One year on, still wishing for a better future for Scotland

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Anna Crow

If you could have one wish for Scotland’s future, what would it be?

To mark the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum, yesterday on Buchanan Street in Glasgow city centre there was a wish tree.  Passers-by of all ages, whether shoppers, those heading home from school or work, or those simply out for a walk enjoying the late afternoon sunshine were invited to write their wishes on a tag to tie onto strings connecting two trees, forming what became a multi-coloured and diverse washing line of people’s hopes and dreams, people’s desires for their own lives, those of others around them, and for our country as a whole.

There were no limitations as to what people could write.  ‘Everyone should be given a puppy!’ read one.  ‘Better weather’ was a desire expressed by several.  ‘Legalisation of cannabis’ another read, with a drawing of a marijuana leaf.  Another said ‘Happiness’, with a big smiley face.  Some were strongly worded, such as one which read ‘FUCK OFF TRIDENT!’ underlined multiple times.  Hope was expressed by one person for Scotland to become a ‘sexy socialist utopia’.  One read ‘For my ex to be lonely for a long time’.

Others included wishes for no child to be born into poverty, for more girls to get involved in science and politics, for an internationally recognised Scottish passport, for exams to be made easier, for Scotland to have an entry in the Eurovision song contest and unsurprisingly, for a second referendum.  Common themes included greater power for Scotland and independence from Westminster rule – one that I saw simply read ‘Freedom’ – and opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland and the current austerity regime and its consequences.  Another expressed the simple desire to keep the political discussion going.

There were a diverse range of contributors, even including elected members of the UK Parliament such as Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire.  Those involved in the event included Common Space’s Michael Gray and Stephen Paton from Left Scotland, who was filming the event.  The main organiser was Aileen McKay, a Glasgow-based activist and student who like numerous others become engaged in politics for the first time in the lead up to last year’s referendum, and whose passion for positive social change in Scotland continues to engage and inspire many.

The spirit of this event was one of openness – where all were welcome, discussion was invited but never forced, and no opinion should be censored.  One person there asked me whether it was okay to write something in Arabic on the card.  ‘Of course!’ I replied.  Others who I had conversations with included those who were visiting Glasgow as tourists, someone who still regarded Scotland as home even after living in Australia for over 40 years, someone who was passionately opposed to the EU as a whole and could see no possibility for EU reform, and an older woman who some minutes into our conversation admitted to being a Conservative party supporter.  Even in that conversation some common ground was found as we discovered we shared a mutual respect for new UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Events like this are a clear demonstration of the nature of our new politics in Scotland.  This politics is bold and visible, diverse and creative, even humorous upon occasion.  This politics is about genuine engagement with the people of Scotland; listening to them to speak about the things that affect them, inviting them to express their hopes and dreams, welcoming honest discussion and debate, and politics where at the very heart there is an invitation to work together where there are things we agree on, to work together build a better future for our country.

I feel privileged to count Aileen and others involved in this event as personal friends.  I myself was not engaged in campaigning on the streets or involved with the work of pro-independence groups including Yes Scotland and National Collective in the lead up to the referendum last year, as many of these friends were.  In large part, work commitments at that time limited my involvement in the Yes movement primarily to discussions with friends and family, both in person and over social media platforms such as Facebook.  But in the time since the referendum, my political engagement has increased, both through the Scottish Green Party and involvement in activism that is not specifically party-affiliated, often through people such as these who I have met in social circles in the past year – people who like myself are part of a growing and vibrant activist network in Scotland.

Politics should not be about Oxbridge educated middle-aged white men in suits looking down on the little people and enjoying the power and privilege they hold over them.  Politics should be about all people – people feeling free to ask ‘stupid questions’, to take to the streets standing up for things that matter to them, to laugh together, even to cry together.

From my own perspective, I can attest to the power of this type of politics.  Friendships form because the things we care about have drawn us together.  Friendships grow stronger because we are still fighting.  One year on from the referendum result, our movement is still growing and the political discussion is still going – long may it continue.

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E-petitions: promoting slacktivism or participation?

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Louise Wilson

Of the many changes this new UK Government has made, or announced it will make, so far, perhaps one of the more positive aspects is the establishment on a new Petitions Committee and system.

Whilst the ability to petition Parliament has been around for decades, in July this year a system to allow e-petitioning was launched. Any UK citizen can now open, sign and publicise a petition online, which will be registered on the UK Parliament website immediately. This differentiates it from other websites, such as change.org, as it does not require petitioners to physically deliver their document.

So Westminster has now caught up with the Scottish Parliament, and it is a positive step in terms of modernising many of the institution’s archaic traditions. This is a turn for the democratic – with much of Britain now online, it makes sense to allow the electorate to engage with the Government and Parliament in this space too.

This new e-system is not without its criticisms, however, By making the process more open, it automatically means it is easier to garner support for, shall we say, less serious petitions. With only 10,000 signatures, the government must issue a response to any petition. This will take up resources, and whilst we can hope only worthy petitions would reach this threshold, other countries’ experiences have shown this isn’t always the case.

Take for instance the petition in the US to build a Death Star back in 2013. It received over 34,000 signatures, therefore requiring an official response. Whilst the US Government successfully turn this into some positive PR, it is easy to imagine other scenarios in which petitions are simply wasting Government time. And even those that do not reach 10,000 have to be considered by the new Petitions Committee – potentially detracting from more serious issues.

The ease with which a petition can be created and signed may also encourage a rise in slacktivism and clicktivism. By e-signing a petition, a person may believe they have played their part and so no further action is required. This train of thought has pervaded much of the research undertaken by academics in internet and politics for some time. There is a fear that people will trade in physical, pro-active campaigning for a few clicks or a button. After all, it is far easier to do without feeling like you’ve done nothing – but it is also far less effective a method of advocacy. Arguably, the same could be said for traditional petitions, but the difference is that many of us still separate online presence from IRL. We might put less thought into signing something over the internet than we would with pen and paper.

Despite the issues, e-petitioning could still prove to be a very useful resource. It opens up the conversation, and by allowing information to be shared via social media, might encourage participation. Studies have suggested that we are more likely to engage with something a friend has posted online than from another source (albeit the online friend must also be an IRL friend, according to these same studies).

And while the occasional daft petition might come up, so might a stroke of genius. For example, among a list of Holyrood petitions deemed successful, one can find: reinstalling a railway to the Borders, clarifying grant guidelines for Historic Scotland, and protecting Wemyss Ancient Caves. Petitions can also trigger action from governments before they are officially taken forward – usually recognisably by a withdrawal.

This move online ought to be celebrated. At the very least, all petitions will receive some consideration by the Committee, and at best might trigger a debate, and real, tangible change. It is a step forward for both modernisation and democracy in an institution that holds old values dear and is often accused of not listening to the public between elections.

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