Too old for an all nighter....
Like many people, I spent Thursday night/ Friday morning in front of the TV transfixed by the unfolding drama of the referendum results. I shared most of the night with my 19 year old son who voted the opposite way to me but was equally fascinated by the outcome (I voted No by the way just in the interests of full disclosure). Long before the outcome became clear, one truth was universal. This campaign engaged more people in Scotland than any other political event in our lifetime anywhere. I was lucky enough to be living in South Africa in 1994 when the first free elections took place there and even then the level of actual voting was less than we experienced on Thursday.
In a world where democratic participation is in retreat across the world and people of all ages and views are consistently disgusted and despairing about their political systems, Scotland dramatically bucked the trend. Everyone would like to see this continue but it won’t happen unless we do something about it.
We all know one reason the referendum was different - because independence was a clear cut, once in a generation issue. Incidentally, the decision to have a simple Yes/No made a big difference. A three option question would have undermined much of the campaign. This situation will not hold for long. We can already see in the squabbling about potential new powers and different options for devolution that politics as usual is starting to take hold.
On both sides it also harnessed a larger trend. Voters no longer engage with political parties and politicians. Overarching ideas which provide a frame of reference for everything are considered cranky at best and dangerous by many. People engage with specific issues. Passionately. Often these are issues which concern everyday life but just as frequently care for others is the dominant motivation. Think about the bring back our girls campaign a couple of months ago for instance.
People also want to see things actively being done about these issues. Passing a new law or making a distant donation does not cut it. This is the new war. We don’t want to go abroad to fight but on the right issue we are all missionaries now.
Party programmes with compromise and balance and carefully calibrated appeal to the widest possible audience engage almost no-one and win no votes. Look at the pattern in the referendum where many traditional Labour areas voted Yes and constituencies which have regularly elected the SNP voted No. I don’t believe that any political party will be able to capture the active participation triggered by the campaign.
How can technology help?
In Scotland, I expect we will capture the excitement and passion of the campaign by seeing a series of groups emerge which aim to tackle issues which engage them on a very personal level. These groups will all look different but they will have a couple of things in common. They will not be aligned to any party. They will publicise and build their campaign by unconventional methods. They will take direct action to fix the problem not just to protest and not just as pressure groups.
Obviously mobile and social media will be key enablers for these groups. I would like to suggest something more.
For many of the areas which most concern people - health, education, poverty, democracy and so on - technology can be a fundamental part of the solution. Broadly this will take two forms. Helping deliver public services more efficiently and with better access is the easy and obvious although making such reforms happen is considerably more difficult. Many will bypass this route and aim to empower communities to take ownership of the issues which are most important to them and shape solutions specifically for their community.
Let's do something!
Here is my proposal. We should set up a Scottish Startup Community Foundation which will provide skills and ideas which can help communities take advantage of this opportunity.
The model would be the foundations in US communities such as Boulder (Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado or EFCO) where Startups chip in pro bono skills and a small percentage of equity. As time passes the latter builds up into a solid base of assets. Other income is raised conventionally from donations.
I have not had the chance to discuss this with anyone. My plan now is to go off and turn this into a proper proposal but I would love to hear what people think.
Use the comment box or the take the two option poll - I would rather hear from two people who think I’m crazy than nothing!
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.