A new Enlightenment ?

On of the observations I have frequently heard expressed about the Referendum is that it is sucking the oxygen out of the‘policy room‘ and to some extent it clearly is – but not entirely so. The energy and time of quite a lot of people is taken up by arguing for Yes (everything will be marvelous, if only) or No (oh no it won’t …).

At some levels what passes for debate isto many people- as both polls and casual conversation reveal – depressingly unenlightening. At another, lower and often anonymouslevel,the engagement bysome partisans ofboth sidesis characterised by language and opinions that are borderline psychotic.

Yet alongside both of these – generally unappealing streams of activity – there are some really exciting ideas being floated, discussed and developed by a wide range of people. Those people areon both sides of the divideand there are somewho are situated somewherein the middle and some who don’t express a view for or against any of the 3 possible post Sept 18th outcomes.

As part of that process of discussion we are exploring aspects of Scottish society that have remained unexamined - or poorly examined- up to now.

So we have discussion of the possibility of a constitution for Scotland – signalled clearly in ‘Scotland’s Future‘ though in a kind of ambiguous way – and that itself has started various rumblings elsewhere in the UK about what form of clearly defined arrangements might exist between the different parts of the UK if our votes in September say ‘No’. 

Some of the enthusiasm for ideas, policies and practicesthat are seen as currently operating in various of the Scandinavian countries occasionally seems to suggest a bit ofa cafeteria approach, both from the current government and the Scandi-enthusiasts. There is though a lot to be explored from there, and set against what we currently – or previously – have done in Scotland. It covers everythingfrom very well insulated houses with appropriate heating and power sources,perhaps generated locally, to thinking very seriously about what age we start our children in formal education. The current message that the government has taken from Scandinavian approaches seems to be that we aim to get children into the formal structured education system as early as possible – not quite the way they do it in Finland but it’s a great basis to start talking about how we help our kids grow up well.

The most interesting aspect of the range ofturbulent ideas that are currently around are the extent to which they cross historical political boundaries and expressed views. I don’t just mean the free market Conservatives enthusiastic for independence or that sub-set of SNP members who seem pretty unkeen on what is currently on offer, but the signals that a lot of people are thinking about ideas beyond conventional party boundaries.

Within the past couple ofweeksI have heard (or read) people who would place themselves firmly and proudly on the left arguing for a much greater number of smaller local councils than we have now. They’d be warmly supported by American neo-liberal thinkers and that inspiration of free market zealots everywhere, Freidrich  Hayek, of whom Margaret Thatcher was such a fan. I alsorecently had a discussion about concessionary bus passes, when I pointed out how much they directly resembled the public service vouchers promoted amongst uproar by Sir Keith Joseph. You can get a concessionary pass if you qualify by circumstancesbut it can only be used on the busand if there are no or few buses - tough luck. Vouchers, just plastic ones.

Much of the discussion we hear and see around us is unenlightening but there is also some Enlightenment discussion going on - some of it reported in this edition of Scottish Policy Now .

Issue 8: January 2014

Issue 8: January 2014

SMART CITIES: SMART SERVICES: SMART WORKING

Smart Cities: Smart Services: Smart Working Editorial

In focusing on 'Smart Cities' let's start with a few teaser questions (answers at the foot of this column)...

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