South Ayrshire Common Weal was formed in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014. A strong bond had formed among the many activists who had campaigned hard across South Ayrshire in the weeks and months leading up to the
referendum, and less than twenty-four hours after we realised we weren’t getting the result we fought so hard for, we were considering our next moves.
Many in the campaign were members of the SNP, and many more were to join the SNP in the coming weeks, but there was a core group of us who wanted to go down a different route.
The emergence of the Common Weal in the lead-up to the 2014 referendum, and particularly the speeches of Robin McAlpine and others like Lesley Riddoch, had inspired us to think that, yes, our gut instinct was right, an independent Scotland could be a better, fairer,
greener country with the principle of ‘all of us first’ at its heart and in its soul. We decided to form a local group, primarily for the purpose of educating ourselves and others on the key political issues affecting people’s daily lives.
A key feature of South Ayrshire Common Weal has been our regular (fortnightly) public meetings to discuss important political issues. These are held in one of our Ayr town centre pubs and the format is quite informal; everyone is encouraged to contribute to the discussion. Wherever possible, we invite the most knowledgeable speakers to present on a given topic, whether they are local, national or international.
Over the past four years we’ve had a huge range of speakers, including most of the national Common Weal core team and policy makers. We have campaigned on Ayr High street on issues such as Land Reform, the ‘Scotland Welcomes Refugees’ initiative and ‘Keep Scotland the Brand’. We have also, on a number of occasions, provided a platform for discussions around the future of Ayr town centre. What became clear during the referendum campaign, and is even clearer now, is that the Scottish people, no matter how they voted in that referendum, had become more politically aware and engaged than ever before. They were not simply going to go back to ‘business as usual’. Locally, we wanted to provide them with a forum where they could discuss and debate the issues which mattered to them.
From the beginning we set out our aims as follows:
- to raise awareness of local, national and international issues
- to provide a forum for debate and discussion
- to improve local democracy
- to improve the quality of life for all in the community
- to work with South Ayrshire Council and Community Councils where possible to raise
- awareness of the Common Good
- to empower local communities and individuals
- to improve the physical environment
At the beginning of our journey we spent some time discussing whether we wanted to have a formal constitution, and to elect a management committee and office-bearers and so on. We decided to run with a much less formal structure. There is a core group of volunteers (currently seven people) who meet fortnightly to arrange meetings, speakers, campaigns etc.
Each contributes his/her particular skills and experience. The only formal aspect of the organisation is that we have designated people who are responsible for keeping accounts.
We don’t take or distribute minutes of meetings but one member takes responsibility for keeping notes and reminding us what we discussed at the previous meeting.