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Postcards from Scotland

John Matthew's closing contribution

On the 2nd December 2004 over three hundred people crowded into Oran Mor, just across the road. They were there to listen to Scotland’s current First Minister, Jack McConnell;  Professor Phil Hanlon;  Professor Tom Devine; and Dr Carol Craig – but most of all to hear Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the international best-seller The Tipping Point. Many of us who were there felt that it was a defining moment because they were inspired to take action that could be the beginnings of a massive transformation of Scottish culture. And here we are today reflecting on 'Melting the Iceberg of Scotland's drink and drugs problem – what next?'

Malcolm Gladwell is an extremely articulate man but his particular gift as a speaker came from his ability tell stories. Stories which anyone can understand: the fall of the Berlin wall, the runaway success of the Atkins diet or the tale of Paul Revere who rode out to warn fellow Bostonians that the English were coming. But the influence of Gladwell’s stories was not that they entertained and held our attention - but that they encouraged those present to see the world in a new way and inspired us to take action.
I sense the desire in the audience today for a 'tipping point'. In fact there was a raw energy about the way many of you responded to Phil Hanlon's invitation to suggest what you thought should be done to raise the temperature of Scotland's culture - most of the suggestions were radical.
In my life as a parish minister in North Glasgow I often sensed, if not despair, then an individual helplessness and resignation that nothing can be done to change the direction of travel which was seen as being the preserve of the powers that be; that unless we get better politics or restructure how things work in the Scottish Parliament then nothing very much will change.

The Enquiry Report highlights the need to ‘bring our whole selves to work’ which strongly encourages a change away from our usual reliance on political and economic power to bring about step-change to what we now recognise as ‘social power’ – that is the influence of each of us in combination - which is much more effective in bringing about transformational change. It was the Enquiry’s view that there is much more room for manoeuvre than we often allow and that the change we seek is often more within the ‘personal’ than the political sphere. It was Rudyard Kipling who perceptively suggested that, “the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”

In summary I sense in this conference a wistfulness for change which if taken back into our workplaces, homes and social lives has the power to raise the temperature of Scotland's culture in the way that the Enquiry suggests is possible. If all goes well we will have the opportunity of reviewing our progress when we meet again in conference in the Autumn.

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