Common Weal: Our plans for 2016 – have your say


Common Weal director Robin McAlpine gives an update on the organisation’s plans for the year and asks for feedback from supporters

WE always want to know what people think we should be doing so we thought it would be good to give you an idea of our plans so you can give us comments and ideas. So get posting your reactions below (or email me at ).

The first thing to say is that we always try to make sure that we’re reacting quickly to what happens in Scotland. So while we have some outline plans (and some solid commitments) we keep flexibility to change what we do as events change.

The first thing we’re rushing to get done is to get a series of policy papers out in time to try and influence the policy debate in the Scottish elections. We’ve just put out our childcare paper and have other major papers nearly ready to go. We have a paper on developing an industrial policy (to kickstart manufacturing in Scotland), a paper we’ve been working on jointly with the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth on setting up a National Investment Bank and a municipal banking network, a major contribution on how we can afford to build unlimited public rental housing in Scotland and another on how to create an investment strategy for the Scottish Government which enables it to invest in infrastructure and public services (including a tax strategy). These will be ready to be published over the course of February and early March.

And just behind them we hope to get policy papers done on why we should replace the Council Tax with a Property Tax (which also taxes land), proposals for a system of National Policy Academies (to really stimulate better policy thinking in Scotland), a Scottish social security system and possibly also a paper on open data.

That’s probably all the policy work we’ll manage before the election but we’d be really interested to know – what do you think should be the policy priorities for a Scottish Government coming in in May? What big ideas should it be developing that Common Weal could contribute to? We plan to keep commissioning work in the second half of the year which will try to set a policy agenda for Scotland over the next few years.

“What big ideas should [the Scottish Government] be developing that Common Weal could contribute to? We plan to keep commissioning work in the second half of the year which will try to set a policy agenda for Scotland over the next few years.”

To go along with this we hope to have a short campaign ready by the beginning of March. Featuring a young girl called May, it is based around a little cartoon asking what May’s life would be like by the end of the next Scottish Parliament if the Scottish Government adopted various ideas from the Book of Ideas . Other than that we’ll follow through the current big legislative targets we’ve been campaigning on (land reform, lobbying and university governance). While these will all be pieces of legislation which are passed by the time this session of Parliament closes at the end of March, they’re all subjects which we plan to pick up again after the election – the Scottish Government’s legislation on all three is definitely improving but we feel there is a way to go yet.

After the election we have only general ideas about our campaigning themes. One of the most useful things Common Weal has been involved with is adding our resources to coalitions of organisations campaigning on specific issues. We’ve had a major role in the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) and, along with Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman, are the main moving force behind the Our Land campaign. We’re currently working with Friends of the Earth Scotland, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, CND and others (all driven by the fabulous South Lanarkshire Common Weal group whose idea this all was) to create Divestment Scotland so we can reinforce and increase the profile of each others campaigns which are trying to get public bodies to move their investments out of unethical companies.

The other big issue we’re thinking about making our major focus after the election is housing. We’re already talking to people to see if CommonPrint can put together a book of essays on what Scotland’s housing priorities should be and also a couple of policy papers on planning, architecture and community design. While it is still just an idea, we are thinking about some big conference on housing in the autumn, or possibly some kind of ‘demonstration event’. And it goes without saying that we’ll always be there to campaign on social and economic equality whenever we can.

Another priority for the year is an independence campaign. Common Weal is one of a small number of organisations which have been in discussions to get a cross-party, all-Scotland independence campaign together again. Progress is very promising. Common Weal is committed to doing anything it can to help – we’ll offer free office space if an independence campaign can raise money for a campaign coordinator or researcher. It’s a bit early to ask about what priorities for an independence campaign should be but we hope this is a question we can ask later in the year.

“Another priority for the year is an independence campaign. Common Weal is one of a small number of organisations which have been in discussions to get a cross-party, all-Scotland independence campaign together again. Progress is very promising.”

But what other things should Common Weal think about campaigning on in the second half of the year?

Our other big immediate commitment is to the expansion of CommonSpace. CommonSpace was always designed to integrate a great news-and-views site with a social media platform. It is built on top of a platform which gives us a fully-functioned Facebook-like environment. It will be a place for organising and campaigning as well as information sharing and education (plus some fun we hope). It gives campaigning groups a public space to create networks and coalitions of people with an interest in progressive politics. We’ve been working constantly behind the scenes to get it ready and we now hope (fingers crossed) that it will be launched in time for the Scottish elections. We’ll be launching a major redesign of CommonSpace News site at the same time. How it gets used? That’s up to you…

There are other plans for CommonSpace including switching on a couple of new channels (an events channel and a shop channel) and Angela is constantly trying to find out what kind of content people want to see (we’ve added the humour and magazine channels to expand the kind of content we produce). So what do you want to read about on CommonSpace?

