline.

By the time you reach the last of these pages you will know exactly how Scotland can be changed. You will have the knowledge to explain how it can be done. You will have the confidence that everything in these pages has been tried somewhere and shown to work. You will be able to explain how it can be paid for. Hopefully you will have the confidence to believe this can be our future.

What will happen next? No-one knows. But all across Scotland people are waking up. They are rubbing their eyes, remembering that this is their country and becoming angry at what it has become. If they too can have the knowledge of how we can change and the confidence that we can do it, for how much longer can the elite run our lives without our consent? The elite may spend their wealth persuading us that this is as good as it gets. Thankfully, democracy is more powerful again than they are.

We – the people of Scotland – have the power to build a Common Weal Scotland. First, let’s look at how we can do it.

Buy the book here.



Categories: Commentary

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14 replies

  1. We have not got Independence yet and the people who are undecided will not read this book because most of them cant read or won’t read.
    And yet we are still arguing about how the country should be governed ? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get people out on to the streets and tell them that there is a Referendum in September for or against Independence NOT a vote for the SNP ?
    Off Topic. Channel 4 get’s a big share of the Licence fee. It is also Unionist and very biased.
    Don’t talk to them.

  2. I have a mate who is in the default No stage. He say when he first heard about the referendum he “automatically” said he vote NO. We spoke for a wee while and i gave him stuff to read and guess what…..? he didn’t read anything and is still a NO. So i asked him to give me reason for staying as we are and he couldn’t. I’ll keep badgering him and hopefully get somewhere. I don’t mind he’s a NO but his reasons are awful.

    Bringing out a book might work displaying pages of what Scotland can become will be ok for a small few but the vast majority of folk don’t read past the morning papers. The ordinary man/ woman of the street won’t buy into what could happen ,. So my argument is always aimed at what we get from the UK and union. I use Food banks ,unemployment , poverty and public services which he is employed with.

    But it’s still a NO.

    How can we change peoples idea’s if they are blind to possibilities ?

    What chance of getting out the truth when the MSM are pouring out their lies and misinformation ?

    I dread to think that the custody of this nations electorate are typical of my mate. He’s a nice guy with a job and security and that’s fine with him but i despair at his reason and in my own opinion he is the norm. There are too many of folk like him. No matter how many reasons we come up with they are still NO.

    A book wouldn’t make the difference to him as he won’t read and evidence is regarded as suspicious and even worse is when you do get a point over , he STILL says NO.

    Now i give him photo’s and posters in the hope that he gets the short messages but i don’t hold out any hope.

    Scotland the only country in the world that turns down independence.

  3. I find a lot to agree with in the first two comments. I’ve taken part in several debates that supposedly included “everyday working folk” but they were mostly attended by academics, activists, and people with at least a Bachelor’s degree. I see that there are town hall meetings and debates across the country and that’s wonderful but there needs to be a bigger push to engage the people who choose “no by default.”

    These are hard times, and many people are afraid to lose what little they have. It’s the same in the States – people have been cowed and disenfranchised; they now believe that they cannot make a difference, and to try would likely bring about their ruin. In the States, there were instances of people losing their jobs for having a sticker on their car supporting an alternative political candidate. There is also little faith in the political system – look at the sorry turnout for this past election.

    We’ve heard punitive rhetoric from several British politicians, including Mark Hirst MP’s referendum-as-war metaphor, repeatedly stating that once the “conflict” of the independence campaign is over “all that will be required is mopping up and bayonetting of the wounded.” This serves both as a reminder of the barbaric “no quarter” ordered by “Butcher” Cumberland in the aftermath of Culloden, and a strong warning that the independence campaign is seen as open rebellion by many in Westminster.

    To have one’s own “leaders” (I am referring here to position not ability) state that “we’re not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions” is more than a gaffe, it’s indicative of a deeply-rooted inferiority complex that I’ve encountered in many discussions with people in the past year.

    This is psychological warfare, and the Yes campaign has been doing a great job but there needs to be a stronger push. There must be a way to engage no voters.

    I personally can’t wait to read Robin McAlpine’s book but the two soldiers I talked to the other day on the train will not read it – the bitter men I’ve spoken to in the pub won’t read it, and more than likely, the 16 and 17 year olds are not going to read it during their summer break. How do we reach them?

