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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!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The long haul

Although the campaign was a long one it seems it wasn’t long enough – most of the significant books about the issue appeared, curiously, only in the last 6 months of the 28-month campaign (see the readings at the end of my little E-book The Independence Argument). And the surge in the Yes vote came only in that last few months and week – with the British political class pouring north in the last week to try to tempt the Scots back into Empire. Another few weeks would probably have exposed the weakness in the new promises – but even if the yes voters had nudged ahead, the evenness of the split between separatists and unionists would hardly have given the sold basis which a new nation requires…….
Independence, of course, has been on the agenda for more than a generation but the overall majority of the nationalist government came only in 2011 – in the aftermath of the Con-Lib Coalition which followed the UK General Election of 2010 and which was clearly the clincher for so many erstwhile Labour voters to switch to the SNP. 
So most serious Scots (and aren’t we all such?) have had only a few years to think of independence as a serious option.

It was indeed only in the last year that left intellectuals in Scotland got round to setting out their various stalls – whether in blogs or books, whether separatist, unionist or neutral. Two journals give a good picture of their fare - Perspectives and Scottish Left Review
  
I’ve been a “socialist” all my adult life - coming to political awareness in 1956 in the days of the Hungarian and Suez misadventures; and of the New Left; and then got caught up in the “modernising” mood of the 60s and 70s which culminated in New Labour. I’ve always been “broad” left – opposed to the paternalistic and centralising part of the Labour tradition but always (if reluctantly) impressed with the coherence of the hard left’s analysis. But, these days, the strongest critique of the power structures of the corporate system is mainstream – from the likes of David Marquand; Wolfgang Streeck; Mark Blyth ….My blogposts as a whole reflect this global concern.

I excerpted a couple of reviews earlier in the month of Yes – the radical case for Scottish Independence – but only managed to read it through yesterday. Foley and Ramand put a very coherent case that Britain is not working but are less than convincing in the case for independence!
Clearly they lacked the time to marshall the proper arguments

However I sense, these days when the dust is still settling, a new determination. The focus of the British political class may now be on constitutional niceties - but my judgement is that the next year will see a renewed attempt by the broad left to set out a realist leftist vision for Scotland. Yesterday’s blogpost gave some evidence for this - and promised to try to put more of a “governance” spin on the Scottish argument.
I had failed this past month to see any recognition of the cost and complications of building a new state system – and spotted a relevant publication only a few days ago. Pat Dunleavy is an academic name to conjure with (although he seems to have gone very quiet this past quarter century) but he surfaced in June with a pamphlet which gave an optimistic spin to these questions about costs and capacity – Transitioning to a new State. (There’s also an interesting conversation with him about how the British civil service misused his research)  

I referred yesterday to the frequency with which attempts to break the status quo had been frustrated. We have not just the well-known flower revolutions, “springs” and “occupy” movements - but the more cerebral preparations of the “Power” Inquiry of 2006 in the UK which campaigned for more than 3 years with a strong agenda of electoral reform – but failed to make any headway.
Only, it appears, the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 90s had the mixture of breadth of support; coherence; and staying power which effective social change seems to require.

In the past 20 years I’ve had the privilege of talking with groups of civil servants in countries with inflexible systems of power. I have always given a message of hope which I described as the “opportunistic” or “windows of opportunity” theory of change.

Most of the time our systems seem impervious to change – but always (and suddenly) an opportunity arises. Those who care, prepare for these windows. And the preparation is about analysis, mobilisation and trust.
·       It is about us caring enough about our organisation and society to speak out about the need for change.
·       It is about taking the trouble to think and read about ways to improve things – and helping create and run networks of such change.
·       And it is about establishing a personal reputation for probity and good judgement that people will follow your lead when that window of opportunity arises.

So my message to Scots is that it’s time for proper preparation. Too much was left to the nationalist government – whose 600 page White Paper had a confused message. It’s time for a deeper analysis; with a broader base; and for the long haul

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