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We’re here – for everyone

Robin McAlpine

At the weekend Common Weal will publish a strategy for how to achieve independence. This article is for those among our supporters who don’t support independence. I want to persuade you that we value you as much as our supporters who do support independence. That’s the meaning of All of Us First.

Common Weal started as a project of another think tank which was about looking at what Scotland could do with the powers of independence. We outgrew our host and spun out as an organisation in itself, but still, Common Weal is inextricably a pro-independence think tank.

But when we did spin out it was in the immediate aftermath of the independence referendum. It wasn’t something that was about to be repeated immediately, so we made a very clear decision to do work which could be delivered by the Scottish Parliament. From infrastructure funding to childcare to local democracy to rent controls to the new social security powers, that’s what we did.

It was nearly three years before we did take on a big independence-related project. But we didn’t stop working on domestic policy. A digital currency, a strategy for deconsumerisation, a major proposal for a national mutual banking network and oppositional research on both the case for fracking in Scotland and for cutting the air passenger duty were just a few of the pieces of work we did even during that bigger project.

Since then we have done breakthrough work on climate change and just transition, lots and lots of work on energy in Scotland, work on a property tax, the proposal for the Scottish National Investment Bank, public data, land reform – the list is too long for me to be comprehensive.

This means that while the bulk of our supporters are pro-independence, many people who are not yet convinced by the case for independence are nonetheless very supportive of our policy work. So here’s the question – in a divided world where it seems you’re supposed to hate those who are on the other side of a debate from you, is it even possible to maintain support across divides?

In Common Weal we’ve always believed it was, and we continue to believe that. We engage enthusiastically with anyone who is interested in our work. We are currently working with every political party in the Scottish Parliament on one subject or another (with Tories on PFI replacement). 

Some people raised their eyebrows when we published a paper by Kate Forbes recently, given that she’s not particularly associated with left-wing politics. But she is genuinely engaged with our work and has been really positive about a whole host of our ideas. That’s all we’re interested in; engaging people in ideas.

We’ve never found it difficult to work across boundaries and I personally remain bemused why so many people seem to find it so difficult.

But we’re about to publish a plan for how Scotland could make rapid progress to independence and that’s a rather binary issue – it either happens or it doesn’t. And if it does, of course some people will feel it is leaving them behind. So can we still be an ‘all of us’ organisation?

I think so. I hope so. There are a few ‘rules’ that we have for ourselves. They’re simple, but they’re effective. It is simply things like ‘treat people you disagree with with respect, listen to them and understand why they disagree’. Things like ‘never take people for granted and never value people differently simply because they don’t agree with you’.

We’ll continue to do that. Our contributions to the cause of independence have absolutely always been about everyone. They are about how an independent Scotland could make lives better, ever for people who do not believe it can improve their lives. In fact, possibly especially for them.

I wrote elsewhere about this recently; there are social debates where it is just not possible for all sides to win. Some decisions really are binary and you can’t get a ‘best of both worlds’ solution with a genuinely binary issue. The key isn’t really compromise, the key is the nature in which you fight and the demeanour with which you win.

Again, that is something Common Weal is very conscious of. We try not to use language that can inflame or make things worse. It doesn’t mean being mealy-mouthed, it means being courteous, even (or especially) when you believe strongly in something. 

And since we’re all about equality it isn’t hard for us to be sincere when we say that, if independence happens, we’ll be fighting for everyone afterwards, irrespective of what their position was during the debate.

Because for me that is absolutely the key. The key is that, if we say that independence will make people’s lives better, we better mean it. We better follow through. It better not be something that we only said to get our own way. It better be more than that. That is why Common Weal fought back so hard against the Growth Commission, which would have made lives worse.

And it is also absolutely the key that we do not ever take a ‘to the winner the spoils’ approach to a post-independence Scotland. As I hope you’ve seen, Common Weal has never been slow to speak out about the abuse of power, no matter who is doing the abusing. We are no slower to call out poor performance or dodgy dealings from those whose politics align with ours than those who do not.

