Robin McAlpine – 28th July 2022
And so we reach the final week of our summer campaign to promote the Common Home Plan, still the only comprehensive, costed Green New Deal in the world and the only consistent plan for decarbonising Scotland. This takes us to the subject of the way we all live now, and it might be helpful to explain this section by letting you see ‘under the bonnet’ which will explain some of our strategic thinking.
This final part of the Plan is about what might loosely be called ‘lifestyles’ and is particularly close to my heart. That is because it is both such an inspiring and exciting story but also because, in terms of political strategy, this is the absolute heart of how to make change happen.
Before we started writing the Common Home Plan, we set ourselves all kinds of objectives, most of which are set out in the introductory chapters – so not net zero but zero-zero, not just carbon but all environmental harm, not only that which happens in Scotland but wherever Scotland leaves a tail of damage, all fixed using existing technology, all measured and costed.
But there was another big criteria which we didn’t write down; people need to actually want to do all of this. It was no good if we were really clever and solved all the problem if it was going to be met with animosity because it would make people’s lives worse. So line by line we kept focussing on the opposite – how do we fix this and make people’s lives better?
This section explains our approach more clearly than any other. Our approach was to ask what it was that people really wanted from their lives – not the wish-list of stuff or achievements, the underlying features they want in their lives. This is researched back to front and you can come up with endless permutations of it, but it always boils down to the same kinds of things.
Above all humans want social respect. Then they want sufficiency (everything they need to survive comfortably) and security (the confidence that they will still have everything they need to survive a year from now). They want good health and to feel good, the sense that they have some power and agency over their lives, enough time to do things they want to do or to be with their friends and loved ones.
People want to do things that help them build relationships, from not being lonely to the drive to give gifts that let people know we care about them (and we want to be seen as attractive too). People want a good home, space to exist (particularly green space), the ability to explore who they are (this can mean lots of things, from playing sports to taking up hobbies to participating in things locally).
There is no fundamental sense in which we want more money for its own sake – that is to allay the sufficiency and security fears, have the ability to purchase things that make them feel good or let them explore or play. But our era has turned money into the primary marker of success and social respect.
Fundamentally we don’t want to shop other than to meet all those other needs – it’s just that the advertising industry has spent a century and uncountable amounts of money to persuade us that consumption and ownership is the only path to all of those other things we want.
So how do we reformers do what the advertisers did? How do we persuade people that the way they get all the things they want is by decarbonising? Surely that is a really tall order? Well, no, I don’t think it is. I think it can be done surprisingly easily.
And that’s what the Us section is about. All those things we want, how do we give people a better version? How do we stay happy and fulfilled but live a bit differently? And we do need to live differently.
So let’s take them individually. First, respect. It isn’t as hard as you might think to decouple social respect from avarice, given that this coupling is pretty recent. The things that we used to respect people for (and I’m talking just about within my lifetime) were their character and their contribution.
We respected kind people, or funny people, or yes sometimes people for being dominant or persuasive. And we respected people for what they did – the doctor who healed your children, the baker who made really good bread, the neighbour who was always there for you if you needed something.
The fragmentation of communities and the corrosive ideology of modern capitalism couldn’t let that continue because it needed you to measure yourself based on how much you were spending (i.e. how fast you were giving them money). But we can reverse this. Partly in the Common Home Plan but more so in Common Weal’s other work we have explained how to bring communities back together, how to let people participate.
And we’ve also explained how we can start to deconsumerise society without severing the link between people and the things they want or use to help them play or grow. If we lease we can have access to everything, and much better versions of everything. That is the real promise of leasing.
Leasing also has another important function – the time that is expended on consumption is returned to you. You don’t have to fight your way through the crowds to by something of poor quality because it is in a sale when you can get quick and easy access to high-quality goods that you can borrow. I’ve written much more on how to give people everything they get through shopping without the shopping – but better stuff at much less cost.
Shopping less frees time and money. The money frees up more time. If we fix houses then energy bills are lower and other Common Weal policies explain how we can bring housing prices down. That means people don’t have to work so many hours.
All that newly freed-up time let’s us see how to provide all the other things people want. We want to feel good. We think the sugar rush of consumption does that but it doesn’t. What does is relaxation, participation and socialising. These really give us that buzz of wellbeing.
Think I’m wrong? Well what did you miss most during Covid? Shopping or socialising? When you come home totally knackered what are your instincts telling you – rest or shop? In fact we should invest heavily in ‘relaxation infrastructure’, places to be that help you to relax.
There are endless options – I quite like restful, interesting places like art galleries and old buildings (I love old churches). But I do also quite like a spa (sauna and lounging – you can keep all your stinking chlorine…). I love to go for a walk in the local countryside. And sometimes I just like to sit on a park bench or lie on the grass.
You’ll probably relax differently. Where do you feel genuinely non-harassed and peaceful? What does it look and feel like? What are you actually doing? Then think how easy it would be to facilitate a lot more of that. Plus we all love a holiday and there will be something else that makes you feel the same way – read Nicola’s lovely piece [LINK] about her first music festival from last week.
Of course that isn’t all – we love to participate, to do things that change us. Everyone assumes I mean ‘local politics’, and sure, I do. But I also mean a cooking class which is a great laugh and now you feel confident to invite friends over. I mean a bunch of you learning about car mechanics so you don’t feel like such an eejit at the garage. I mean your local weight-loss club where it just seems so much easier if you’re doing it with others.
I definitely mean sport. I definitely mean something geek like your Dungeons and Dragons club. I definitely mean the Young Farmers Club or your WRI or the amateur dramatics society or meeting up with pals and going to see your local football team. You can tell you’re participating with two measures. Measure one you’re not spending too much money. Measure too, you’re with others and its rewarding.
I also don’t mean don’t spend money, just spend it on things that lift you up. The arts are amazing for this – a night at a comedy club, a gig or the opera will stay with you so much longer than another t-shirt. Go for a really nice dinner in a local restaurant. Book a weekend in a hotel up north.
And spend your money socialising. Go dancing with your pals. Grab a glass of prosecco with the girls/boys/both. Hang out with your kids (there is so much you’d enjoy doing with them if you had time to hunt it out). Who haven’t you seen for ages? Stop making excuses that you’re too busy or tired to see them, because you’re not now. Don’t buy them a present – bake them something you learned how to cook in your cookery class.
If you doubt anything I say above, close your eyes, don’t think too hard and then pull into your mind a picture of you when you were happy. I bet you weren’t in a shop. Now think about the funny stories you tell about your life, things you’ve seen and done, the photos in your photo album (how 20th century Robin…), the last time you felt your shoulders loose and free.
It was all one of the things I mentioned above, or something very like it, wasn’t it? So why are we so slow to admit that shopping and owning things does not make us happy? Why don’t we fight back against it? It will make us all so much happier.
Oh, and the environment, right? It’s good for the environment. Yeah, like, whatever… I’m just back from a nice walk and I’m playing my guitar in the garden while the kids are playing cards. I feel good, happy, fulfilled – and nobody and nothing died.
That is our future, or we don’t have a future.