Ben Simmons: How to change Scotland with 3 ideas


Campaigner Ben Simmons outlines the benefits of Open Government

RIGHT NOW there is a paper incubating on CommonSocial – CommonSpace’s social network – which will advocate for a new approach to public life in Scotland. 

The idea is that people like yourselves will have more say in what happens in your communities, how your money is spent, and how the government behaves.

In the spirit of giving as many people a voice as want to use it you should go there right now, read it, and give your reckon on the things it is asking for on your behalf. 

There would be a sad irony in a policy paper pushing for citizen engagement and participative democracy without citizens shaping those demands. 

Below is a massively simplified whistle-stop tour of the three big ideas that are being promoted in your name.

Big Idea #1: Transparency 

This is what it sounds like – your ability see what is happening and why.

That means opening up government and parliament so that we can see how the sausages are currently made, and whether we could help them design a better sausage. 

Sometimes this means making the data that government holds nice and easy to find and use so that people can do interesting things with it, and sometimes it means fighting corruption by making everyone’s dealings public, and encouraging and protecting those brave enough to blow the whistle when something isn’t right.

Big Idea #2: Accountability 

Public service does not always look or feel like the public is being served. 
There needs to be a shift away from government being 'done to us' towards being 'done with us', and one place to start could be with an ethical covenant that MPs and MSPs must sign up to. 

This could be created by their constituents, and move us to a position where officials are elected to carry out the wishes of the community instead of gaining community approval for their own agenda. 

We could create a Watchdog to keep an eye on lobbyists trying to shape society for the benefit of the few, not the many, and we could fund an independent media (not a state media) to tell us what is happening in Scotland in a clear and unbiased way, with no need to twist things for more traffic and more ad revenue.

Big Idea #3: Participation 

Right now it feels like politics happens on the telly and in the papers. 

The closest many get to participatory democracy is phone-in shows on the radio and, if you’re lucky, then maybe a five-second vox pops if the news teams are out and about. 

We have the power to change that by breaking democracy down into smaller groups at local levels; just as devolution shifted power from Westminster to Holyrood, we can devolve it from Holyrood to individual communities, and let those communities decide how to spend money. 

One size does not fit all in the UK, or inScotland, so the more local people are influencing the world they live in the better spent the public money will be. 

Of course, lots of power will still sit in the parliament and for that we need to create our own second chamber, like a House of Lords but with normal people instead, elected by lottery as we do with juries, and put there to make sure that we as citizens will be happy with the outcomes of parliamentary wrangling.

This is all a bird’s eye view of the demands being made in Common Weal’s forthcoming paper. It’s an accessible read and needs your input. Head over to CommonSocial and see for yourself.

Picture courtesy of Descrier

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