Book cover: "Sorted"

Sorted: the New Book

Robin McAlpine – 4th November 2022

We really do listen at Common Weal. We ask you all the time for feedback on what we should be doing and we always take it seriously. In the last two years we’ve been asking more and more, and the messages you’ve been sending back have become more and more consistent.

Hope. That’s what everyone keeps telling us they want. Hope.

These aren’t easy times. You can take your pick – geopolitics, cost of living, poverty, climate change, war, biodiversity loss, slow progress on independence, the housing crisis, its a long list. And everything has been geared up to tell us bad news. Sadly good news doesn’t sell newspapers and happy thoughts don’t get the social media clicks.

So not only are there reasons to fear, there are more ways than ever to be fed that fear, fear that makes you click and click more and more, anxiety which keeps you glued to your ‘doomscroll’, being fed adverts the whole time.

There have been bursts of hope for many of us. The hope that lingered even after indyref was over. The hope that many felt for a while that we were in a new era and new things were possible lasted even longer. At a UK level the endless parade of sameness was briefly enlivened by Corbynism.

The rise of the young climate activists gave us hope. The massive social solidarity we felt at the start of the pandemic brought hope. The new wave of trade union activity gives many hope. We will seek it out, because we’re humans and that’s what we do.

But there aren’t many of these sources of hope left – or at least that is what you are telling us. You tell us that when you look around Scotland you see the will for something new but not the shape of it, not enough of the ideas that can persuade you your hope isn’t futile.

So we asked and we listened. And we’re Common Weal, so we responded in the way we know how to. We worked really hard to create a story of hope, to create something which could help people to close their eyes and imagine the alternative.

You told us what you don’t like, what makes you angry, what breaks your heart. Sometimes you said that you didn’t know what the alternative was but that you really hoped there was one. Sometimes you told us what the alternative was, often by pointing us to really good initiatives or studies or reports or articles. Sometimes you invited us to come and see. You led us towards what you thought we could do to make a difference. 

Tax and Money is chapter 3

I can’t begin to tell you how seriously we take it when you tell us that you want us to do something. It’s got nothing to do with the cynicism of keeping donors happy (though donors, thank you more than we can express). It’s not about signing up new donors (but please, these are hard times for many so if you are one of the lucky ones and can help us, please become a donor).

It’s because we’re only here to try and make a difference and you are our guide to the difference we can make. We call ourselves a people-powered think tank and that’s what we try to be.

The result of this was that one year ago, quietly, we began work. It is amazing to me to realise that in May next year Common Weal will be ten years old (though only eight and a half years old as its own organisation). We have a very substantial body of work and that acted as a starting point.

We chatted and thought hard about how to put it together, about what hope ‘looks like’ when you try to distill it into a form that you can share with people. Is it films? Is it shareable material? Is it public events? In the end we decided that it was a book, part story, part reference work. It would be something you could read from start to finish, or something you could dip in and out of as you wanted.

So how were we going to tell the story? Pick some examples of ‘better’ and paint a picture of the difference it can make? Pose the right questions to start the conversation? Gather menus of options for what could be? We thought about this. After all, ‘starting a conversation’ and ‘beginning to imagine the shape of what might come next’ is the kind of thing think tanks do is it not? 

But in the end, none of you were saying ‘please start another conversation’. In fact some of you were telling us very clearly ‘we’ve had enough of aimless chats which go on forever and don’t arrive anywhere, so could you not describe a destination?’. That definitely chimed with me for one – I really can live without ‘starting’ another ‘journey’ of ‘imagineering’.

So we decided to take a shot at explaining how we could just make, well, everything better. After all, it’s so intricately connected. We were lacking health policy so we set up a Health Policy Group – and it talked about housing, and education, and IT. Our Care Group has been going for ages, and it talks about hospitals and GPs and human rights and democracy.

We decided that the way to do that was to assume Scotland had become independent and then to think about all the things a government does, organise them into chapters, and ask what it would look like if we did it differently, or how we could fix problems with what we are currently doing. 

 We went on expeditions to interview people. We asked you loads of times to send us ideas or point us to things we should be looking at. We read and researched from the best policy work we could find. We shaped up a broad model of the content.

And then we, well, started writing. And writing. And writing. It really was an incredible amount of work. Of course lots of words might contain hope, but do they feel like hope? We wanted to produce something that didn’t just give people the intellectual ability to think about hope but which would help them to feel it too.

For the last couple of years Common Weal has run a project with the Duncan of Jordanstone art school through which we met loads of great young illustrators and designers. So we asked four of them to take on the task of the ‘feel’ bit. They designed and illustrated the book, which I think looks really beautiful. They lifted me up with their work.

For the last month it has been the home straight. It was a hard deadline and it was hard to meet. But on Tuesday morning we got there – final, proofed and print-ready artwork.

Our book is called Sorted: a handbook for a better Scotland. We don’t for a second pretend it is the last word on a better society. There may be alternatives to our ideas, better ideas than the ones we’ve chosen. There will definitely be brilliant ideas we missed or couldn’t fit in. You may of course not agree with everything. This is our vision, and you can take from it what you find useful and leave behind what you don’t.

