danieldwilliam: (Default)

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.

I’m trying to set up a programme of speakers for the 2013 Edinburgh Democracy User Group In the Pub meetings. One of our decisions at the planning meeting for this was to invite all the major political parties to send a speaker to talk to us about their parties core values and how they make decisions internally.

My working definition of “major” is any British party that holds a seat at the European, Westminster or Holyrood Parliaments. I’ve excluding Welsh and Northern Irish parties on the grounds of logistics, although if anyone can find a Plaid Cymru member in Edinburgh I’d be delighted to buy them a pint of Brains.

So, I’ve invited Conservative, Labour, SNP, Lib Dem, Green, Respect and UKIP speakers.

It’s not that I’m not happy to have speakers from other parties. I’d be delighted but my first objective is to invite the major parties and I wanted a rule of thumb to apply when I said I was going to spend time trying to get a speaker from X party but not as much time trying to get a speaker from Y party.

The problem is, my definition of major includes the BNP. They currently hold two seats at the European Parliament.

I’m genuinely in two minds about inviting them to speak. On the grounds that they have a democratic mandate should we engage with them. Should we deny them a platform because they are anti-democratic (and are they anti-democratic?)  Are we wiser if we know our enemy or is a fool’s errand to give them a platform?

Suggestions from the floor welcome.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I’ve just had the most amazing conversation.  Angus Reid Scottish artist is a work in play about a Call for a Constitution.  He’s written a poem, based on a statement of shared values discussed at a series of workshops he ran. The poem is currently on display at 12 locations


Each poem has a large, large piece of white paper next to it and people are invited to put their hand on the paper and draw round their hand and sign it.  I’ve just seen the First Minister’s hand on it, near the Lib Dem MSP for Orkney and various others.

He’ll be talking about his work and the process of engaging people in democracy at the Scottish Parliament on 25th September and at each of the other 11 venues around the country.

The experience more than makes up for a conversation I had on twitter about political economics and entrepreneurship in a post-Independence Scotland (at least that’s what I thought it was about.) Which confirmed once again that twitter is a poor medium for nuanced conversations of any sort, but certainly for politics and economics and science or those areas where they overlap.

Here is the poem. I hope it cheers and enthuses you as much as it did me.

If I as a writer of poetry

Were called up to give a form of words

To model the nation’s behaviour

It would be this

Ownership obliges

Everyone to respect and to care for

The sacred

To respect and to care for

Freedom of conscience

 And to recognise

The gift of every indvidual

To respect it

Care for it, nourish it

To care for and protect communities


To care for the land

And whereever

The land has been abused to restore it

So that it can support all forms fo life

Five principles, five fingers on the hand.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I like to think about strategy and I like to think I’m a hard headed pragmatist. Maybe I am but I’m also sentimental and I’m a story-teller. In recent months I’ve been inspired by two statues, outside two houses, of two men. Really I’ve been inspired by the organisations they built. I’m inspired by how they built their organisations and about the story that tells me about how the Reform Movement can prosper in the UK.

The first is a a statue of John Wesley in Bristol. It stands in the courtyard of the New Rooms, the  chapel and meeting rooms and hostel built by the Methodist community in Bristol. Being a Methodist in Bristol was hard work in the 18th Century. If you were against slavery Bristol was not the place to go for an easy life. The New Rooms are designed with no low windows, so that it was harder for mobs of irate Bristolians to break them. The pulpit is only reachable by going up into the gallery and then down into the pulpit, to make it harder for irate Bristolians to drag the preacher out of the pulpit and beat him.

The New Rooms are very elegant, simple and beautifully light, they are a lovely place to contemplate God, or in my case Reform. Above the chapel is a hostel and office space. Here the Wesley’s stayed when the were in Bristol. Any one of the hundreds of Methodist preachers could stay there as they criss-crossed Britain bringing their message of faith and social justice to the peoples of Britain. Every Methodist preacher in Britain passed through the New Rooms and ate a meal at the table in the refrectory.

