The referendum empowered Scotland’s civic debate in a way that has never been seen. Even if you were one of the few who didn’t turn out, it was remarkably difficult to not be at least partially engaged by it.
From the Yes perspective, it was a participative, inclusive and empowering process – civic networks of all kinds sprang up almost from nowhere: from Yes Scotland regional groups in every town and village, open events organised by each of the political parties, Women for Independence, national cross-society minority groups, artists and creatives and dozens more. This became systemic and themes emerged throughout the movement: the meeting of people who came from different backgrounds and didn’t realise they had so much in common, the realisation that two different campaigns are actually working in the similar areas, the fortuitous ideas that spring from listening to someone not in your usual circle.
The tale is similar throughout, the disempowered finding their voice, projecting it with cheap gazebos, fold-down tables, self-made leaflets, newspapers, hired halls, invited speakers and reaching out across Scotland – covering a variety of pro-independence arguments. The internet was the glue, quickly transforming the isolated into the connected. We found an untapped talent for activism. And certainly, Yes Edinburgh North & Leith activists became a permanent fixture at their local hubs and doors across the community.
So many people became activists as a result of the Yes campaign. To keep those progressive voices sharp and fresh, we need an inclusive space for more political skill and organisational capacity to develop. Many of us have joined political parties, and yet party politics does not define the broadly progressive collective identities of those who participated in Yes Scotland. And despite the tripling of their memberships, party politics is by its nature a process of exclusion.
The Yes campaign worked well as a broad movement because it was often aloof from party involvement. Nationalists combined with socialists, greens and the non-partisan alike – diverse people sharing a singular goal. The goal has not changed – to empower Scotland and forge a new and better society – and neither has the breadth of debate.
This goal must continue, but it needs work, and space to do so.
Common Weal Edinburgh North & Leith (CWENL) is a place for that inclusive and participative work to continue, in a space at the heart of the community. It will be led by the community, for the community and with ideas by the community.
The main Common Weal organisation will supply leaflets, a library, and help to connect people so that hospitality management experience is involved. There will be a code of conduct.
Basically, CWENL is establishing a physical space for citizen activists to meet and plan events, a space for civic education and debate, a space for providing opportunities for people to learn, access experts and channel their ideas to change society for the common good. If there are open and inclusive places to meet, where coming-together can be encouraged, places which are attractive and pleasant to draw new people in, political event organising becomes an awful lot easier.
At the moment, it will be based in Area C Coffee Shop on Leith Walk – the owners are allowing us to extend their hours and use the space. Other coffee shops across North Edinburgh have expressed interest in becoming satellite organisations.
So, what do you want to see?
- Talks? Economics in plain English? The transformation of public transport?
- After-school politics clubs? Focussed discussions?
- Crafts – make your own demo placards?
- Political design workshops and masterclasses?
- Political skills workshops – debate, public speaking, making effective interventions at other public events?
Please tell us. Because we’re listening. Let’s build a better country.