Monthly Archives: June 2013

More thoughts on the Scottish Independence Debate…

I recently heard Michael Marra from Five Million Questions talk on the issues surrounding Scottish independence and next year’s referendum. (“Five million” refers to the approximate population of Scotland; to be honest, there are probably a lot more questions…!) Like Jeremy Peat, it is Marra’s aim to bring a more nuanced approach to the independence debate, but looking at how the issues affect people rather than pure economics.

DSC_4327

Clearly, many of the issues central to the debate – the currency, spilt of national debt, allocation of oil reserves, the size of the public sector, the division of pensions and associated liabilities – are economic, and as Marra pointed out, only knowable after the referendum, since the UK government has decided only to negotiate after the result is known. Similarly, the three unionist parties have all said they would support more devolution in the event of a “no” vote – be it “devo-plus” or “devo-max”, but no one is saying what they would actually do. So whether we vote yes or no, we won’t know what we’re voting for – hardly a victory for democracy, but that’s what we’ve got. (I haven’t been able to find anything on the Conservative, Labour, LibDem or Better Together websites confirming that they categorically support further devolution, but I have read it in the press and Marra referred to it; maybe I was simply not looking hard enough.)

Marra described the debate as highly complex and highly political – hardly surprising given that it is politicians leading both sides of the debate. But the result of this is that the debate is highly polarised. Better Together concentrate on the (mainly financial) risks and great uncertainty (or, less generously, fear tactics: the latest – today – being the threats to the Royal Mail and rural Post Offices); Yes Scotland are trying to minimise the perception of those risks. Each seems to benefit from a low level of debate; it is easier for them than to raise their game.

To this end, the SNP government (represented in but somewhat different from Yes Scotland) have outlined their proposition. They will be publishing details in a white paper (or perhaps two, just to maintain that uncertainty) in December (or maybe November). Marra summarised their current position (which differs from their previous positions in some key areas – after all, they weren’t in power then, so they could say anything…) as

  • a shared currency with the rest of the UK (“rUK”)
  • freedom of movement between Scotland and rUK
  • retaining the monarchy
  • competitive tax rates
  • NATO membership
  • EU membership

Of these six points, five are outside the Scottish government’s gift: they can only be decided in collaboration with other bodies: the Westminster government, the EU and NATO; and I guess the Queen might have a say. Only one represents a change from the current situation – the ability to set competitive tax rates.

Marra described this as “Indy lite”, and you can see why. According to the SNP, nothing much would change; it is just business as usual. Indeed, during the morning, Marra was told that the SNP proposed retaining the welfare system (at least for a while).

So if nothing is going to change, why on earth would we want to vote for independence? The SNP wants us to vote “yes”… to keep everything the same!

For me, this lack of vision on both sides is crippling the debate. Purely on economic grounds, I am a strong “no”. But if either side could set out a platform for change – a vision for a more just, equitable Scotland, a positive, radical alternative to the status quo that they currently seem to be proposing (in order not to scare the horses. Or the voters), they might be able to shake up the campaign and actually change some minds.

For instance, a complete reform of taxation might free up entrepreneurs and businesses and stimulate the economy, something Peat suggested. (I’m not a tax expert, so I can’t even imagine what this might look like – but I can’t believe that a system designed to provide funds to fight a war more than two hundred years ago is really fit for the 21st century.) It can’t be beyond the wit of man to design a welfare system that supports rather than stigmatises those unable to support themselves. (The Scottish health, education and legal systems are already separate from the rest of the UK.)

A new social model might be worth voting for; but of the options on the table, with minimal change – well, is that really the best we can do? The rare opportunity to really explore what Scotland means and what we want our country to be like is being lost.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Crowd-Funding

I have been thinking about crowd-funding recently, prompted by several things. First, LondonJazz had a post about Gwyneth Herbert crowd-funding her latest recording; then various projects were brought to my attention; and lastly Creative Edinburgh had a session about crowd-funding.

I have been uneasy about crowd-funding, and I haven’t really been able to understand why; it was my unease that took me to the Creative Edinburgh event: I wanted to get to grips with what concerned me about it. I love crowd-sourcing and collaborative-creation, and people using new models to get stuff done: what was so discomforting with collaborative funding? Why did I feel unwilling to help finance some of these projects when I think several of them are very worthwhile and I would (and have!) support them in other ways?

I think the post about Herbert’s work covers a lot of the area well – not least because the artist herself got involved in the debate, explaining her motives. (I should point out that I am not a fan of Ms Herbert’s work and he’s I’d not a project I would have funded – though I have a great deal of respect for her as a result of the post and how she has engaged with the discussion – pros and cons.)

Crowd-funding enables artists of all sorts to get projects done that might otherwise not happen; it allows supporters to get involved and contribute to the creative process; and both artist and supporter get something in exchange.

I think my reticence stems from two sources. The first is consumerist: I want to know what I am buying. Funding an early stage project means one doesn’t know what you’re going to get; if the target isn’t reached, the project wrong happen and you won’t get anything (though your pledge won’t be taken). Part of this is also that rewards don’t particularly interest me: if I’m contributing to a musician’s project, say, it will be because I want the music, not a signed photo (or other reward). I would pay for CDs or downloads, I would pay for gigs – but these are specific “products”; funding an early stage project is an unknown.

The second is perhaps a British reticence to discuss and get involved in money. This is mentioned in Ms Herbert’s comments on that blog post, and it was also an issue someone suggested to when we were chatting at Creative Edinburgh. It is a very personal thing; the artists know what one is providing, and how generous or stingy one has been. It just – well, doesn’t feel “right”.

The crowd-funding of creative projects is, I think, more like charitable giving than a consumer transaction. You are doing something to support a cause – albeit one that gives you something back. It is an altruistic act. One isn’t purchasing an object; and neither are you providing funding for financial return. The thing is that it isn’t a faceless charity that gets the money: it is real, flesh-and-blood (and of course connected) people. Friends. Both the speakers at Creative Edinburgh, talking from a fund-raiser’s point of view, said that one had to be prepared to be disappointed; the flipside – the donor’s view – is the feeling of peer-pressure that might keep them away.

As Herbert points out, artists have relied on patrons since time immemorial. Roman citizens funded artists in ancient Rome (“patron” is a Latin term); wealthy bankers financed the Renaissance in Florence; publication of literature was funded in Victorian Britain through subscription. Whilst writing this post, I recall several years ago making a charitable donation to support a jazz big band I admired. The one crowd funding activity I can remember participating in up to now has been to support Lloyd’s artistic endeavour because, at a very basic level, I was concerned he wouldn’t be able to eat if I (and others) didn’t! But being a patron is quite close to “patronising” – it doesn’t rest easily.

Having thought this through, then, I did decide to support a couple of projects last week. When it came down to it, it was LedBib posting worriedly on Facebook that they were close to raising what they were after but not there yet – and running out of time. When they were looking for £10,000, what I might contribute seemed a drop in the ocean; when they were looking for the final £300, a £25 contribution seemed a lot more. (As it happened, the Kickstarter website didn’t like my browser set up – specifically, I think, the various add-ons I use; though I have promised them the money, anyhow, and they passed their total without my £25.)

Having done that, I thought I should support Debbie’s sculpture project too, because I love the idea, so I’ve pledged to support that, too. (It didn’t make the total they were after, but they are going to have another go, which I will be supporting.)

[After I’d written this post, I watched Amanda Palmer’s now famous TEDtalk. Palmer – and again, I’m not a fan – discusses a lot of the things I’ve covered here, much more eloquently than I have – and from the artist’s perspective. It is a very powerful and moving video.]