I am rather enjoying the spectacle of our political leaders getting emotional about saving the Union. With my own Scottish roots (Glasgow born grandfather and a Melville tartan) I feel very sad about the prospect of Scotland leaving Britain. I don’t want to be a “little Englander”.
But there are broader lessons here – about identity, emotion and what what politics is for.
As a lifelong “devolutionist” I have always felt an emotional affinity to community and place.Some places have more emotional pull (and identity) than others. I still remember when Greek island hopping being so disappointed my fellow travellers had never heard of Stockwell. After 25 years in Brixton I feel fiercely proud to live in a place with a strong identity, and increasingly a good one.
I have always believed local place is where we should get stuff done. As the RSA’s lead for the Cooperative Councils Innovation network I work with local leaders who are passionate about making their places better and our members include Edinburgh and Glasgow (as well as Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle…). Councils are collaborating to shape and develop community identities and pride in place. These are dynamic leaders seeking to transform their relationships with the public and co-produce community outcomes.
Building this new kind of public sector – a relational state or whatever you want to call it – is an intensely political endeavour. Local leaders need to orchestrate whole systems, enable collaboration and negotiate behaviour change. They do this by building on what everyone has in common – a shared pride and love for a place – and developing shared values and norms. Working like this shows why politics, in its widest sense, matters. Not as a battle for party political advantage, but as a public process of resolving conflict and creating identity.
Our best councils combine doing good politics with leading improvements in places which develops pride and helps communities function as productive sustainable places which can generate wealth and care for their citizens.
The Scottish debate is reaching a crescendo of emotion. The political debate has come alive and an unprecedented 97% of the population have registered to vote. People really care and for once political debate seems to matter because it is tapping into feelings about who we are.
Emotions matter (and we know good emotional health means less demand on scarce public resources). So let’s embrace emotion, let’s embrace good politics. let’s embrace identity in place.
Late in the day Westminster are finally waking up to the need to devolve power across the UK. They need to recognise that the future of our country lies In unlocking the diverse talent, creativity and pride of all our places. Let’s just hope that Scottish places remain a part of the UK debate.