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Festival of Activism: On a mission without permission

What is activism? 

the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

Definition of Permission

the action of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing; consent or authorization.

If activism means working to bring about change in the established way of doing (or not doing) things then asking for consent or permission from those in power (the establishment) seems counterintuitive.

There is of course a broad spectrum of activism techniques to agitate for change, from collective demonstration of opinion to civil disobedience but at the heart of any activism is a passion to work to enable a desired change to outcomes.

At last weekend’s Doune The Rabbit Hole music festival, the Common Weal team had the pleasure of facilitating an array of passionate speakers on a diverse range of fascinating topics at the Douniversity stage.

Obi getting ready to get active at Douniversity and be heard 😜

Each speaker brought a unique perspective to their talk but all shared a common thread: a motivation for positive action that was mot stopped by a permission barrier to begin their mission for change.

A weekend immersed with people sharing their stories, passion and proactive attitudes, against a backdrop of a truly chilled, family music festival alongside our brilliant Common Weal team and volunteers was a real life enforcing experience.

It was a real jolt of energy to witness what is possible when you find your tribe and your groove, to bring clarity to focussing on your common goal.

It suddenly seems obvious stop seeking permission to start and just get on, do stuff and demonstrate value!

Each of the speakers, over three days of TEDX style talks, educated, entertained and informed their audiences. There were great conversations over churros & coffee (from our neighbouring stall) and lots of laughs at the Common Weal stall, set against ever present background tunes from every genre on the music stages, catering to every taste, as the festive vibe wafted across the grassy fields of West Stirlingshire. 

Now obviously we, as citizens, have a responsibility to seek permission from authority to do certain things to keep ourselves and others safe, healthy, society functioning etc., but those in authority do have a responsibility too. 

Authority must support societal needs and adapt to change where it is required or desired. There’s a balance of course of rights and protections but if a case is well made as to the benefits of a proposed change then there is an obligation of authority to engage, understand and objectively assess any proposed change where a strong thoughtful case is made. 

I was blown away by the speakers I listened to at Douniversity, for the degree of work and effort behind their passionate communication to the audiences on their ideas, actions and organisations. They were all enthusiastic to ‘sell’ their vision to a tent full of strangers as they had deep knowledge and passion of their talk’s topic.

The common thread amongst them all was that they had not been dissuaded by barriers of ‘permission’ to begin , they had found ways to progress with their focus firmly on their goal to ensure delivery of the outcomes they seek. 

Whether for healthier, safer buildings, homes and communities, sustainable growth and wellbeing, just treatment and fair rent for tenants or fundamental changes to how our society values and achieves wellbeing and happiness beyond consumerism, each had a passion that melted away the permission barriers! 

The power of demonstrating a vision takes words from a page and shows even the most cynical what can be done. Once you clear the first hurdle of disbelief you unlock a confidence that can be nurtured and built upon. It brings the exhilaration of possibilities from a self confidence that we really are only limited by our own imagination, vision and ambition: that’s true empowerment! 

My own wee talk on the Friday evening was about Active Communities. That’s my area of passion because I see the power in networks and collective action. When folk who share a passion for change can pull their knowledge, experience and vision to achieve something they can feel proud to be a part of, it changes them and lifts their heads, their confidence and their ambition.

Monster Radish Club – Community Growing Garden

The sharing of failures and successes reinforces the learning journey is every bit as important as the destination you seek to reach your goal. The camaraderie of your community network supports you on low days as you support others on theirs.

Friendships emerge from the most unlikely or corners and that’s joyous when you ‘find your tribe’!

Scotland is not just a stunningly beautiful, resources rich land mass, it is a network of communities, whether geographic, academic, sport, recreational, religious, political or other shared interests.

My political passion is for Scotland’s people across every community in our land, to have the self confidence in ourself that others across the globe have in us.

Once this collective confidence reaches a tipping point, where feudal permission seeking melts away, then independence is inevitable.

As, Victor Hugo said, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Politicians in London, Edinburgh and everywhere in between must then get onboard with the real change that is happening BY the people across these islands. Politicians serve at the pleasure of their electorate so must deliver what the people demand, if they are to command respect and succeed in being (re)elected. 

Scotland is indeed a globally renowned picturesque land but her true essence of wonder is in our people. Each person has something to contribute as an individual but that contribution becomes powerful when harnessed in our communities.