  4. YESGUY, that’s exactly the issue I’ve faced with numerous friends, all of whom are decent folk. None can be bothered to look into an alternative and people are generally averse to change.
    Why are they so apathetic? Maybe they’ve had it too easy for too long – full employment, decent health, safe environment, friends and relatives in a similar position and their only worry is where to go on holiday (lucky people I know).
    Even exposing the systematic lies and hypocrisy coming from Westminster has little effect as those lies and hypocrisy are not affecting them directly (not that they can see), so why should they care.
    It’s easy to take exception to this mindset but they are as much a product of their environment as anyone else, they were just luckier.
    The other big difficulty is that people in general don’t like to admit they’re wrong, or that opinions they have held their entire life are flawed or based on false assumptions so they retreat into their shells and mutter “no no no…”.
    I’m naturally pessimistic but the facts are that the polls are still against us. I can’t quite believe it but I fear that we really are going to reject independence and throw away the chance of a lifetime. Aside from crushing all hope of a better world and a suffering a complete loss of faith in the people of Scotland, I don’t think I’ll be able to stand the embarrassment…..Scotland, the wee kid too afraid to leave home and venture out into the world on his own.
    On the plus side I’ve turned two NO’s to YES, mainly through articles in Bella and Newsnet Scotland so keep up the good work Bella.

  5. Just tried to buy the book and make a donation, only to be told that “We don’t ship to Cyprus” !!!

    I read widely on the prospects for the independence of my home country and try my best to persuade family and friends that a YES vote is best. Only to be thwarted like this.

  6. As a contribution, I find the Reid papers are welcome, but often weak on evidence or direction.

    On economics, the papers have tended to dissect existing weaknesses, rather than propose solutions – which you would expect from a think tank.

    On welfare, the group promote a version of the Nordic countries that doesn’t exist. As the Economist describes it:

    “On public services the Nordics have been similarly pragmatic. So long as public services work, they do not mind who provides them. Denmark and Norway allow private firms to run public hospitals. Sweden has a universal system of school vouchers, with private for-profit schools competing with public schools. Denmark also has vouchers—but ones that you can top up. When it comes to choice, Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than in Washington, DC.”

    One could go on to point out how Sweden has a two-level unemployment scheme which gives higher benefits to those who have paid in more, or the use of “co-payment” (payments at the point of use) for health care.

    A useful contribution Reid, or others, could make would be an analysis of the “Irish model” – with a similar history, culture and geography – and sleeping next to a giant – Scotland is likely to end up much more like Ireland, for good or bad, than the Nordics. Is that what we want, or do we make a conscious choice to go in another direction?

  7. Can’t wait to read my copy and share the ideas around all & sundry. Practical idealism – perfect description of my own outlook on life 🙂

  8. Let’s be honest, most folk would not read this or anything else about the referendum cos most folk don’t read that much. I know it sounds patronising and condescending but its true – you need to talk to them, that’s what works.

  9. I think a few posters have ignored history!

    Every change that takes place requires the people. The educated and intelligent can inspire but it is the people who drive the change.

    People in the past have overcome guns,torture,prison,starvation and still forced change. Project fear will impact on many of our fellow Scots but please don’t underestimate them. As in the past a sense of injustice and the spoken word can change the world.

  10. Scotland will not progress, poor people will continue to need foodbanks, nuclear weapons will be kept in Scotland, nuclear waste will be dumped in Scotland, Scotland will go downhill economically and the better off better together lot will not admit to voting no when the sheer reality of the consequences of a no vote become apparent, I give it a few months after the referendum. Only with a yes vote will Scotland progress and develop positively, no amount of ideas for a better country will become real, if it is a no vote. People intent on voting no are doing it because they are better off, or/and cant be bothered. Their utter lack of concern and compassion and care for their fellow country men and women, (who are not so lucky as them), I hope will come back to haunt them one day. It has to be YES, end of, otherwise Scotland will be ruined.

  11. Robin’s ideas are inspiring, if you are already engaged in the debate. For people outside the YES bubble, I’m afraid they are another “big idea” to wrestle with when we are already asking them to take the big step of Voting YES.

    Nothing will happen without a YES vote. Keep your eyes on the prize. Campaign, talk to people, share articles like the FT from 4 Feb stating that Scotland will be better off financially when independent and the statement from UK Pensions Minister Stephen Webb saying that your pension is safe no matter what the result of the referendum.

    Keep it simple. Use such third party references as facts to show that people’s understandable concerns can be answered, then ask them for support to build a better Scotland for themselves, their children, grandchildren and generations to come.

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