December 5th 2013

Title: Conversations about a New Scotland

What kind of Scotland do we aspire to be?


On 5 December 2013, over 70 individuals congregated in the Grassmarket Community Centre in the heart of Edinburgh. What were we looking to achieve?

The motivation behind the event was to create a dialogue, a respectful discussion, about the Scotland we’d like to see, regardless of the outcome of next September’s referendum on independence.   Those attending were a fairly randomly selected group from across the spectrum of Scottish life albeit with a heavy concentration on Edinburgh and the middle class! Indeed, the need for even greater diversity was recognised.

Another motivation was the desire to explore important issues now, rather than leave them until after the referendum and then say: “We wish we had had this conversation in the year before”.   We feel that the conversation needs to be had now in order to inform our decisions further down the line.

Many of those attending agreed that a protocol for respectful dialogue with agreement along the following lines would be useful.

  • listen carefully to all points of view and seek fully to understand what concerns and motivates those with differing views from our own;
  • acknowledge that there are many points of view and that these have validity alongside our own;
  • show respect and courtesy to all individuals and organisations with which we have dealings;
  • express our own views clearly and honestly with transparency about our motives and our interests;
  • use language carefully and avoid personal or other remarks which might cause unnecessary offence;
  • ask questions if we do not understand what others are saying or proposing;
  • respond to questions asked of us with clarity and openness;
  • support what we say with clear and credible information wherever that is available.

What follows are excerpts from the event, edited in order to provide coherence.


Conversation 1:  Process: how to have Conversations

Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussion
Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussion

There are several sides to most stories – it depends on your perspective: where you are standing, or sitting, or where you start from.  We need to clean our filters, remove (or understand) our prejudices, and try to come to the table free from preconceived notions of how conversations might take place and what the content should be.  It is easy to jump to conclusions or feel under time pressure, or, perhaps most important in light of our subject matter, to get stuck in a binary system of right/wrong, yes/no, black/white.

How do we have an effective Conversation?  Firstly, by preparing well – by planning and setting objectives.  Secondly, by establishing good working relationships among individuals engaged in the discussions.  We then need to explore and understand what is really going on – not just skim the surface of the debate.  In terms of developing and addressing options, thought should be given to finding really creative ways forward. And then we can decide how to go forward with realistic, workable, durable outcomes.  After the implementation of the outcomes, there can be a period of evaluation – not only of what worked well, but also of what worked less well and how to do it better next time. This need not be an overly polite discussion, where opinions are withheld in order not to offend. Rigour on the issues and respect for individuals is the key.

We are used to thinking about competitions in which there is only one winner…But the world is rarely like that…The key to doing well lies not in overcoming others, but in eliciting their co-operation” Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation.

Whether we think we can, or whether we think we can’t, we probably will.


The key themes of discussion:

(i)                the diversity of the group;

(ii)              the need for an overarching vision for the discussions – the discussions should not be held in the abstract;

(iii)            respect for those taking part, regardless of their views;

(iv)            fostering the ability to Dream Big – go beyond the everyday issues and think about the bigger picture;

(v)              utilising this opportunity and amplifying the debate – reaching more people; and

(vi)            giving ourselves enough time for the process.

Whatever our views on the independence question, how do we bring these values into our lives/communities? If the debate is constructive and respectful, then there is less chance Scotland will become and remain divided.

Learning to respect one another now – because we’ll need to listen to and work with each other after the Referendum.

For this process to work, we cannot over think things and at consensus is not necessary.  Participants should listen and learn and should not feel under pressure to talk if they do not want to.

Credible discussion/information.  Creating the space and time for the process. Who is not here? Diversity.  We talk about having a diverse group of participants, but is Scotland itself diverse? Help people to have a voice, to feel engaged.

A desire to revive community spirit – along with personal responsibility.

Taking personal responsibility for the outcome of any discussion on the future of Scotland, and for the outcome of the independence referendum.

