The Centre launched its book series Postcards from Scotland at the end of 2012. Eighteen months on and we are now in a ‘new Scotland’. Few would dispute that since the independence referendum and the 2015 general election Scotland has changed substantially: not only has there been a rise in political interest and activism, but also the balance of political power has altered dramatically. Given the importance of the referendum in Scotland much of the new Scottish politics is about constitutional change.
So how does the Postcards from Scotland book series relate to this new political sensibility and to the way that many are trying to frame the country’s future?
As an organisation we’ve consciously decided not to take a view on this and we’re doing so for five main reasons.
First we are a charity rather than a social enterprise and we have to be careful about taking an overtly political view as an organisation. If the book series were seen to take a particular stance, either for or against independence, that might jeopardise our charitable status.
More importantly those involved with Postcards from Scotland have very different views. As a group we don’t have a definitive political position on Scottish constitutional issues. For example, the Centre’s board and those working in specific roles for the Centre or the book series come from different parts of the constitutional spectrum. So in our midst we have three SNP members, a Green Party member, Yes voters, No voters, federalists and those wanting ‘devo max’. If we look at the authors of the Postcard books which we’ve already published we would find a similar range of opinion, though this issue has hardly been relevant to anything we have published so far.
We are also acutely aware that Scotland is currently awash with ideas about politics and constitutional change. Many, if not most, current non-fiction books on aspects of Scottish society focus on independence. For example, the radical Edinburgh bookshop Wordpower lists its top ten books and six of the eight non-fiction works on Scotland are about independence. Look at the Luath Press catalogue and you’ll see just how many books they are currently publishing on Scottish politics and constitutional questions.
Our view is that, as an organisation, we should leave discussion of constitutional matters to others. We want the Postcards from Scotland series to look beyond constitutional issues and to come up with some fresh ideas about what we should be doing in Scotland to make people’s lives better, whilst at the same time making a contribution to the huge challenges that all countries face. Indeed the challenges posed by globalization is the focus of one of our most recent books – Shaping Our Global Future: A guide for young people by Derek Brown.
This then leads us to the final reason for us not taking a view on Scottish independence and to the very raison d’être for Postcards from Scotland. The series starts from the assumption that Western societies are facing huge challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, financial melt-down, mass migrations, falling living standards, rising inequality and ageing populations. One of the great ironies is that Western societies use copious resources yet the subjective well-being of their populations has hardly risen and mental health problems are rising steeply.
The negative impact of Western culture, particularly materialism, is the primary focus of the first two books in the series – AfterNow: What’s next for a healthy Scotland? by Professor Phil Hanlon and Dr Sandra Carlisle and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives by Carol Craig.
However, some of the books also show how people can themselves antidote some of these negative effects through activities such as allotments (Raising Spirits: Allotments, well-being and community by Jenny Mollison, Judy Wilkinson and Rona Wilkinson) or community projects (The New Road: Charting Scotland’s inspirational communities by Alf and Ewan Young and Scotland’s Local Food Revolution by Mike Small).
So the Postcards series assumes that we shall all have to change and change substantially. However, we do not believe that many of these big changes can be planned for or brought about by central governments. We do not believe that tackling these problems will simply involve new and better central government programmes and more public spending. Indeed we believe that the current way of running organisations via centralised control generally makes matters worse as it disengages staff and inevitably fails to deliver the widespread transformational change required. The fourth book in our series Letting Go: Breathing new life into organisations by Tony Miller and Gordon Hall provides a compelling critique of top down thinking and how it is destined to deplete and demotivate staff.
We passionately believe that real change will largely be bottom up through communities taking more control and individuals, particularly in groups, making changes to their own lives and developing a different consciousness. In organisations the changes required will be brought about via more staff involvement and creativity. The case for less technocratic processes and more humanity and cooperation in our organisations is argued eloquently by another two books in the series: Schooling Scotland: Education, equity and community by Daniel Murphy and Conviction: Violence, culture and a shared public service agenda by John Carnochan.
We believe that the types of changes outlined in all our books are needed in Scotland whether or not we have independence or more powers. Of course, some government change is required and many argue that this is more likely to happen if Scotland has an independent parliament. Many of us involved in the Postcards series share that view. Nonetheless as a group we believe that exclusively framing the issue facing Scotland as constitutional change diverts us away from the nature of the changes that all of us need to make in our own lives as individuals, community members or employees. It also diverts attention from the fact that some of the political changes required could currently be made by the Scottish Government.
This juncture in Western culture and Scottish political culture requires outlets for new ideas across a whole range of topics – environmental, social, organisational, political, cultural, psychological, economic and spiritual – as well as new frameworks and ways of conceptualising.
Postcards from Scotland aims to help develop this new thinking in a readable and accessible format and to publicise, to a much greater audience, some of the projects in Scotland which are already helping to bring about a new way of living and organising. Indeed one of the primary purposes of our book series is to inspire readers with stories of people who, despite the odds, are bringing about transformational change.