20 July 2010

On the "geographical extent of Cameron's Big Society"

Just a wee thought and a citation for today. I've been trying to fathom two difficult questions. One - what precisely is David Cameron's Big Society? And two - who precisely is in it? My friend Adam Ramsay, of Bright Green Scotland describes it a scheme for "privatisation through the voluntary sector". Alternative suggestions included the flightier diagnosis that it will be a "new lottery based quiz show hosted by Dale Winton", while the Labour-inclined Lady Edinburgh thinks two words will do - "A con" she insists. On one level, of course, it is a unifying narrative, lending apparently general purpose and supporting principle to specific governmental enterprises and changes. On another, it implies any number of innovations and shifts in what a Westminster government aspiring to be smaller will do. Interested Scots have every reason to attend to the devolution detail, clutching their well-thumbed copies of the Scotland Act 1998 and attempting to winnow devolved from reserved changes.

Obviously, changes in England can have consequences for Scotland even if our structures are not correlatively formed and reformed, through existing funding mechanisms and so on. And of course, there is a long and properly observed duty to take an interest in the welfare and the rights of our fellow citizens, even if their challenges and causes aren't exactly our own. To those used to see things through their Scotch goggles, such an approach seems obvious. An English blogger called Britology Watch takes a very similar attitude - but emphasises how appeals to British society invoked in the presentation of changes which, in the light of devolution, are really only English and Welsh policies. Given the promise of more devolution for Wales, soon Westminster's "our" - no doubt ignorantly to be echoed in the metropolitan press - will be even more narrowly applicable to English schools, courts, universities and hospitals. The chippy Scot is earnest and attentive for false diagnoses of British when English is intended. Britology Watch argues, in general terms, that the English should be equally attentive to these plain but ideological inaccuracies -  since universal discourses about our policies, our law equally beguile and misinform English men and women. Returning to my opening questions, this sensitivity to our almost-federated politics is important, if we are properly to understand the realistic, practical compass of Cameron's Big Society rhetoric. To whit, the same blogger has composed a post on the "Geographical extent of Cameron's Big Society". Its detail is well worth bearing in mind.

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