It’s late October but Kyle and I are sat out in the sun, sipping on coffees and discussing consensus democracy. On Saturday a dozen of us from the Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative attended a conference in Dundee on local politics, activism and creativity where we had a chance to link up with other movements taking place across Scotland under the remit of ‘acting as if we own the place’.
Communities are coming out in a new way in Scotland and creating a culture based on personal empowerment and a new level of social cohesion. Barriers are being broken as groups of people from different demographics have started working together in ways where before some would have just paid deference to a higher power. In Oban there are people mobilising to hold the local council to account in a country where we have amongst the poorest rates of political representation in Europe. In Ayr they’re opening community cafes and social enterprises to provide employment and educate on food poverty and in Leith they’re trying to utilise new legislation on urban community buyouts to maintain the public’s right of access to the land over private interest.
It is the development of these local movements that is driving political and structural change in Scotland. It is not as rooted in ‘nationalism’ as commentators try to characterise. It is an enthusiasm to utilise existing technologies to bring power closer to people and the crumbling edifices of existing nation states are struggling to adapt to that. That is where the desire for change is coming from. From the planning reformers waging campaigns for community to have the same rights of appeal as developers in rural Scotland to old fire stations opening up for artistry in Dunfermline. The details to the movements characterised as ‘separatist’ are filling in the gaps where once criticism or apathy existed and they are proving themselves to be built on so much more than buzzwords.
Kyle and I both talked about a dissociating feeling we have had with our environment and ourselves over the years as we adhered to institutional ideas of what was acceptable, how things were meant to be done. Maintaining a job we hated, stagnating on a degree accessed more because of privilege than hard work, were leaving us spiritually bereft and unable to help others with the talents and passions that we had, let alone ourselves. But that is changing, within ourselves and within others. New ways of thinking are getting oxygen, coherent, diverse movements are appearing everywhere and very, very quickly they are linking up.
It is this interest in local, grassroots politics that has taken us this morning to Barcelona. On the day that the Catalan government will announce independence and the Spanish state prepare to intervene, we will be spending the next couple of days here trying to see what is going on, how people feel, what they believe they are striving for and how this chimes with other movements across Europe. We have no idea what will play out but we are excited. The sun is shining, the people are beautiful and fae Dundee to Barcelona, change is in the air.