You may not know it, but you really have contributed so much to this book. We are incredibly grateful. We can’t do any of this without you. But we are going to ask if you can make one more contribution. While we have been doing all this work, printing costs have spiralled upwards. This isn’t a budget book. It’s full colour to do justice to those beautiful illustrations.

And our money is tight, as it is for so many, many people. We spend almost every penny we get on (very modest) wages for staff. To get this book finished and keep it affordable, we’re a few thousand pounds short of what we need. So we are asking you if you can help.

Donate or pre-order the book

Perhaps all that is left to say is that we have one giant hope too. We hope you like it. 

We hope that this is what you wanted us to do. We hope so much that we’ve properly understood what you were telling us.

But I can’t quite leave it at that. I have lived this piece of work for so long now. I had the honour of putting together the final text. Right now it feels to me like a photo I’m looking at but which is only a couple of millimetres in front of my eyes. I’ve been so close to it I can barely see it. I’m taking next week off to recover…

And yet I can, almost nearly, stand back and see what is in this. I need hope every bit as much as anyone. I need to believe that what is broken can be fixed because if I didn’t believe it I don’t know if I could get out of bed in the morning. 

When this project started I didn’t know how we could save the NHS. I didn’t know how we might run the national accounts of a new country. I didn’t know what we should do to reform education.

I learned so much. It lifted me when I was exhausted and made it possible to find my way when I was getting lost in it. There isn’t enough space here to thank everyone – you, the policy team that did the real work, the enormous number of people who helped and contributed to this, the Scottish Independence Foundation whose funding meant we could bring in those artists and designers, the team who proof read it, the rest of the Common Weal team who supported us every step of the way, my lovely home in this beautiful country which inspires me every day, my family for putting up with all of this.

I do feel hope. I do believe we can fix our problems. I do believe Scotland is only starting to be what it can be. I do believe in this country, in its people. I refuse to be told this is as good as it gets. I refuse. I do believe it can be better than this. I believe it will be better than this. So I have hope, and very soon we can share this book with you. Then, I hope above all that you can share our hope.

It will be better than this. Much is broken, but it can be sorted.

Pre-order your book on our Crowdfunder Page:

Donate or pre-order the book

12 thoughts on “Sorted: the New Book”

  1. Elizabeth Stuckey

    I would like to buy a copy but prefer to make a bank transfer and also set up a monthly standing order. I was born in Scotland and since living in London it has become obvious to me that Scotland should be independent ( but more attention should be given to Argyll and the western isles! )

    1. Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much! You can find out bank details here: /donate/. If you email me your address, I’ll make sure your book is delivered. And I think you’ll love the Democracy chapter based on subsidiarity.

  2. John Henderson

    I have ordered the book. I know that this is not a forum for discussing future constitution, but have to support Elizabeth Stuckey in areas needing attention. The Northern and Western Isles as well as other sparsely populated regions need to have and to feel that they have a significant say, if not a veto, over the policies of central government. We need a Lesley Riddoch approach to local, even more than regional democracy. The role and size of central government should be greatly reduced.

  3. Allison Graham

    I agree Amanda. I love Democracy chapter of this book having had the privilege to proof read it. It’s where the necessary power shifts, that empowers our people to be at the core of everything. The ideas and vision for that empowerment in the other chapters are inspiring of the hope we need to achieve a better Scotland for us all 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿❤️

  4. Really glad you have finished the book, it is a hugely ambitious undertaking, and looking forward to reading it.

  5. florian albert

    How much of an impact will this book make ? Realistically, the odds are that it will not make a great impact. There has been a notable reluctance among those on the left to analyse how successful – or otherwise – their books and their campaigns have been.
    Most such books have not proved to be a catalyst for significant change. My explanation for this is the disconnect between those writing/editing the books and those whom they wish to convert.
    The disconnect is related, above all, to class. If anything, the internet has widened it. Until the left finds a way of reconnecting, in the way that the Labour Party and the industrial trade unions once did, it will face an uphill struggle to bring about the change that books such as ‘Sorted’ hope to achieve.

  6. Marco Righetti

    I don’t want an independent Scotland but I love Scotland….I would rather go down the expanding devolution route…Will this book help me?

    1. Hi Marco

      While this blueprint is written from the viewpoint of an independent Scotland there’s absolutely nothing in it that can’t be adopted as national policy by any other country, including the UK as a whole. The limits of even expanded devolution are quite hard though and therefore the scope for delivering this plan within devolution either faster than the UK or despite opposition from the UK Government (given that they currently offer a very different prospectus from our point of view) is rather limited. Some aspects of our plan – such as a public-led, a written constitution, opposition to nuclear weapons, social security including Universal Basic Income and an economy based on Wellbeing rather than GDP Growth – are policies that the UK Government and major Opposition parties have all explicitly ruled out at the present time.

      I do hope you will read our book. You might not agree with everything in it (many pro-indy folk won’t either) but I hope you will find much in it that you can agree with and if it leads you to calling for it to inspire other countries beyond Scotland then we’d consider that a success too.


  7. Hi, I read about the new book in the National. I made a donation through the shop (always the easy way for me) this morning. How do I order the book now?

    1. Hi Jim

      We’ll have the book up on our shop nearer the time of launch so keep an eye out for it in a couple of weeks. Unless you donated enough and wanted to claim one of the rewards on the crowdfunder, in which case if you email us and we’ll sort you out there.


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