These communities all bring value to our collective as a nation. If we can draw that confidence of achievement together with an ambitious vision of what a new Scotland could be then the sky is the limit!

A nation of confident, active communities inspired to unlock the potential of self determination, when all decisions are made IN Scotland, FOR Scotland, BY Scotland then who would bet against us!

My advice, to become a valued part of creating an ambitious, inspiring new Scotland is to first throw off the ingrained feudal mindset. When we no long seek permission from our ’heros’ and ‘betters’ to instruct us to do stuff for them and instead, act and work WITH not FOR others. we empower ourselves and create our communities!

So,

  • Find your tribe
  • Get active (in whatever way you can)
  • Build self confidence and collective confidence 
  • Believe YOU can and believe WE can 

Allow your beliefs to shape your thoughts and create a vision of what’s possible.

Let your thoughts form your words to communicate with others and lead to positive actions you can take to demonstrate your vision.

Commit to these positive actions to build good habits to expand the impact of your actions and you’ve established your values that you can  connect with to build a community of common purpose.

Then YOU will have set your destiny!

Our collective destiny is Scotland’s future and that make it all of our responsibility!

The very first step to self determination is for us to decide we can and we should make our own decisions. Seems logical right? So what are we waiting for Scotland, let’s get connected!

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What is a generation?

The first Scottish Independence referendum was in 2014.

As part of the campaign it was suggested the vote was ‘once in a generation’.

This sometimes gets brought up as some sort of solid argument against the need for a second referendum.

Firstly, it is therefore important we have a look at what has actually been agreed.

The Smith Commission that followed the first referendum ending, contained this nugget.

”It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.”

Full Smith Commission linked here, because for some reason it is VERY hard to get ahold of. However it establishes the referendum was not an ’only once, ever’ event.

Secondly we then need to consider ”what is a political generation?”

It would be incredibly useful if we had some sort of example, of a region/country of the UK that could occasionally call upon a referendum to determine its future constitutional status.

Amusingly the Irish have provided for exactly that.

The minimum referendum rerun duration provided for Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming its own country (in this case with the Republic of Ireland) is 7 years. Even better, the precedent of this ‘political generation’ is codified in law.

Northern Irish precedent matters to us, because we are of course as we are often reminded in ”a union of equals – a United Kingdom – ergo what’s competent for NI, is surely the same for Scotland.

Enter the Northern Ireland Act 1998

Some quick math tells us that we are eight years on from the first Scottish referendum.

Using the UK governments own schedule in the Act of Parliament as our precedent, which was established under the widely defended and praised Good Friday Agreement – specifically codified in relation to parts of the UK exiting – we can only conclude the following from following UK government provided information:

A political generation has now advanced, and it is acceptable for another referendum.

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Change is happening

Allison Graham at Bannockburn – June 2022 (Footage from IndependenceLive)

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Your Move London♟

This week the First Minister of Scotland announced to the Scottish Parliament that Scotland would have an advisory referendum on independence on October 19th 2023. There would be a few routes that this could take, let’s use letters to label then.

A  S30 from UK Gov to mirror precedence of 2014 Indy Ref with the Edinburgh Agreement 2012
B  Referendum Bill from Scottish Parliament
C  Plebiscite Westminster election at   next General Election

The details in the announcement were, I’d assume, deliberately vague and most certainly caught the opposition parties and media unprepared.

Pronouncements on Plan B were made mainly on the sequence of events with Lord Advocate proactively seeking a ruling from UK Supreme Court on the competency of Scottish Parliament to legislate, being widely reported as a ’curve ball’. This led naturally to our engaged independence movement’s questions and scrutiny. We can speculate as to the pros and cons and rationale, given our experience of following Martin Keatings, Forward As One, Peoples Section 30 case decision and we absolutely should. Details on Plan C even seemed to create confusion between FM and DFM!

However, regardless of where we sit on the cynicism scale with the, now tiny,  inner circle of SNP, you have to recognise Tuesday’s announcement as a catalyst for renewed action and enthusiasm in an otherwise stagnant political movement for real change. Progress has been glacial from a political body distracted by policy that seems determined to divide, not coalesce Scotland as required on a plan for safe change to the betterment for all. The people have stayed committed to independence as the key to real change so we need those we elect to deliver to keep us ‘in the loop’ on progress.

