what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, September 22, 2014

“Normal service” resumed?

For every reader I’ve lost in last month’s more or less exclusive focus on the Scottish referendum, it appears I’ve gained at least another. I think readers will understand why, a month ago, I abandoned my usual subjects to try to give you all a sense of the arguments which were going in the small country I abandoned in 1990…..

Although the blog will now return to other themes, it will follow events in Scotland with more regularity. What happened there these past few years is part of the outflowing of anger and hope we have seen in other parts of the world in recent years as citizens have taken to the streets to object to the way their world was being governed.
Each outburst – whether in Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt…- had its specific reasons and shape but all focused on the misuse of power. My new readers in Turkey and the Ukraine know they belong to a wider movement which may use slogans – but know that social change needs more than that. They are keen to learn from one another – and to go beyond the simplistic manuals of protest and regime change that people like Gene Sharp perfected (with American cash) a decade or so ago. 

I remember tantalising the Uzbek officials who attended my classes at the Presidential Academy in Tashkent with what I called the “opportunity theory of change” – namely that political change happens suddenly and fortuitously and requires individuals (who may not fit our images about leaders) who have prepared rigorously and who have the capacity both to inspire followers but (most difficult) to manage the building of the organisational capacity which will follow success.

Social change requires a challenging combination of emotion, preparation…and opportunity. The emotion has to be channelled; the preparation both analytical and political; and the opportunity calculated and managed…. The new website which I will (hopefully) be inaugurating in October when I get back down to Sofia will be focusing on social change – initially the more neglected analytical elements of that process…..

I wanted yesterday to explore how my countrymen were dealing with the outcome of the vote – and what better way than to look at some of the 100 or so sites which Bella Caledonia - one of the most famous Scottish bloggers - identifies on her blogroll. Her Saturday post was a good one -

My anger is not that we voted to remain under a UK flag, it’s that we voted not to give the power back to the people. Whilst we will remain locked in a system that is demolishing our human rights and our society, my hope remains, because unless we choose to let them can never have power over our imagination.
We don’t need anyone’s permission, so lets just start building it anyway and let us build it not on binaries, but with depth, diversity, and humanity.

Let us not replicate the model that distributes power so unequally, lets not go back to party politics, adversarial posturing and divisiveness. Let’s take our time to build it, and bring everyone with us this time.
It can be done, if we can learn from what was most valuable about the YES movement and realise that it is not leadership from above, but individual innovation towards mutual benefit that was our strength. This will be our most productive and powerful tool.

Scotland is now light years ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of understanding our identity and our democracy. It’s going to be long and it’s going to be hard work, but we must bring them with us, and whilst I applaud those celebrating the #45 we must bring the 55% with us too because if we don’t do that, we will always lose. Divide and rule…
We have all become citizen journalists, researchers, debaters and campaigners, we have collectively undertaken a journey which has brought us to a level of political maturity which I don’t think anyone could have predicted. It’s astonishing, it’s innovative, and it belongs not to our ‘leaders’ but to each and every one of you.

As a society we have evolved into something new, something knowledgeable, an information sharing and commentary network which has turned us into something very powerful, and very exciting indeed. We had purpose. We forgot to eat, we forgot to sleep, we were energised by something bigger than ourselves.
We became voracious in our consumption of the latest opinion or analysis on the latest development. We researched economic theory, constitutional legislation, social policy, renewable energy potential, and we wrote stories shared our questions and fears, and found the answers amongst ourselves. 

We have found our own leadership potential and we are still using it in a collective murmuration that is flocking, forming and reforming, in a gathering momentum towards what I hope will be real structural change. We can’t remain in this state of fight or flight, we won’t survive if we do. We need to find a way to entwine these new behaviours into our culture from ground level. Fight or flight is necessary for a revolution, but what we need now is evolution. We need to be the drops in the ocean.

We’re facing a political system that’s become a zero sum game and the very thing that’s caused the race to the bottom of careerist politicians and neoliberal consensus, is our insistence on binaries. Yes or No. Labour or Tory. Westminster or Holyrood. Right or wrong. We KNOW the world doesn’t work like that, so why do we keep voting for it? Because we haven’t seen what the alternative might look like, we haven’t been able to imagine it yet. I’m going to propose that we imagine it now, that we make it anyway.
We don’t need anyone else’s permission to be creative, but we need to give ourselves permission to bring humanity back into politics and put politics back into our lives. How can we make political behaviour part of our every day culture?

One new website I came across - Frankly Independent - is one I wish I had encountered earlier. Apart from the original historical and European slant it brings, it is an amazing compendium of resources

Another thoughtful post on the aftermath of the vote comes from Gerry Hassan
Something has shifted in Scotland which will never be the same again. This in the words of Fintan O’Toole is the belief that, ‘Ask an important question and people will respond with dignity and recognise they have power’…. The emergence of ‘the third Scotland’, the phrase I coined to describe the glorious, multi-various explosion of self-organising radical currents such as Radical Independence Campaign, National Collective and Common Weal, will have enduring significance beyond the referendum.
They have brought many young people and twenty-somethings into politics and activism for the first time.A host of English centre-left writers such as John Harris and Jason Cowley, editor of the ‘New Statesman’ (and Paul Mason), have expressed an admiration for this tendency and the term. They have both commented that they would love to see a ‘third England’ emerge which forged a space beyond the political parties and traditional ways of doing politics, but know for now it is far off.
They recognise the gathering storm of a problem around the British state as it strips back public services, undermines the public good, and engages in a systematic project of social engineering, openly redistributing income, wealth and power from the poor to the rich. Will Hutton has observed that all of this is one of the main drivers of the independence debate; but he still has concerns about how sustainable a viable social democracy is in a small nation of five million people, sitting next to one of nearly 60 million. He thinks it is possible, but that such a settlement would require a very different, more bold politics than the SNP’s existing version of independence.
This isn’t just about currency union, but charting a different course from the economic straightjacket and orthodoxies of the Treasury and Bank of England.Such writers want to reclaim the radical traditions of England and challenge the idea of ‘the conservative nation’. In this they recognise the power of myths, folklore and imagination in how you go about creating and mobilising a radical community. They note from England that Scotland has travelled quite a distance on this road; and more than we may sometimes care to recognise. 
The difficult ways of navigating centre-left ideas in today’s economic and social world poses huge problems. It is ridiculous to pose that it is anti-solidarity, selfish and about self-interest, to support independence. The debate in Scotland has coalesced on how to give modern expression to such ideas and sentiment: putting the values of solidarity into a lexicon of inter-connectedness and interdependence to produce a politics of inter-independence.One way to aid this debate north of the border is for the non-nationalist voices to come together in a variety of ways to offer competition and hold the SNP to account. A culture of self-determination has to become a vibrant ecology and nurture and support an infrastructure: one with institution building and resource creating.
 Three other thoughtful post-mortems are from
- A famous song-writer and writer - Pat Kane
- the rather crabbit Lallands Peat Worrier 

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