Basically, that is our promise to people who like our ideas but don’t support independence. You can be certain that, no matter what happens, we will continue to produce our hope-filled ideas and we will fight for them to become public policy. We will lobby and campaign no matter who is in power.

We will always stand up and shout down corruption or the misuse of power, and in fact I would hope that we would be right at the front of the queue in trying to keep Scotland honest in the early days of an independent nation. I personally have a very strong conviction that a nation is for everyone and rigging it to favour those on a winning side is awful. For me, Scotland is for everyone or no-one.

And most certainly, whatever we do we will remain constructive, courteous, positive, friendly and open and welcoming. Common Weal tries enormously hard to live up to our own standards of what a better society is.

I wish I always had. I personally can have a fiery temper and I do sometimes feel and care too deeply about issues. It can make me more combative than I intend to be and, looking back, I can see that I was at times perhaps a bit too combative in my support for independence. The hostile nature of a referendum campaign didn’t help.

I hope I’ve learned. What I’ve seen since the independence referendum is a world ever more divided and ever more angry with itself. This isn’t good. Better futures can emerge from conflict, but only once the conflict is over. Keeping our endless fights going is not the path to that better future.

So, if you like Common Weal’s policy work but we lose you when we talk about independence, we understand, we really do. We recognise that you may hold your beliefs every bit as strongly as we hold ours.

But we want you to know you’re welcome in the wider Common Weal family and that we do our work for you as much as we do our work for anyone else. And we always will. That’s what Common Weal is about. We hope you can feel positive about our work even where you don’t agree with all of it.

We can do no more than keep fighting for a society which genuinely puts all of us first. And we always will. We hope we can help create the space that everyone needs, in the Scotland that everyone deserves. And that is the manner in which we will always carry ourselves.

6 thoughts on “We’re here – for everyone”

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    A generous spirited article. It is important to try to have a respectful and courteous dialogue and, that entails listening to the counterarguments and actually addressing them and, perhaps, even accepting, at least part of the objection and seeking to accommodate it within the main thesis.

    It is not just on independence that their are differences among supporters of Commonweal, within supporters of independence there are people whose views on economic and social matters encompass a fair spectrum. Kate Forbes’ views on such matters differ from, say, Nicola Sturgeon’s, while both agree that independence is something strongly to be desired.

    There are groups on the ‘left’ – and given Commonweal’s history, these are likely to be a large majority of its supporters – who, while disagreeing about whether independence is the way forward for Scotland, can support redistributive policies on things such as land reform, or on environmental issue or on greater devolution and empowerment of local communities, including the very local.

    So, I think you are right to make this explicit.

  2. Ian Davidson

    Excellent. For every wisdom there is counter-wisdom. There is nothing more practical than a good theory; to a greater or lesser extent, we are all prisoners of our own adopted theories, or paradigms: philosophy, politics, economics, psychology, religion/spirituality, education ad.infinitum. Change the “real” world via external action/speech; change the “real” world via greater self-awareness of how you perceive & interact with that world. In certain situations, anger may be the right basis for right action; however more often, calming your anger and listening to your “opponents” may be more productive in the long term? If Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness + Rev Iain Paisley could, as they did, sit in the same room and communicate; then few of us have any genuine excuse for not engaging? Even if we cannot agree on a binary choice, we can reach some agreement on how that choice is implemented? Life is too short and tiring to be constantly in conflict? And so it goes?

    1. Ian Davidson

      PS: One of the problems with politics today is that many people are treating it like a religion/faith as they have lost any hope of genuine faith/spiritual understanding. Politics is vital but it is not a route to self-knowledge or coming to terms with the human condition. I think that is why there are so many unbalanced individuals (from “activists to paid politicians/leaders) involved in politics and their passion for a cause can turn into hatred for those they see as enemies. Identity politics, taken to extremes, can create the delusion that just about everybody else is “the enemy”?!

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