Paint a picture of the destination which is (a) believable, (b) exciting and (c) involving. Ultimately, the outcome should be pride in our nation.

Is this process realistic?  Is it perhaps too wide or too abstract?

How does the dialogue connect to anything else to make a difference? How can the conversation have impact?  Conversations are often perceived to be the domain of the intellectual.  How then do we engage the heart and spirit?  How do we create a vision for Scotland?  We want more than a “Memorandum for Niceness” from any output.

Concerns about falling back into entrenched positions – that these discussions will not have an impact on the wider debate.

What timescales apply to choices/decisions? (Could/should this be an inter-generational timescale?)

Ability to dream:  who then are the “Dream Leaders”?  Is that role fulfilled by democratic social media?  Who has access to social media?  Is it an appropriate forum for debate, for leading discussions?  There should be equal opportunity for everyone to participate, however this should not be taken to mean that everyone will engage equally – there are different abilities to engage in debates.

How do we encourage the nation to dream and then mobilise society? How can we inspire leadership in society? How do we get from where we are to where we want to be? Having a dream and articulating that. Without a vision, the people perish. Imagining what a better place is.  How is that best delivered/expressed? Is there a uniting symbol? “Vision”?  Whose vision of what – Utopian? One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.

Conversation 2:  Aspirations: Ideas about the kind of Scotland we’d like to see

What kind of Scotland do we aspire to be and what are our underlying values are as a nation?  What do we mean by “shared values”? What our underlying needs, concerns, hopes, fears and dreams?

Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussion
Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussion

What kind of Scotland do we aspire to be?

  • Equal, just, social justice, gender equality
  • Socially Inclusive
  • Empathetic, compassionate, tolerant
  • Can do attitude, aspirational
  • Vibrant, resilient, healthy
  • Respectful of people’s beliefs but essentially secular
  • Unified not uniform
  • Outward looking
  • Sustainable
  • Positive
  • Curious
  • Creative and robust
  • Risk taking
  • Potential of all Scotland’s people is maximised
  • Non-partisan
  • Relating to the rest of the world
  • Providing a place people can come to share
  • Being a contributor – connecting deliberately, not accidentally
  • A giving nation, makes us feel better about ourselves
  • A welcoming, responsible, peaceful nation, consensual not confrontational
  • Flourishing
  • Passionate
  • Enterprise and business as the “engine room” within a caring society, with “safety nets”
  • Dynamism in labour market and business, energy, opportunities for our young people.
  • Opportunities for our young people:  get it right for young people and children
  • A society that loves all of its children equally
  • Thinner legislation
  • Social and financial integration that is connected to our land/nature
  • Commonality with Nordic view – Danish model “Flex-security”

We should embrace complexity, celebrate uncertainty, enjoy ambiguity!

Giving people a chance – accepting that some people will let you down.  Every young person should grow up with hope for a good future.  Everyone has the opportunity to participate and to go beyond their own horizons.

Broader democratic involvement – more power to communities. Discretionary space – communities flourish in space.

Aspire to be as prosperous as we can be?  If we each want a bigger “slice of the cake” we should work together towards creating a “bigger cake”, becoming more prosperous, benefiting all of us as a nation and as individuals.

What are our underlying concerns and fears?

  • Rise of fascist approach

    Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussions
    Cartoons drawn at the event to illustrate discussions
  • Lack of fairness
  • A place with insufficient checks and balances
  • Cronyism
  • Complacency
  • Stagnation not progress
  • Inequality
  • Lack of engagement on real issues to tackle injustice
  • Lack of diversity in the media
  • Divisions in Scottish society after the referendum

What our underlying (shared) values as a nation?

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Sense of humour
  • Self deprecating
  • Freedom
  • Aspiration
  • Positive outlook
  • Pride
  • Democratic
  • Smallness
  • Innovative
  • Dour?/Calvinist?

Conversation 3: Specifics: what are the issues of importance?


