I spent a really interesting and intellectually stimulating day today discussing the draft legislation for the Scottish independence referendum. Quite what I had done to deserve my place around a table of expert academics I am unsure, but oddly my lack of specialism (if you will) made me feel more at ease to engage and interact with the discussion.
This was doubtless also partly because two of the esteemed academics made a point of greeting me by name and enquiring as to my wellbeing. They didn’t have to do that, but it was really nice and polite of them to do so.
And the rest of the day was equally good natured. There were often moments of laughter, and a general sense of a willingness to listen to analysis and ideas and to consider the thoughts and experiences of others around the table. Which I am sure also helped me feel relaxed enough to participate myself.
A large part of our conversation was about how to ensure the referendum is truly an act of general participation – a deliberative referendum. And we considered the state we are in – where much of the referendum has already been decided behind closed doors, including the question and the franchise. So what do citizens actually have left to influence?
But we ended on a hopeful note – that what Yes means and what No means are still actually very much up for debate. IF the campaigns and political parties will listen.
And this is my concluding thought: We spent 6 hours having a considered, thoughtful conversation about how to ensure this is a fair and decisive referendum, with a result that citizens have confidence in. We may not have come to a consensus, but it was a useful, good-tempered, informed and informative discussion, which improved my understanding.
And such discussion seems to be wholly unavailable to the general public. Instead the opposing sides sling insults at each other, try and shout their version of the facts louder, and generally assume we will somehow trust them with our future. Meanwhile the media twist the words of commentators and make useful contributors uneasy and unwilling to put their heads above the parapet.
Frankly, I’d be much more inclined to trust the people round the table today with Scotland’s future. They showed each other respect and courtesy and considered the arguments presented to them with careful thought. Something I don’t think anyone would suggest our politicians or media are prone to doing. Which is a shame, because they might learn something, and they would definitely be less distasteful to the general public. And then the public might start to trust politicians again.
Until then… “we are where we are”