A “gathering”. It’s not a very inspirational word, is it? You wouldn’t get as excited about being invited to a “gathering” as you would a party, a shindig, a knees-up or a hoocha. However, I spent last Saturday at a People’s Gathering, and while there wasn’t much in the way of fruit punch or drunken aunties, it was still one of the most interesting events I’d been at for a while.
Of course, you can take that in one of two ways – either it was really fascinating or I have a particularly dull social life. Either way, this Gathering was organised by the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and was intended to bring together 129 ordinary people to act, for one day, as a counterpart to Scotland’s 129 MSPs and discuss the kind of Scotland we wanted to see.
What surprised me the most was the amount of consensus in the room from the very beginning. This type of discussion has the potential to get lost in circular and entrenched arguments, but instead people were open to both sharing their experiences and learning from others. The key points seemed to be:
- Party politics hinders rather than helps proper debate and national progress
- We need more ordinary people (not party political animals) involved in politics
- We need to redefine politics not just as something you get elected to but something that many people participate in, mostly at community level
At the table I was at, a proposal gradually emerged to reorganise local government into communities of around 10,000 people, with a budget and an expectation that they will be responsible for most local decisions, and a structure that encourages independent and diverse candidates to stand.
What’s interesting is that there was so much agreement that we need a de-party-politicised system where people listen to each other instead of trying to score points, and a localised approach to decision-making: yet nobody is offering this option. I suppose it’s a bit much to expect party politicians to be campaigning for a system that reduces their influence, but if what we have is so very out of step with what we want, what do we need to do to get it?