  • How do we wish to relate to the rest of the world?
  • What are our priorities? Locally? Nationally? Globally?
  • How concerned are we about sustainability?
  • What priority do we give to (economic) growth?
  • How do we balance overall wealth and its distribution?
  • How important is (potential) poverty and (lack of) employment for people we do not know?
  • To what extent are we prepared to take risks with the future?
    • If we have to make choices, how do we make them – and who?

We want a Scotland which “doesn’t do greed”.  Essentially, materialism should not be the driving force behind Scotland’s development. Celebrating success in non-material ways.


Giving the voiceless their own voice.

Everyone should have, and be allowed, enough to live on. Employers and job centres should be supportive, treat people with respect and put themselves in the shoes of others.

Distribution of income and wealth.  Gap between the haves and the have-nots should be a national embarrassment (and it is getting worse).

Poverty and unemployment are the most important issues to address?  Or education? Or the elderly? We are not taking poverty seriously enough.  There are urban and rural differences to consider – Scotland is a complicated country!

Poverty and lack of employment:

–          imperative – the impact on health, longevity, pensions

–          need to address the social problems in order to move on as a nation

–          poverty means lack of education, opportunity, income, access to health etc.

–          change perception of freeloading society – what work people do depends on their ability

–          upbringing seems important?

–          we need to connect schools with other services, families and local communities.

–          enable creation of one nation, social mobility

–          strategic thinking to connect people with jobs, reduce isolation from society and the results of that – education/opportunities, perceptions, prevention & cure, political/economic long term stability

Are the means to address all this within the control of Scotland? Done by us, not to us.

How to translate hope into change? Restoring hope to people who have lost it?

Need effective leadership across all levels (top to bottom) and across generations.

How do we measure opportunity e.g. not just in monetary ways. Better life expectancy, less absenteeism.

Economics must not be devoid of morals, eg of cooperative movement / John Lewis Partnership.

Creative thought as to what leadership means – not just because you’ve been there the longest.

Informed participation – Which voices are heard in Parliamentary Scotland?  Getting more people involved at the appropriate level.

Conversation 4:  Future: ideas about next steps

What are the next steps for taking all of this forward, if at all? Is there a way to have meaningful output from the discussions?  Who should be involved?

Taking this forward – conversations already happening in pubs, in homes, in community centres etc – how do we engage these people? How do we encourage use of ideas in the protocol? How? Go viral, social media?

Do we trust our democratic processes and democratic leaders to host this debate about the future of Scotland?

  • Challenge the two independence referendum campaigns to sign up to the Protocol?
  • Take out a full page advert in The Herald and/or The Scotsman with the Protocol and those who have signed up to the Protocol.  Tone and language should be respectful and humble – need to get it right. (See below.)
  • Include more people, go to other places, increase participation.  Egalitarianism – have everyone heard in these Conversations. Inclusiveness:

– take a bus to reach more distant communities;

– series of Street Parties;

– flashmobs – go to supermarkets, pose one question to everyone to stimulate debate; and/or

– Twitter hashtag #cornerstoneconvo and list.

  • Replicate the Conversation in a non-aggressive, non-political environment, rather than just in the Yes Campaign and Better Together campaign meetings.
  • The MacMillan Nurses coffee mornings as an example – ask them for advice?
  • Daily email prompts to encourage further Conversations? Start a newspaper! See Appendix 2.
  • Arrange the next meeting in Parliament and ask any MSP who wants to come and LISTEN (can’t speak).  The model would be the Protocol.  We listen to politicians having the same structured conversation (i.e. without referencing Yes/No)?  Video/Record/Collaboratively edit and then post on You Tube for voting.
  • Create some sort of ‘Community Toolkit’ giving smaller groups the ability to facilitate further Conversations?  Would this require training? Self-starting – ripples – networks of Conversations.
  • Splitting communities to improve communication: Morningside/Wester Hailes?  Elected representatives? Community councils?
  • Partnership with like-minded organisations, eg “So Say Scotland”.




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