Another big focus in 2016 is communication. We’ve been putting so much effort into content (policy, news, campaigns, events) that we’ve been a bit half-arsed about communicating what we do. For example, we were going to put out a newsletter in mid November on the local groups (we have over 60 local groups doing really amazing things). When we asked what they were all up to we discovered that in the first 14 days of the month local Common Weal groups had held 18 public meetings. That surprised even us. Not enough people know just how lively and vibrant our local groups are. The team has been working on a load of plans on how we can let people get more information about what they’re interested in. We’re developing a way to let people subscribe to various newsletters which will keep people up to speed on what our local groups are doing, what developments in parliament and policy we think people will want to hear about, campaigning news from us and others, general news about Common Weal and more. We’ll let you know as soon as you can start signing up.

“When we asked what [Common Weal local groups] were all up to we discovered that in the first 14 days of the month local Common Weal groups had held 18 public meetings. That surprised even us.”

An important means of communication we want to substantially expand is film. Common Weal’s first feature film will be ready in April. It’s a coproduction with Strathclyde University and three Brazilian universities and is about land, work and energy. We want to be able to do more feature films – but also short films for the broadcast channel on CommonSpace and many more very short explanatory films for sharing on social media. At the moment we’re a bit limited because our filmmaker Cristina currently does all our merchandising which keeps her too busy. But over this year we’ve got plans to juggle things around to enable us to substantially increase our output. So what do you want to see films/short films about?

Oh, and as well as knowing that the CommonSpace news site needs a revamp and redesign (it was all done quickly at launch and we know it could look a lot better), we also know that our main website needs a proper relaunch. We want to make it much more useful for people who want to engage with us and keep up with everything we’re doing (and find resources to be active themselves). As soon as we’ve got all the CommonSpace relaunch out of the way, that’ll be our next task. So what do you want from our website?

One of the other aims of the CommonSpace social media function is to help us support our local groups much better. At the moment we communicate via a Facebook page which is fine but short of the range of features needed to really let local groups learn from each other and build. Some of our groups are confident and doing amazing things, others want to build up. Supporting them all to grow and develop is a priority for the year. We also would like to strengthen our subject networks – for example, our nascent Common Law group of progressive lawyers or to move forward our early plans for a Common Enterprise group of progressive businesses. But we don’t have the resources to dedicate staff to growing these at the moment. We’re going to see if they can self-organise with only limited input from us and see how it goes.

So what other subject networks do you think Scotland might benefit from, even if it’s just a social media group?

There are also a few projects we want to explore as demonstration projects. We have 200,000 regular readers on CommonSpace. That’s a great resource. We’ve been talking for a while to a number of groups about how we could direct those readers towards Scottish businesses that make things in Scotland and behave in positive ways. It’s still early days but we hope we can launch some really interesting initiatives later in the year to help people buy locally produced goods, foods and services that they can feel positive about buying. And despite two big attempts to get the proposed Common cafe-bar and events space going in Glasgow (both bids for premises we’ve attempted fell through at the last minute for reasons beyond our control) we’re still working on it and are looking at two new venues. We have a full business plan ready to go – we just need a venue. So with a bit of luck we hope to get the Common up and running in 2016.

“Common Weal remains committed to constantly linking progressive politics to arts, culture, history and community.”

Finally for now, Common Weal remains committed to constantly linking progressive politics to arts, culture, history and community. We probably won’t attempt a big show at the Edinburgh Festival this year because it’s incredibly time-consuming to put together and hard to make it break even – but we’re always open to persuasion. The art exhibition we did (thanks to art coordinator Max) in November was amazing and it would be great to do something similar in 2016. And the Board discussed the whole area of Scottish language, history, art and culture and is really keen to keep this as a Common Weal focus – but we don’t know precisely what that means yet (other than content on CommonSpace). So ideas for our role would be very welcome.

Oh, and we will keep doing anything we can, dedicating any of our resources we can to helping anyone who asks. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had talks with the Carers Coalition on helping them with design and a social media strategy and with Time for Inclusive Education on political strategy. We’re doing ‘welcome packs’ along with WomanKIND, the Scottish Refugee Council and Migrant Help for incoming families of refugees. And we’ve also had really productive talks with people at Glasgow School of Art on collaboration. We love collaboration. So who wants to work with us?

That’s probably it for now. It’s a lot – but then we’re always ambitious. What have we missed? What big things are going to happen that you think we should influence? What books could CommonPrint publish (we hope to get a new version of Lateral North’s Atlas of Productivity out soon and have a book from the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on the way)? What talks and events do you want to go to? Tell us.

So it only remains to say that we can only do any of this because of our donors – and we don’t have enough . At the moment we subsidise all our work with merchandise sales because the donations are just a bit short of our running costs. So we really do have to put some effort into fundraising this year. We have some plans for this but if anyone has bright ideas on how Common Weal can help fund its work, don’t keep it to yourself…