The first in a series of blogs by our Board members, Co-chair Maggie Chapman writes about her wishes for a different kind of politics.
Five years ago today, after casting my vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum in the early morning, I spent the rest of the day out and about in Edinburgh, at polling stations and on the streets, urging people to vote, asking them to vote “Yes”. And people did go out and vote in record numbers – many voting for the first time – nearly 85% of people registered to vote did so.
I realise that many people found the IndyRef campaign difficult: it was not positive or happy. Rather it was alienating and divisive. Many do not recall the months leading up to 18th September 2014 as positive, vibrant or energising.
And that saddens me, because the 18th September 2014 was the culmination of what had been, for me, the most exciting and energising political debate I’d ever been involved in. And I know many people share that view. We had spent months doing politics differently. We had been talking positively about politics in our workplaces, schools, pubs, supermarkets, bus shelters. We had broken down (some) political and community boundaries. We had been part of something few of us had ever experienced: strong grassroots community groups organised with a view to engaging more people than ever in the discussion about our country’s future. We had built and nurtured a social movement.
I dearly wish that more people could know what it is like to be part of something enthusing, hopeful and uplifting.
So, what do we need to do to create the space for a different kind of politics? How can we work across political and community divides to build political spaces for discussion that are inclusive and welcoming, even in disagreement? How must we act to nurture a politics that does not silence or ridicule dissenters?
Because I so desperately want more people to know that politics can be different, and now, more than ever, we know that we desperately need a different type of politics.
Five years ago, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the transformation we have seen in British politics. We have seen our relationship with Europe transformed through the Brexit vote and onmishambles of negotiations. We have seen three prime ministers in just over three years. And we have seen many of the old political certainties melt away before our eyes. It seems as though the only certainty is change.
We must use the certainty that change is inevitable to create the new kind of politics we need. We cannot afford to leave political discussion to those in the corridors of power. We must get talking and listening, bringing more and more people into respectful and constructive conversations. We must find ways to have the serious conversations we need to have – about our public services, our climate, our energy economy, our foreign policy, and so much more – in ways that are inclusive and informative, avoiding the traps of division and polarisation that so much political debate falls into.
I hope that Voices for Scotland can help create this new politics. I look forward to meeting many of you, in conversation, in those new, respectful, constructive spaces, over the coming weeks and months. And, if you’d like to share your experiences of this sort of debate, please do – I’d be really interested to learn about the conversations you’ve found energising and engaging.