Thinking outside the box on the future of Scotland


By Alex Robertson
The SCVO organised a debate in Glasgow this last week on the future of Scotland and it turned out to be more of a discussion resulting in a surprising degree of consensus and some out-of-the-box thinking.
The Umbrella body for voluntary organisations in Scotland got together a panel of 6 distinguished academics from Scottish Universities and invited them to present their vision for a future Scotland in a two hour session chaired by the SCVO convenor, Dr Alison Elliot, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

After the panellists presented a dazzling array of opportunities and choices, the meeting was thrown open to the audience of some 30 or so and a debate ensued.  Actually it was more of a discussion, in calm reasoned questions and arguments, lacking nothing in passion or commitment.

My only regret is that nobody was writing down the visions being presented and discussed – it would make a valuable book as the referendum approaches.

As the discussion progressed, usually between audience and panel, but quite often between audience members and even parallel softly spoken conversations between audience members sitting close to one another, it became a demonstration of the highest level of communications between perfect strangers.

As the evening progressed, two strands of the dialectic began to emerge.  On the one hand was a range of vision, from how better to deal with an ageing population, and on to which Nordic model best suited a future Scotland, Scottish infrastructure options, social equality imperatives and how better to serve rural communities.

On the other hand a discussion quite naturally arose as to empowerment, how to make happen those vision choices, and how that related to Scotland having sovereign powers of choice and action.

The really remarkable thing for me was to watch the consensus emerge and flourish.  And never more so than when Professor Fiona Raitt of Dundee University Law School sparked a discussion on a Constitution for Scotland which offered the chance of marrying vision to action.

Bearing in mind the evening was hosted by the SCVO, it was scarcely surprising that the emphasis was on the Third Sector, but that did not prevent discussion on economics or governance issues.  But there is a space for similar debates to be held dealing with Commerce and Economics.

All in all it was a remarkable evening which exemplified Scottish aspiration and reason in equal measure.  There was no hostility, no smears, scares or silly name-calling, yet in just two hours we managed to explore loads of opportunities and how they might be made real.

If all our referendum meetings and debates are similarly productive, then Scotland will be the richer and wiser by 2014.

And yet, for me the real value lay in the rational roadmap which it revealed.

The choices are legion, and there is absolutely no shortage of vision and aspiration.  Nor is there a lack of perception that for any of this to make sense, to stand any chance of being translated into reality, Scotland needs the sovereign power to choose and act.  And the way to join these two aspects at the hip is for Scotland to have a written Constitution.

Several things were agreed in the outbreak of consensus.

First was that if an independent Scotland did nothing more than ape the ways and forms of Westminster then Scots would not gain the benefits independence offers.  We need to find ways to involve the Third Sector in the way we govern ourselves.  Rural communities, for example, are massively handicapped if all they have is the one person – one vote system.

The solution may well lie in establishing a bicameral system with the Third Sector providing at least half of the representation to ensure social equality in a revising chamber.

A great deal to think about and a massive incentive to think outside the box when it comes to Scotland’s future.