Building Tomorrows

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

I’ve talked before about how proud I am of our Care Reform Working Group. Two years ago when the impact of the pandemic on Scottish care homes highlighted previous systemic failings in the care sector, it became clear across Scotland that the recovery from the pandemic should include as radical a reform of care as WWII and the Beveridge Report ended up being for health. We need a National Care Service. To that end, a group of some of the best minds and practitioners in the sector came together into our group and began to work on what that should look like.

Care Reform Group celebrate with dinner

(Image above: Left to Right: Des, Carmen, Colin, Marion, Craig, Nick, Mark, Kathy and Neil)

They’ve produced a dozen policy papers and consultation responses ranging from fundamental principles of care, the goals that must be met if a National Care Service is to be worthy of the name, and what it should look like to you and your community on the ground (you can read more of their papers here). Their articles in our weekly newsletter are some of the most popular and most widely read. This all culminated in their publication of Common Weal’s blueprint for a National Care Service that we are now promoting in public and lobbying towards Scottish politicians (to some effect, with several political parties showing interest in aspects of our plan, even if they’re not yet formally adopting then whole thing). Far from being finished, the Group is gearing up to scrutinise the NCS Bill when it comes to Parliament in a couple of months and to fight to ensure that it is the best it can be.

What has been all the more remarkable about this project though has been the fact that the Group has operated almost entirely virtually since its inception. That changed last week when our convenor Nick Kempe invited us to his house for a dinner and social evening – for many of us it was the first time we had met others in the group in person, to enjoy each other’s company and to reflect on our achievements over the past two years.

At some point during the night I found myself quietly in a corner, watching the group blether and mingle and it all hit me just what that achievement was, what it meant and what it will mean to people in Scotland when all is said and done and an NCS is launched and if it can reach for the ambition we deserve. There was a moment of pride and satisfaction in seeing the creation of something that wouldn’t otherwise have been had we not been there and had we not decided to do what we did.

In my years as a political activist, I’ve learned that there are two different kinds of victory to be had when we campaign. I’ve experienced both and have learned that they both feel very different.

The first is one where we campaign to “prevent harm”. Two examples that I’ve been a part of just in the last year were the campaign against the Dovesdale Incinerator outside my own village and the Kenmure St protest which saw local residents backed by thousands of others prevent the UK Home Office from deporting two of their neighbours. In both of these cases, the fact that we won meant that nothing had actually changed. Life in the communities in question was the same tomorrow as it was yesterday. This doesn’t diminish the victories in any way – the flip side is that had the campaigns not won or had they not taken place at all then life would have been very different, and worse, for those affected.

The Dovesdale project wasn’t the first unsuccessful attempt to build an incinerator on that site – never mind in Scotland in general – and the Home Office is still deporting people from Scotland and is now considering doing even worse. I do wonder if part of the rationale for them trafficking people to Rwanda is to avoid further embarrassment and pressure similar to that which they faced on Kenmure St last year. The community have decided to ensure that this isn’t going to be the case by marking the anniversary of that day with a Festival of Resistance. I hope to be there to see it.

In both of these cases and in other campaigns of this type, victories can be achieved but it’s in the knowledge that the campaigns have to be fought and won every single time. It’s ultimately a defensive action and our opponents only need to be lucky once. As worthy as these kinds of victories can be, they can also be wearying as we have to put far more time, effort, energy, research and resource into getting out into the streets again just to keep things as they are.

The second type of victory is the one where we build something new – like a National Care Service worthy of that name. We might well lose that campaign, in which case tomorrow stays the same as yesterday, the same injustices persist and we have to think of another way to right those wrongs but if we win, we build a better tomorrow and start actually changing things in a way that helps people.

Both of these types of victories come from the same place – the same deep sense of moral justice and a desire for good – but that second victory somehow feels so much more complete. The change we create persists long after we as campaigners have moved on to other issues.

When we start campaigning we should consider if we are embarking on a proactive or a defensive one and, if the latter, is there anything we can do to shift into a proactive stance either after or instead of the defensive campaign. The Dovesdale Action Group are already well on the way down that road, now campaigning for a blanket and permanent moratorium on all waste incineration in Scotland and, of course, the pro-independence movement is the ultimate proactive campaign in Scotland right now given that it is the direct response to many of the defensive actions that many of us are taking against the Home Office and other wings of the UK Government acting against the wellbeing of Scotland and those who live here.

I’ll never stop campaigning defensively if I must but I want all of us to think about how we can build better tomorrows rather than merely preventing worse ones. I want everyone to have the opportunity I had last week, when you sit back, look upon everything you have created around you and realise that you did all of it.

TCG Logo 2019

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