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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!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Need for some solidarity

I had a dream during the night – that I was at a Conference which was discussing some sort of national reform but that the only opportunity offered for contributions “from the floor” were badly structured “group discussions” none of which gathered any momentum. And, in any event, I didn’t seem to have prepared any sort of input with which I might have been able to wow the audience in a 3 minute diatribe…
It was 05.00 – so I made myself a coffee and thought about “national conversations”…..Scotland, of course, has just had one – lasting 2 years….thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) meetings to explore its future….it’s a bit early to draw any lessons from the experience of the independence referendum (known as “indyref) – although one at least has tried
What of the future? First, Scotland has to be understood as more than a series of competing tribes: Yes and No, pro-independence and anti-independence, nationalist and unionist, SNP and Labour. The undercurrent of this is an attempt by partisans on each of these sides and camps to reduce every opinion down to two perspectives and a politics of two tribes. Everything revolves around the question: whose side are you on? And who do you most trust to look after Scotland? Other questions about democracy, the environment, sustainable economic growth, and how we run public services are lost in this divide, as is any real space for radical progressive politics.
Secondly, one of the most positive aspects of the “indyref” was the self-education of hundreds of thousands of Scots who showed initiative, curiosity and a willingness to learn and act for themselves, rather than being spoon-fed the predictable narrow diet of official Scotland. It is this rich practice – of opening up debate and choices and refusing to accept the stale offerings of politics, media and power which have historically characterised so much of our public life – which has to be encouraged and given sustenance.
The UK as a whole faces a General Election in 4 months….in the last run-up to an election, an electoral reform movement (The Power Inquiry) failed to make any dent on the power structure. This time there is not a whisper about challenging the power structure (unless you count Russell Brand's rantings) only talk of “austerity” and “immigration”.

Romania missed an opportunity to have a national conversation….the November Presidential elections were controlled by a powerful set of media oligarchs…although a Protestant did rather upset their applecart by winning!
The Bulgarian protests of 2013 did conjure up hopes of reform but became fond memories after the elections of early 2014……

Of course I have “form” with such dialogue and discussion! In the early 70s, in my capacity as Chairman of a new Social Work authority in Scotland, I organised annual gatherings of neighbourhood groups with the local state and business class about confronting the problems of a shipbuilding town…In the 80s I did the same for the West of Scotland around the issue of urban poverty….  And, between 2006/07, I prepared a Road Map for municipalities in Kyrgyzstan

Most attempts at such dialogue can be dismissed as mere “talking shops” since they seldom cover the basic economic aspects of life – although I was part of a small group which came together to start a community banking system in the West of Scotland in the late 1980s. We started with a visit to the Triodos Bank and, some time after I had left Scotland, a venture did eventually emerge which I think is now part of the Community Development Finance Association set-up. Developing Strathclyde Ltd was also established in 1993 with similar aims…..Community enterprise is now an important element in Scotland’s economic life – as can be seen in the activities of the Social entrepreneurs network Scotland

In these crisis times, it’s sad that so few attempts seem to be made to bring people together for such cooperative ventures – if only for solace if not solidarity…But people seem to have little energy or confidence left – save for quick “fix-its”. I referred in September to the impossible deadline a Bulgarian project was given to deliver a national strategy when something more like a “Future Search” Conference was actually needed.

All credit therefore to Open Democracy for continuing to bring important material to our notice – such as this article on “social innovation” which led me to a website Emergence by Design, containing an interesting manifesto which, on study, disappoints for its failure to situate itself properly in historical context (and for its high-falutin language). 

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