The obligatory selfie.
What started as a day out with the boys to plan a walking expedition morphed into a celebration of the Common Weal.
We had planned to meet up anyway but I had mentioned to my friends that it was a shame that we would miss this event so we decided to make a day of it and go along to the Festival. What a joy that we made it along. For those of you who don’t know what The Common Weal is, the “Common Weal is a vision of what Scotland can be if it rejects the failed Me-First politics that left us all in second place and instead builds a politics that puts All Of Us First.” in their own words. It is the brainchild of The Jimmy Reid Foundation and is a think tank which is left leaning but non aligned politically.
The Festival was a party for progressive thinkers and artists and for the public who are fed up with the failed politics and policies of the past. It was, and is NOT a protest group, it is a space to get people together to talk about and plan a realistic way forward that ensures that All of Us are First. It is predicated on the research that shows that more equal societies are more successful. More than a hundred exhibitors and participants turned up and 600 tickets were sold to the public all within two weeks of publicising the event. It is a testament to the changing nature of Scottish politics that the public are becoming engaged in the process more than I have ever experienced in my sixty one years on the planet. I believe that this is a result of the independence referendum which has involved more people in a more direct way in seeking a different future. Everyone is affected and engaged no mater whether they are pro or against independence. The process is bringing light into the dark arts of politics and the media and social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging tools have enlightened and engaged many who previously sat in silence. It has allowed people to educate themselves without receiving there news packaged by the elite groups who own and run broadcasting and the media and has allowed the public to critically scrutinise the output from interest groups be they political, financial or a mixture of both who package information in ways which promote their own self-interest above that of the public at large.
What is interesting about the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Common Weal is that it has much in common with the economic philosophy of Business for Scotland. If we can draw people from such diverse backgrounds and work together to create a better future for all, this project has a real chance of success. What is even more encouraging is that they want real participative democracy where the public can get involved through ‘mini publics‘ which is a way of involving the public in a truly representative way in decision making. This is not the only way that the public can be involved as true democracy needs to get decisions and government closer to the communities it serves, in fact it should be these local groups who have much more power over developing services designed for themselves and paid for by resources that they own and control. This means getting local government to be truly local, not the huge bureaucracies that serve their own interests that currently exist. Prof Paddy Bort of Edinburgh University has pointed out that the average population that local authorities in France serve is 1,615 whereas in Scotland it is 163,200.( Reclaiming Local Democracy.)
Since I was press ganged into writing this blog for KILTR I thought it might be a good idea to interview its director Robin McAlpine. Robin is a greying forty year old with an engaging manner and talks like a machine gun out of control. He is bursting with ideas and rattles them out at a speed that is astonishing. He is hugely passionate about the Common Weal and draws you in to his vision of a better Scotland infecting you with his enthusiasm.
Robin graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Journalism and was exposed to the Westminster jungle by securing a post as Press Officer to George Robertson. I think it is fair to say that he was less than impressed with the qualities of the people that that institution attracted. In his words it was filled with chancers looking for a way to enhance their CV rather than bright young things that wanted to make things better. Having moved on and after spending 13 years as the Press Officer and Head of Public Affairs for the University Sector Robin was looking for a new challenge and a way to put to good use his talents and his passion for change. He wanted to “do left wing politics”. He got involved with the Scottish Left Review Editorial Board (www.scottishleftreview.org) and The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been set up by them but unfortunately Jimmy never got to see its launch. It was his last major political project.
All the work of The Reid Foundation is and will be based on a series of underpinning principles drawn from Jimmy’s own thinking:
That society should be based on equality and social justice
That people should have the democratic power to influence their workplace and social institutions
That quality of life should be at the forefront of political debate and not an afterthought
That justice can only come from peace and support for human rights
That ideas, learning, arts and culture have the power to transform society and individuals
That all these principles are underpinned by the importance of national identity and a vision for Scotland
The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been established in memory of Jimmy Reid and to continue the legacy of radical political thinking his life represented.
It is a think tank and advocacy group focussed on practical policy proposals for transforming Scotland which are based on analysis and investigation of the current Scottish and global political, cultural and social situation.
Robin is Director of the Foundation and the aim of the Common Weal project is to unite people through ideas, it exits to create ideas, not to set up a new structure but to drive change through ideas that people can engage with. They have succeeded in producing over 50 major papers from experts and academics which go into great detail about how things can be improved. Many will not agree with all of the proposals and may think that bits of papers that they read are not perfect but the point is not to produce perfect papers, it is to provide a starting point for change. Robin believes that you have to be committed to an idea before you do the numbers and since I and my two friends are accountants he was comprehensively grilled (by three grumpy old B’s I think was his good natured comment). He held his own though and I think it is fair to say that he impressed us with his drive and commitment.
Robin describes The Common Weal as “a way of describing a different type of government” It proposes a collaborative approach to government based on the theory that collaboration is more effective than conflict and the model that we have now is conflict based, the ‘me first society’.
I suggested to him that the public whether they have £5 a week for food or £4000 a week as a salary would want to know “what’s in it for me?” His response was that 95% of people will be better off in a more equal society. (The break-even point being at around a salary of £50,000 a year)He said “people who are happy being led round on a leash” would not be engaged and (because of his personal belief that we need independence to achieve real change) he placed people in three groups
He asks are you a BritNat, are you a Fearty or are you Ready.
BritNats People who believe we will be better off in the UK be that because they think that they need solidarity with their comrades in other parts of the UK or are ideologically wedded to the UK or even those that are just happy the way things are and see no need for change.
Fearties People who are frightened of change (even though change will happen with or without independence) or are frightened of a backlash from England if we vote Yes or those who are frightened by the scare stories that the Better Together people called ‘Project Fear’.
People who are Ready, those who are engaged and willing to do the work that change requires.
He is quite clear that if you want change and want things to be better, a better future, you have to be prepared to work for it. There are no excuses and there is no one else to blame if we are not prepared to put the effort in. It doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the priorities in life that we all have such as earning a living and bringing up a family or even our leisure but it does mean that we have to be engaged in our collective future and our collective well-being.
All in all I left with a feeling of hope; it was a great day out, children running about playing with balloons, musicians performing their songs, comedians giving us a laugh, serious politicians, economist and journalists amongst others in discussion and artists adding their creative flair to the day. So from one grumpy old accountant to the inspiring idealist that is Robin McAlpine, thank you for a great day out, I left uplifted by your vision.
For those that want to learn more The Common Weal has produced a book which 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. It can be purchased here – http://www.allofusfirst.org/