If the bold announcement of a longed for date does nothing else, it puts Scottish independence back on the news cycle and that’s the national conversation we need. In no small part thanks to our unionist politicians and UK MSM who are shrieking from the rooftops that,

“Scotland can’t!”

”Scottish Parliament have no powers to!”

”How dare the Scottish Government speak for the people of Scotland!”

There’s a veritable choice for Scottish Independence Campaigner of the month, and none of them actually want independence!

Those of us who have more than a cursory interest in Scotland’s constitutional future are enjoying the political popcorn created by unionists this week while we scrutinise the actual announcement from the FM.

Now it may be the Greens influence rubbing off but there does seem to be more than a little, ’reuse, recycle ♻️ ’ going on as many of us have seen all these ideas before, just not from the FM but that’s for another blog!

So, what do we know for sure and where are the gaps?

Well we know fundamentally that Scotland having an independence referendum agreed by U.K. government is legally and constitutionally possible as we’ve done it before in 2014.

We also know that an agreement signed by both governments to facilitate the smooth running of this democratic process is possible as we have the Edinburgh Agreement 2012 as proof and precedent.

We also know that 8 years have almost passed since Scotland’s people were asked on 18th September 2014, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

We know that much has changed in this timeframe, much of it material change, even to the constitutional position of the UK that Scotland chose as status quo option in 2014. This illusionary ’status quo’ of Westminster along with our devolution settlement has failed to protect Scotland from Brexit, hostile immigration policy, brutal Tory austerity that Scotland has never voted for is failing yet again, with abundant renewable energy, to utilise our precious natural resources for the common weal of our people.

We know that without any other written definition in UK or Scots Law, that a political generation is defined in Good Friday Agreement 1998 as 7 years, co-signed by UK, Ireland and USA. If UK is a union of equals, why would Scotland not have the same time definition as NI to determine our constitutional future?

In reinforcement, we know that the post Indy Ref, Smith Commission, Nov 2014, in paragraph 18, leaves subsequent democratic decisions on Scotland’s constitutional future, to the people.

Para.18 “It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future if the people of Scotland so choose.”

The most recent jigsaw 🧩 piece is the democratic mandate given by the people of Scotland when they elected an independence majority into Scottish Government in May 2021. The SNP were elected by majority of 62/73 in the constituency vote and combined with 2 list seats and greens 8 list seats, formed an independence majority of 72/129. The list votes were just over 50% to pro independence parties.

Given all the unquestionable positions on the board, what moves can UK Government make to beat this democratic checkmate while under international scrutiny? As UK feel their way to find their place in their post Brexit world, with only bravado and trading on historic reputations for ‘Mother of Parliaments’ can the UK really afford to have their undemocracy for Scotland questioned? How will that play with potential trade partners, even those without a large Scottish Diaspora? 

With all the media and political commentary on the feasible the Scottish Government’s plans B & C, have we missed the importance of plan A as UK’s Achille’s heel?

Robin McAlpine spoke at IndyX Fife on the necessity to have plan A, B, C etc., as part of an overall strategy as we’ve no time to go back to start point if a ‘component part’ fails, we must be flexible, proactive and ready to segway if and when the game changes. That’s strategy folks!

Those of us who play chess♟may be at an advantage to see any strategy at all in seemingly contrary actions. It may not even be deliberate by the SNP leadership but that matters not, once the energy from our movement takes hold and runs with it.

The key point is the march back down the hill just can’t be allowed to happen this time. We must ensure we overtop the hill we’ve climbed so many times in 8 years and this time ensure that our collective momentum sustains and builds to make independence inevitable.

To do this we must capture the peoples’ imagination, enthusiasm and breathe life into a vision for a new Scotland, for the betterment of all of us.

To create a peoples’ force for change we must have a singular commitment to our common goal: to deliver independence. To do this we must remember what created our 2013/24 grassroots movement and put any political party hats down to focus on our goal. If we’re to create an unstoppable peoples’ force, we must not allow the drag of day to day government to distract and derail progress. We must decouple indy movement from political parties and at the same time, all our politicians must step up now to raise the bar in personal, party and policy standards. This is a critical role they must play to demonstrate capability and build trust. The wise politicians will get on board or risk getting left behind.

