Glasgow's Common Weal launch; 'Not me first. All of us first'

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Monday, December 16, 2013

The slogan, and logo, of The Common Weal, launched last weekend by The Reid Foundation's Robin McAlpine.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Glasgow — Last weekend, December 8, The Reid Foundation, a left-leaning think-tank, launched The Common Weal, a vision for a more socially just and inclusive post-Independence Scotland. Five- to six-hundred turned up for the event, billed as "[a] 'revolution' ... with T-shirts and dancing" by the Sunday Herald, and held in The Arches club and theatre, under Glasgow's Central Street Station.

Wikinews' Brian McNeil travelled to Glasgow to attend, walking through the city's festively decorated George Square, and busy shopping streets, to the venue under Hielanman's Umbrella.

More known for theatre, live music, and club nights, organisers in The Arches confirmed around 800 had signed up for the free Sunday afternoon event. The crowd was a mix of all ages, including families with young childen. Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai entertained the early arrivals by DJ-ing until the launch video for the Common Weal was screened.

The Common Weal present themselves as "an emerging movement which is developing a vision for economic and social development in Scotland which is distinct and different from the political orthodoxy that dominates politics and economics in London." Contrasting current "me first politics" against concerns of ordinary Scots, the launch video's opening, monochrome half, stresses everyday common concerns: "Will I have a pension I can survive on when I retire?", "I miss my local library", "Public transport is so bad it's hard to get to work"; and, "Why can we always find money to bail out banks but not to protect public services?", "Why is it always the poor, the disabled, and immigrants who get the blame?"

The preferred vision offered by the Common Weal, "Not me first, all of us first", makes up the more-aspirational second-half of the film, advocating a national fund for industry, taking the nation's energy into collective ownership, building quality new public housing, strengthening the welfare state, and ending tax evasion. Throughout the event a distinction between these 'popular politics', which experience wide support, and the derogatory 'populist' label, often used to dismiss such calls for a fairer society, was emphasised.

Comedienne Janey Godley took over following the film, to compère the afternoon, and introduce Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine. With the mixed audience, Godley made avoiding profanity — due to the presence of children — a theme of her warm-up; although, the humour remained fairly adult in nature.

McAlpine sketched out the movement's hopes and plans. After thanking those who were giving their time for free, he characterised modern politics as "[...] a game that is played by a small number of professionals, in a small number of rooms, in a small number of expensively-rented premises, across Scotland — and across Britain. It's become a thing people do as a profession, and the rest of us are all supposed to applaud them — or stand back — nod our heads every four years, and be glad for it." With a receptive audience, he continued: "The idea that politics is something that ordinary people cannae talk about is one of the great achievements of the right-wing [over] the last thirty to forty years in Britain"; remarking, to applause, "they scared us aff."

The crowd gathering at the venue.
Image: Brian McNeil.
The logo was promoted with tee shirts and stickers.
Image: Brian McNeil.
Launching a political movement, with a licensed bar, was the subject of several jokes.
Image: Brian McNeil.
Entrance to venue, The Arches, with a pawn shop next door.
Image: Brian McNeil.
Decorations and fun-fair in Glasgow's George Square; a show of hope for the New Year.
Image: Brian McNeil.
A similarly festive mood, more-akin with a gig or comedy act, was evident at the launch event.
Image: Brian McNeil.

On discussions around the country, he claimed that "across Scottish politics, [...] the people that want this, ... 'me first' politics, there's not many of them. The people that want Common Weal politics, all of us first politics, I'm meeting them everywhere. [...] Everyone I meet wants this, a decent politics that puts people first. [...] We wanted to find a way to communicate an idea of a politics which work for all the people who those politics seek to govern, not just a few of them. People don't understand or recognise the language of politics any more, so we want to change that language.".

Crediting the Sunday Herald newspaper for an opportunity to share some ideas underpinning the Common Weal, McAlpine was scathing in his criticism of mainstream coverage of the independence debate: "There's this massive debate. It's not in the mainstream." Seeking to "get a real debate going, about a really strong vision for a future for Scotland, it's hard. They're still doing IFS, accounting this, and another paper from a Whitehall that. And, we'll all debate things that nobody really cares about, interminably, until they all go away for good." On the current political debate, he remarked: "If mainstream politics fails to recognise what is really going on in Scotland just now, then that is its problem. [...] Someone is going to offer ordinary people what they want, and when they do, everything will change."

Urging the crowd to get involved, he said: "If we can create a popular politics, that ordinary people care about, and talk about, and work[s], we can take a grip of Scotland. We can decide the future politics of Scotland, and standing around waiting for professional politicians to,... disappoint us less than they always do, does not have to be the way we do this anymore." He concluded, "It genuinely is time for a politics that puts all of us first."

Janey Godley took the microphone, as McAlpine left the stage to cheers and applause; joking about the 'rabble-rousing' tone of the speech she then introduced David Whyte of Tangent Design, creator of the Common Weal's logo.

Whyte explained they hoped the simple image would come to represent the "all of us first" philosophy, and "a new way of doing things". He was not the first to jokingly remark that the four-line graphic — a triangle, with a balanced line on top of it — would be an easily-applied piece of graffiti.

Politics, and the launch of the movement's logo, then took more of a back-seat; the rest of the event more in-keeping with having a party, and the festive decorations elsewhere around the city centre. Godley, and fellow Scottish joker Bruce Morton, provided more barbed comedy. Singer Karine Polwart encouraged the crowd to sing along to a song she said was written on her way to the party, and Actor Tam Dean Burn read a speech from the 16th century Scottish play "Satire of the three estates" — given by the character John Common Weal, representing the common man — where the deeds and behaviour of the ruling classes are such that, if done by a common man, they'd be hanged.

Scotland's Independence referendum is to take place next year, September 18. This was a repeated election pledge of the Scottish National Party (SNP) — who moved from leading a minority government, to an outright majority in the devolved parliament's 2011 general election — making good on their promise by announcing in January 2011 their intent to hold the referendum in autumn 2014.

The question being put to the electorate is: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" A "Yes" vote would be followed with negotiations to bring to an end the early eighteenth-century 'Union of the Parliaments'. The SNP has proposed Scotland retain Elizabeth II as head of state, a position she holds on the basis of the century-earlier Union of the Crowns.

Sources

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