Gathering 2015: indyref sparked a revolution in Scottish politics


Oliver Escobar, Martin Sime, Alan Rennie and Elaine C Smith discuss the future of politics 

SCVO politics debate hears that a new era of participatory democracy could be ushered in 

Graham Martin's photo

26th February 2015 by Graham Martin 1 Comment

A revolution is taking place that could usher in a new era in participatory, grassroots democracy.

The momentum started by the independence referendum has opened up the possibility of a new way of doing things – if people and communities seize the opportunity.

That was one of the key messages at a debate on the future of politics at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) Gathering event, held in Glasgow’s SECC.

Dr Oliver Escobar, lecturer in public policy at the University of Edinburgh, said a “revolution” is already underway – and the question is now whether mainstream political discourse can catch up.

He said the fracturing of old-style party politics is part of a Europe wide process which has manifested itself in the spectacular rise of anti-austerity parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

Dr Escobar said the voluntary sector is already carrying through parts of this “revolution”.

He said new forms of democracy should now be looked at – including communities setting “participatory budgets” to determine public spending priorities.

Dr Escobar said: “It’s not the case that there’s apathy – look at volunteering. Politics is not just party politics – volunteering is politics, but the problem is it’s not connected to the world of policy and policy making.”

The panel at the event was made up of Dr Escobar, Daily Record and Sunday Mail managing editor Allan Rennie and SCVO chief executive Martin Sime. Actress Elaine C Smith chaired the debate.

They all agreed that there is no going back for Scottish politics after the referendum.

Sime said: “In Scotland we have a dysfunctional relationship with politics and with the state. Politicians pretend they can deal with poverty and inequality and they can’t – we need to put politicians and the state in their place. The primary question is what we can do for ourselves – and politics flows from that.

“All politicians are in favour of social justice but in the past 20 years things have become more unequal. Politicians have a role – but there are a whole host of things we need to value and treasure more.”

Sime also highlighted the sterility of traditional party politics by claiming that a million less people will vote in this year’s general election than voted in the referendum and calling for a “home made” politics where people start their own campaigns, parties and movements – using the opportunities created by new media.

Questions considered by the panel included the role of the media and alleged bias by the BBC during the referendum, whether more of a case should be made for the role of taxraising, and how to keep the generation of young people politically empowered by the referendum campaign engaged.

Elaine C Smith ended the debate on a note of optimism, saying she hoped we were in the process of building a better Scotland, and quoting Oscar Wilde, saying: “I don’t want to live in a world where Utopia isn’t on the map.”

29th March 2015 by Alan Young

Nice one (as always!) Oliver - but I hope you'll appreciate a couple of critiques!Firstly, all this about '“participatory budgets” to determine public spending priorities' that seems to be taking the country by storm right now - it all seems a bit hollow without the broader participatory politics needed to set levels of taxation, and decide what other revenue-generating methods need to be put in place, to determine the overall amount of money that's available to be spent on public goods in any given community or policy sphere. It all falls a long way short of the powers that local communities already possess through their elected municipalities (the 'kommuner') in the liberal democracies of Northern Europe. There seems to be a huge gap here in today's Scotland between the encouraging statements our Government regularly makes about 'equality', 'social justice' and an 'engaged' and 'empowered' citizenry, and the spectacularly limited political powers they actually seem willing to 'cede' or to 'delegate' to local people and communities as a way of putting such noble ideas into practice.Similarly, it's great to invoke the spirit of Syriza and Podemos in a Scottish context, but (given the example here, and countless others) I continue to be amazed - and quite baffled really - by the number of people I meet here whose 'hearts and minds' are with the likes of Podemos and Syriza, but who somehow feel they can find a comfortable home (at least for now) within the current party of government here in Scotland.