People’s Gathering: Edinburgh

In this time of change we ask real Scots: who should have power in Scotland?
Most of us agree should be governed by the people, for the people but do our politicians always know about or act in the interests of voters?

People's Gathering ERS

The theme of the day was “What do we want Scotland to be like in 2030?”

The gathering was held in the Merchant’s Hall, 22 Hanover Street, which I’d never realised was there – it’s sandwiched between the Clydesdale and Lloyds TSB. There is a wonderful main hall with a domed ceiling – the acoustics were terrible, but the room itself was spacious and lovely.

Domed ceiling at the Merchant's Hall

This part’s fun. You write down your idea on a post-it note and explain it and put it on the big poster. Our ideas – we found when we came to consolidate – fell roughly into three groups, each of which we then tried to summarise into a short statement that could be given back to the main discussion.

I tweeted each of our conclusions, so let me show you the post-it discussions (listed) and the summaries.

Decision making

Decision making is moved to as close as possible to those that are affected

  • Scottish Constitution
  • End narrow nationalism
  • Bring the disenfranchised back
  • National People’s Form – 2nd house, scrutinise what Parliament and politicians do
  • Make voting compulsory
  • Devolve powers to appropriate level of democracy
  • Really local local government (like the Norwegian model)
  • Get rid of councils – just have departments, environment etc, for whole of Scotland
  • Add a third layer of government – National, Regional, and Local
  • Partnership politics not party politics
  • Parties past their sell-by date, no difference between them, no massive turnout in elections because no interest

Equality and diversity

All democratic structures accurately reflect the diversity of the population

  • 50:50 gender balance in all our political structures
  • Equality – all parts of society
  • More Equality Less Discrimination – race/ethnicity, wealth, disability, sexual orientation, education, gender, religion, gender identity
  • Equality of Achievement – health, social mobility, income – maximum wage

Better public services

Public services focusing on diversity of individuals & communities: success seen as levels of thriving

  • Free, world-recognised education system
  • Health service – access and treatment for all
  • Best Public Health System – joined-up with other services – healthy school meals, free school fruit
  • Social accounting
  • More co-operative based organisations and mutualisation banks
  • Fiscal equality
  • Bring more of Scotland’s land into public ownership – not just rural, also urban

And then voting and lunch

The one thing I thought hadn’t been planned very well was that all the items we’d come up with – from all 10 tables – were up on a list from a projector, and the idea was we voted by texting a code to the number. Anyone without a mobile phone to use could ask a member of the ERS staff to vote on their behalf. Now in a roomful of people who feel that voting is an ethical responsibility, this is muddled. It takes much longer than just writing the items down on a big piece of paper and then handing out strips of coloured dots for people to vote by marking their favourites.

Sometimes low-tech is faster than high-tech, and more efficient (the printing on the projector was very small, and it was very awkward for several of us squinting close enough to be able to read the more code).

The voting screen

At lunch, I saw the map with all the pins in showing where everyone can come from. Quite an impressive range.

The Democracy Max Map

The afternoon – how do we make it work?

As ever, this was more difficult. We took the three points we’d made in the morning and worked outwards from them, giving ourselves about 20-30 minutes for each.

  • Decision making is moved to as close as possible to those that are affected
  • All democratic structures accurately reflect the diversity of the population
  • Public services focusing on diversity of individuals & communities: success seen as levels of thriving

Some thoughts that came out of this were, in no particular order (the ERS will be producing a report of the day based on every table’s notes, and I look forward to reading it):

More people should be able to get engaged with politics. We discussed how this could work.

A “people’s forum”, a second chamber, chosen by lot, like jury duty, for which you’d get a year’s political leave from your job (like maternity leave – you’d still get paid and you’d have the right to return to your job) with the role of reviewing what Parliament and elected politicians were doing, with the right of veto if the Parliament seemed to be moving too far away from manifesto committments.

I mentioned the idea I’d had many years ago for fixing the House of Lords by having a second chamber consisting entirely of big Lottery winners – financially independent, randomly chosen.

We talked about term limits – about not having career politicians.

We discussed fixing the democratic deficit – the Highlands is the size of Belgium with the population of Iceland, as someone noted, and one local authority area in Scotland includes one-fifth of the total population. There are geographical discriminations in Scotland. Someone suggested communities of 10,000 people with a budget – real local elections.

For setting long-term goals – have a group of people (chosen by lot) come together once a year for a three-day Open Space event to look 18 or 30 years into the future and come up with an aspirational plan of what Scotland should be like then. This could be put online for everyone to see, and politicians and parties and governments would be expected to shape their policy in the direction of these goals.

We talked about funding necessary public services – like public transport, healthcare, education – based not on profit or cost but on how these services made people thrive. For example; school meals. (Yes, we talked about Never Seconds blog.)

We talked about the “money myth” – about how it’s assumed the cheapest way to do something is to provide everyone with the same thing, but how often, the most economic service is the one that’s personalised to what people actually need. The education system in Finland is targeted to every child’s needs from the very beginning, and apparently they spend no more that most nations do. I mentioned the gang of youths that used to harass us and how it was broken up by giving the ringleader a joinery apprenticeship.

We talked about how politicians and others are awfully apt to make clear that they don’t think people down at the grassroots really know what’s best for them. How people mostly can be trusted to make decisions about what’s best for them – that service providers should listen with empathy and understanding and be able to take actions.

Other things that were reported back to the gathering at the end of the day:

The People's Gathering

And at the end of the day, of course, the question always returns: how do we make this happen?

It was great to meet people (*waves* at @AllisMcD @Michael_Grieve @randmhousekpr@JennieMacfie) and I set up a list on Twitter of GatherERs which I’m happy to add anyone to who was there who’ve I’ve missed.



Filed under Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

2 responses to “People’s Gathering: Edinburgh

  1. Geoff Carlin

    Really good day that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think the Electoral Reform Society found the exercise rewarding in terms of prioritising of concerns, then more importantly, working towards solutions. I look forward to their report at the end of August.

  2. Jenny Allan

    An excellent productive day with lots of lively discussion amongst delegates. When everything was collated, there was a surprising amount of consensus about what concerned our Scottish Citizens about our present democratic systems, and lots of suggestions for improvements and reforms.
    Thank you Electoral Reform Society

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