Joanna Cherry QC MP is very well placed to demonstrate both legal and political credibility and show safe hands for Scotland in a UK Parliament where she is respected. Now as Acting Chair of the esteemed and critically important Joint Committee on Human Rights, she must surely play a pivotal role? Her recent call for an independence alliance will be heard well beyond Scotland to further normalise the reality that independence is a question for all the people of Scotland and not restricted to SNP party policy.

Point to note, for our politicians, is that our Celtic cousins on the island of Ireland give no deference and spend exactly zero time discussing mechanism of persuasion of the British to their position. ALL focus is on their own people and convincing them that they goal of united Ireland should happen (most importantly at this stage) WILL happen. This is what leads to international recognition that they are following the will of the people.

They are normalising change, which in itself changes mindsets from fear to opportunity: we must do the same in Scotland. Wales are breathing fresh energy into their constitutional conversation with new voices being raised. Many in England are also questioning their place in a post Brexit world with Mick Lynch throwing a bucket of cold water over UK media and politicians with his fearless, consistent messaging on workers rights, seemingly forgotten by the Labour Party that was founded on this principle!

The normalisation of change should be the key focus to build the necessary pressure that Robin McAlpine spoke about at IndyX Fife, to put UK into a position that it’s easier to have another Edinburgh Agreement than not to.

Egos MUST be put away now as this opportunity is too important to squander by navel gazing and ‘one up man-ship’. You don’t have to believe in someone to take an opportunity they’ve created (deliberately or otherwise) and run with it. What someone does to us isn’t in our control but how we react to it absolutely is! 

To optimise any force it’s imperative we keep our component parts tightly together or energy is lost through the gaps. This applies equally in a political movement as it does in physics. How we square that with facilitating different ideas and embracing other views is something that needs serious attention now.

The ONLY way is to connect on common purpose: Scottish independence and allow autonomy on all else.

What is independence for if not empowerment of democratic self determination for our people on all decisions affecting them? Focus on where we agree and build our campaign as a rich, diverse, organic movement of ideas and a passion to make a better Scotland democratically and respectfully of all views.

We must all set an example to those that will try to make this a single party initiative. It’s not and can’t be if we are to have certainly of a result. We need to start as we mean to go on with a Scotland for everyone if we’re to build trust in our independent future, even amongst those who won’t vote for it.

There is lots to do in the weeks and months ahead but some key things are:

  • Focus on where we agree: Scottish independence 
  • Change IS happening across these islands in Scotland, Wales and the island of Ireland, England must also have a conversation on its post Brexit future 
  • Focus on Scotland’s democratic right to choose
  • Call out UK law breaking domestically & internationally 
  • Precedent of Edinburgh Agreement 
  • Importance of Nation Conversation 
  • Need for Constitutional Convention 
  • Need for Citizen’s assembly 
  • Need for a Nation Building Conversion to capture the nation’s pulse & ambition for what happens in Scotland, in transition to independence and 5 years, 10 years, 20 years on from Independence Day

These are the tools to make independence normal, democratic and inevitable. 

Now is not the time to burn down political houses but to shape consensus on potential with ambitious vision and future the necessary establish democratic checkpoints to build a new nation based on trust that the people can and will decide. 

A new political environment will emerge organically, just as Indy grassroots did in 2013/14 and this should be embraced, not feared by our body politic in Scotland. 

Politicians who have continually asked the people of Scotland to trust them to deliver an independent Scotland must now trust the people to be core to shaping their future. As our people who make their lives here, will make our Independent Scotland a place that’s worth all efforts to achieve it!

So how will a UK Government, chastised by ECHR on illegal immigration deportation policy and embattled with EU over breaking international law over NI Protocol, respond to the democratic challenge laid down by Scottish Government? 

We must, while focusing on Scotland, be alive to the external influencing factors on UK’s position, of power dynamics in Ireland, an increasingly vocal Wales, RMT agitation for workers rights across UK, being a third country to EU, ECHR scrutiny, UN observation on Rights of The Child, all culminating in what must seem to UK Government a democratic pincer movement!

Scotland and our democratically elected Scottish Government must hold our collective nerve and keep laser focussed if we are to look UK Government in the eye as equal partners as we announce “checkmate” ♟