Then the preachers would continue with their circuits, gathering their congregations. They would gather their congregations whereever they could find them and talk to them outside, in the sunshine or the rain. They would talk with whomever would listen.

The New Rooms were a nexus for the Methodist movement. It is where the conversations happened.  All the little conversations about who is doing what, and all the big conversations about how their community worked, and lived. They broke bread together and shared their lives, both in word and deed. Then they went out to talk with people who wanted to talk, and to talk with people who didn’t want to talk.

The second statue is of John Cartwright, the Father of Reform. His statue stands in the garden of a square where he made his final home in Bloomsbury.  Cartwright created the London Corresponding Scociety, The Hampden Clubs and others like them, which brought working men and women together, physically and through correspondence to talk about Reform, about Universal Suffrage and how they might achieve it. The clubs and societies he founded were often persecuted and eventually outlawed. He was due to speak at a large public meeting of the Manchester Patriotic Union in 1819. This became the Peterloo Massacre. Cartwright died in 1824, eight years before the Great Reform Act of 1832 widened the franchise and for the first time Britain approached democracy.

What links these men and what I find inspirational about them and useful for the Reform Movement is that they both set out to create spaces for conversation.  Spaces for people to talk who didn’t already have a voice. They each put time and effort into walking the land talking to people, encouraging and facilitating a wide, diverse and deep conversation. They encouraged other people to go out and facilitate their own conversations. Out of that conversation, out of the structures they put in place for conversation grew organisations that lead to profound social and political change in our country.

In the 21st Century we don’t necessarily need to gather congregations or found clubs. I don’t see myself tramping from town to town for the next ten years.  The method of the 18th and 19th centuries are not necessarily the methods for the 21st.  The lesson I take from John Wesley and John Cartwright is this.  The Reform Movement needs to talk.  The Reform Movement needs to talk amongst itself.  We need to talk about our goals and our aims and our methods. We need to talk about our values and aspirations.  Then, we need to go and talk to people who are not in the Reform Movement. We need to ask them about their values and aspirations.  We need to talk with them about our common goals. We need to have thousands and thousands of conversations.  Conversations between two people. Conversations amongst hundreds of us gathered togethered. Quiet pints in dark pubs, Skype calls after hurried dinners,  rowdy curries after conferences, emails, blogs, pamphlets, facebook status. Conversations with friends, with colleagues, with allies, conversations with those undecided or uniterested or focused on something else, conversations with enemies.

What I take from Wesley and Cartright for myself is this.  My role in this is to be one of the people who helps the conversation to happen.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Following some clarification of the electoral rules by the returning officer I can now say on social media that I am standing for election for the council of Unlock Democracy.

Those of you who are members and live in the North Constituency will have already received your ballot papers and seen me on them.

You can ask candidates questions here


Polls close on the 21st June.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I was as the first regular monthly meeting this year of the Edinburgh reform group last night.

It was good to see folk again. I’ve not been able to make the last few meetings.

I think we’ve come up with a plan for how to organise the group so that it’s forward facing and enjoyable and social and provides a support structure for people who want to be more or less active in the Reform movement.

As usual lots of interesting chat.  I got to try out what I think if going to be my favourite question of the referendum.

What are the issues that you will most important when making your decision about how to vote? What aspect of society would independence or the retention of the Union have to have a really positive affect on to sway your vote?

A couple of the answers really got me thinking.

First up – not a lot, independence won’t make much of a difference.

What if that’s true and we spend a lot of effort thinking about how different systems of government and conclude that fundamentally this question doesn’t make much difference.  That’s a bit of a worry for politicians on both sides of the question.

Secondly – what to do with the Scottish diaspora?  Which system of government would be most welcoming of the many people who consider themselves to have some Scottish connection.

Not before the referendum as a discussion on the franchise but afterwards. How do we encourage people to return? Do we want them to return? Do they have a right to return?

Feeling quite buoyed up by it all.


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