So far we at Common Weal Fife have had three meetings, and three well attended meetings. We should be pleased – the fact that people are coming to Kirkcaldy from all over Fife to meet on cold (and sometimes wet) weekday evenings is something to acknowledge. From what I’m seeing and hearing from across Scotland, we’re not the only group with lots of people showing up regularly. Attendance at various political meetings and events across the country seems to be a fact of life for a great many of us now. What drags us out each time will no doubt be personal to every one of us. For some it might be boredom (I hope not, but you never know!). For others it might be meeting new faces. For others still it might be a political awakening (or continuation). I have a hunch, though, that for many of us (and certainly for me) it is the opportunity to discuss politics.
It’s been evident, I think, that for us at Common Weal Fife, one of the things that has got people buzzing, got people going, has been the parts of the nights when we’ve been in our wee groups sharing ideas, sharing viewpoints and discussing the issues that matter to us. This is fantastic. Something I hear (and read) now and again, however, is that we don’t want post-referendum politics to be a ‘talking shop’. I understand this point. With political renewal comes a conviction for action – a need and desire to get out there and start making a difference to the world around us. This appetite is to be celebrated. But we need to acknowledge the fact (I think it’s a fact?) that for many people this is a new sphere. I’d go as far as to say for most of us this is a new sphere, whether or not you were politically active or engaged pre-referendum. The number of people seemingly engaged in politics now is extraordinary. And this means that the level of political chat now is unprecedented. Yes, yes, action is important – believe me, I’m not dismissing it. But I want to argue that political conversation is equally as important as action, if not more so in some ways. There is nothing wrong with sitting in a room with friends (and strangers) and talking politics. When has it happened on such a scale previously? Not in my lifetime as far as I am aware – and I’d be happy to be corrected on this point.
The importance of conversation cannot be overstated. In talk we work through our feelings about issues, events and, essentially, how to lead our lives. It’s also a chance for us to challenge one another – to unpack ideas, to explicate convictions and to have our own prejudices challenged. In this we renew ourselves. It also gives us the opportunity to either reform or strengthen our personal positions. Indeed, talking is the very bedrock of a healthy democracy. Where people can come together and discuss the direction they want to see society take then they can feel that they have a stake in that society. In our various organisations we can replicate this on a smaller scale. For too long we’ve had politics done to us and not with us. It is essential that we give each other time and space to express ourselves and to listen to one another – to engage in meaningful dialogue. The conversations we are having across the country could be the starting point for doing things differently.
Conversation and discussion also gives us an opportunity to connect. Firstly, with one another – at a very basic level it means that we meet one another and make friends, acquaintances and allies. Secondly, we can start to make the connections between the political issues and direction under discussion, our personal politics and any dissonance between these. Thirdly, to ensure that there is a connection between fully discussed ideas and any action that is taken. And lastly, to ensure that everyone has had their say and feels connected to (and has a stake in) any decisions and action that follow. Again, I want to make it clear that action is important – extremely so. But we should value conversation and dialogue in and of itself. It connects us, it educates us and it invigorates us.
I feel that we, across Scotland, are at the start of something. Whilst the referendum has ended, something else has begun. And, in danger of slipping into hyperbole, I get the feeling that it is nothing short of a political awakening for a great deal of people. For me, I’m learning as much as I have ever done. Fracking, TTIP, currency issues and energy are just some of the issues we have discussed in Fife. Through dialogue I have gone through a learning curve as steep as anything I have experienced. Such learning cannot and doesn’t sit idle but gets passed on in other conversations. The ripple effects from conversations we are having across Scotland don’t go to waste, of that I am certain.
In times like this I think it’s important to place a central importance on conversation. We’re social beasts and talk is important. And political talk perhaps most of all. One of the fundamental reasons that the Yes vote rose to 45% was the information sharing that went on during the referendum – both online but more importantly, I’d argue, amongst ourselves – with friends, colleagues, family and strangers in the hubs across the country. I think it is clear that appetite for this hasn’t waned and with elections coming up over the next two years I’ll wager that it won’t anytime soon. As the old saying goes, we’re living in ‘interesting times’, so we’ve plenty to talk about. Let’s make sure we keep on talking and listening to one another. As long as we do that, I think, change is inevitable.