In the late 18th and early 19th century Scotland undertook what has become known as the Enlightenment. It was a period in Scotland’s history when the intellectual middle classes engaged in matters of law, economics, science and medicine. Great thinkers such as James Hutton is known as the father of modern geology, David Hume philosopher and economist, Frances Hutcheson the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow university and the first to lecture in English and not Latin, Adam Smith economist and author and Adam Ferguson the father of modern sociology. They and many others debated the matters of the day and formulated theories and principles, many of which have been adopted throughout the world and continue to inform aspects of modern society. And while Scotland contributed to the world in a fashion that far outweighs its size, back home in terms of genuine social change we have dragged our feet. In the intervening years between then and now we abdicated responsibility and while we became influential across the globe we managed to underachieve in our own land. As Lesley Riddoch said in her book Blossom ‘generally life today for the majority of Scots is not bad, it just isn’t as long, healthy, productive, reproductive, literate, wealthy, sustainable or creative as it could be, that either bothers you or it doesn’t “ Well it bothers me. It bothered me enough that I gave up my thirty five year career in I.T. and stood for election. You see, I believe that it is only truly worthwhile becoming an independent nation if that nation is designed by the people of Scotland for the people of Scotland. And when I say the people of Scotland I don’t mean that in some narrow xenophobic way. As Scots we have travelled the globe as emigrants and at home we have benefitted from immigration. Scottish culture has been enhanced with cultures from around the world and it must always continue to expand and grow. As we find ourselves on the brink of leaving the European Union, which will restrict our ability to travel and work in the 27 countries of the European Union while ending students opportunities to study abroad via the Erasmus scheme I can’t help feel that this inconveniently coincides with a period in Scotland’s development when we were beginning to redefine who we are. Since the 2014 referendum there has been an increasing interest in what makes us Scottish. How we work, how we rest and how we play compared, for example, to our Nordic neighbours and comparisons made with an emerging Scotland and the emerging Baltic states. We have a choice. We can remain part of the United Kingdom and be part of the reinvention of the empire 2.0 or we can contribute to a second Scottish Enlightenment. There is a mood for change and bodies such as the Common Weal and Nordic Horizons have identified fertile ground for change. Banking, land ownership, political representation, child care, education, health care, basic income, taxation, public services and drug policy reform is just the beginning. As we create a central lending bank and our own currency we are also investigating a publicly owned infrastructure company. Scotland has to think big.
In Inverclyde, we are marking two hundred years since the death of James Watt. We recognise him as an innovator, someone whose engineering contributions facilitated the industrial revolution. If Watt was alive today I imagine he would be driving forward renewable energy solutions. But would he be burdened by administrative red tape, would he be continually told that we didn’t need his new ideas. I ask this because we have engineers developing a mix of renewable energy solutions who are being drowned by paper work and are being underfunded and often side-lined for more traditional industries. We should be guided by the attitude of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. They continually find opportunities where others would only see obstacles. Their tunnel system to link their main islands, their superfast broadband are just two examples of supreme confidence and ability that have resolved major issues. Someone once said that a dog chasing its tail believes it is making progress. We have to stop chasing our tail and focus our time, energy, resources and money on building a better future. We have to identify our opportunities many of which are aligned to the unique aspects of our geography. We have to restore democracy to our smaller communities and understand that a one size fits all mentality does not serve us well. We must proactively forge opportunities that can be developed and come to fruition for the benefit of future generations. The time is ripe for a second enlightenment in Scotland. It’s time to get our thinking caps on and build the country we want to be.