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Common Weal Calling

Craig Dalzell

It was only as I was walking back from the gym last night, admiring the post-sunset glow and watching Mars and Venus emerging from the deepening blue of the sky that it really hit me that we’re almost half way through 2023 now. I remembered then that I let an anniversary slip by silently the other month.

On the 5th of March 2019, I and my then co-host Jonathon Shafi launched the Common Weal Policy Podcast. The idea then was that we’d chat for about 30 minutes about one of the policy papers in our Policy Library as a way of getting the message of them out to an audience who aren’t the kind of folk who would read a policy paper for fun (which, admittedly, is almost all of you).

Given that we produce particularly detailed policies and especially given that we produce so many of them (I don’t think we’re being modest or are exaggerating to claim that we’re very possibly Scotland’s most productive think-tank in terms of policy output, certainly given our size and shoestring budget) that it can be a daunting task for folk to delve into those archives and find the knowledge they’re looking for. So along with our other means of breaking things down into more digestible chunks – such as our social media infographics, our public talks, and this weekly newsletter – we felt that a wee half-hour summary of each paper in the library would help bring people to us and help explain what Common Weal was all about.

During this period, we’d also occasionally bring in a guest – usually the author of the policy paper we were featuring that week – to chat too and it was from there that we developed the style that I’ve tried to maintain since then. I’m not a journalist interested in a hostile ‘gotcha’ interview or to grill a guest into submission. They are the expert in the room and I want to give them the space to talk about the thing they know and love. I’m starting to show my sliding generation gap, but I like to think less Jeremy Paxman, more Melvyn Bragg.
Things do change and we must all change with it. In 2020 when the Human Malware struck us and confined us to our homes, we shifted the podcast slightly and, after some trial and error, managed to set ourselves up so that we could record remotely. This meant me learning some of the audio editing and other wizardry that goes into turning a Zoom call into a listenable show as well as learning how to record in the presence of the Policy Podcats as their numbers grew from two, to three and now to four.

More change came the following year when Shafi left Common Weal. This left me as the sole producer, editor and host of the show and prompted a further shift following his final show as host in Episode 85 (though he’s been back as a guest couple of times since). I very much did not want to turn the podcast into just me droning on about Common Weal papers so while I still made a deliberate effort to bring in the authors of our own policy papers I started to branch out to invite folk on who weren’t writing for us but who were still involved with interesting policies in, around, or affecting Scotland.

In 2022, I launched a theme for the year – ‘Communities’. I put out a call for folk working on community projects around Scotland who were doing good work but who never get the attention they deserve (perhaps because of our lack of local media). The response was fantastic and resulted in shows about community food projects, public transport, revitalising Scottish language and culture, and community land buyouts to name just a few. While we’re no longer in 2022, this hasn’t stopped me featuring community projects since so please do get in touch if you want to come on and chat about yours.

In 2023, the team started to get out and about a bit more, including our uplifting, if soggy, trip to Glasgow for the AUOB indy march. I’m not entirely unused to being recognised at pro-indy events these days but at the stall was the first time someone came up to me and said “I recognised your voice from the podcast!”. I wasn’t even putting on my ‘radio voice’. Then a couple of other folk did the same thing. I have to say, despite still having a rather modestly sized audience, to know that I’m not just screaming into the void is heartening so thank you so much for those words of encouragement.

And that brings us to now, and the second half of 2023. The world is a bit grim right now, and not less so within Scottish politics, so I really want to try and bring some uplifting messages to folk. With that, I want my theme for the remainder of the year to be ‘Good News’. I’ll still cover important policies and political events and I’m still keen to hear from communities and their projects but if you know of something that’s happening in politics and policy that’s either a positive story or an example of a policy just working really well and you or someone involved wants to come on to talk about it, please get in touch.

And even if you don’t want to come on as a guest, do let me know who you’d like to hear from, what topics you’d like me to discuss or if you have any other comments about the podcast. Four years down with no signs of stopping – I’m looking forward to what comes next.

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