In my previous post, I outlined a game I’d like to play with Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard. It’s called the Awful-Brilliant Game. For this post to make sense, I suggest you read that previous one first. It’s good. Honest.
Cool. Right. Onwards.
Richard will be glad to know this game is a bigger, broader one than the Awful-Brilliant Game. One that demands an ability to engage in a bit of blue skies thinking. In my more fanciful imaginings, I think this could work as an interesting political discussion programme.
Here’s now it would work…
Imagine a big studio, with lots of tables, set up cabaret-style. At each table on one half of the room would be activists or – ideally – leading figures from the Scottish parties of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. It would be valuable to have Richard Leonard involved in the Labour table, fresh from his experiences of the Awful-Brilliant Game.
Each party table would be given a short introductory exercise to get their brains going, in which they would list all the general principles that they believe should govern life – irrespective of constitutional arrangements. You could imagine Labour jotting down concepts like fairness, equality or social justice; the Conservatives perhaps referring to liberation from big government or a strong entrepreneurial culture; and the Liberal Democrats going for… well, answers in the comments.
You’d build on that by asking them to define the tools that would best bring about those principles. For instance, a strong welfare state, an education sector that works in a particular way, a tax system that incentivises work, or whatever.
Then thirdly – and this is the main part of the exercise – you’d ask them to apply all that to what an independent Scotland should look like. Regardless of how much participants might dislike the idea of an independent Scotland, they would have to imagine that it did happen and their party was now in charge. What would they do? How would they govern that independent Scotland? What is the realistic best case scenario they could achieve against the context of all the challenges they argue that independence would bring? In short, what sort of independent Scotland would come as close as possible to being an appealing one to their party?
Of course, there would be howls of protest. Why on earth should opponents of independence do the job of independence supporters, by defining what an independent Scotland should look like? Shouldn’t the SNP be answering those questions?
Well, this is the clever bit. Remember how these Labour, Conservative and LibDem tables would only be on one half of the studio? Perhaps you’ve already guessed this, but on the other half of the room would be activists and leading figures from the SNP, Greens, and perhaps a third collection of representatives from non-party pro-independence groups.
They would be simultaneously working away on an equivalent challenging task. Their task would be the exact opposite. Rather than imagining how you would make independence work (which they spend a lot of time doing as it is), they would be working on making it unnecessary. What sort of United Kingdom would you vote to remain in? How should the UK work in such a way that the core arguments for Scottish independence are made redundant? What is the sort of Union that would come as close as possible to being an appealing one to their party?
Tough and uncomfortable though this exercise might be for everyone, both sets of participants would be reassured by the fact that their “opponents” on the other side of the room are facing an equally difficult and seemingly impossible challenge that goes against their instincts as activists and campaigners.
It would, I think, be a fascinating exercise. Forcing yourself to look at things from others’ perspectives is an important step for politicians. It broadens horizons, improves knowledge, sharpens debating skills, and, most fundamentally, emphasises the empathy that should guide all our decisions in life.
Some participants might succeed in this exercise. Others might find it infuriating. I imagine, for instance, that Greens might find it easier to define a Union worth staying in than the SNP, because Greens have always argued that independence is desirable not as an end in itself but as a means to much more easily bringing about the changes they’d like to see; whereas your typical SNP activist is probably more ideologically wedded to independence as an inherent good. Meanwhile Liberal Democrats – with a history of supporting radical constitutional reform – might find it a little easier than their fellow Unionist politicians to get into the hypothetical groove.
And getting politicians to map out in this way the best case scenarios for an option they fundamentally hate could be, I would suggest, absolutely compelling, unpredictable political television – not to mention potentially both hilarious and enlightening.
What do you think? What would your polished turd look like? How would you make the best of it? How could you engage in a bit of blue skies thinking about Scotland’s future? If you believe in independence, what’s the closest model of United Kingdom to one that you’d vote to stay in? And if you oppose independence, what’s the very best it could possibly look like if you or politicians you most admire were in charge of it? Join in the exercise by posting some thoughts in a comment below, or writing your own blog post on the topic and commenting below with a link.
In my following blog post, I’ll share my answer as an independence supporter to the question of what United Kingdom would come closest to me wanting to stay in.
And finally, does anyone have a large TV studio, generous production budget and access to a few dozen political activists from across the spectrum?