Report on the May Common Space Forum

Mike Downham attended the Forum which was part of a week of discussion sponsored by Common Space and was held at the Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow.  Here’s his reflection on the meeting which has also been published as a latter on Common Space.

Some meetings about changing society defy themselves by their structure. You know the sort of thing – too many speakers, speaking for too long, protected by a top table, with time only for a few questions (not comments) from the floor, to which each of the speakers gives pontifical answers. Then suddenly there’s a rush to close the meeting, and we all go home frustrated and disempowered.

Not so last night’s Common Space Forum. Rather more than half the time given to the 50 or so participants, the majority of whom took the opportunity to speak with impressive commitment and from a wide range of experience. The three ‘speakers’ reduced to respondents, asked well-prepared questions by a facilitator. Their answers strikingly non-sectarian, based on their respective experiences as Friends of the Earth activist, Extinction Rebellion activist, and Professor of ‘tools of persuasion’. The whole show felt like a re-run for a new and fair society.

Between us, for sure, there’s no problem about articulating both the nature of the emergency and a vision of where we need to get to. The issue is the bridge in between. But I went away optimistic and a lot clearer about bridges we can build together:

  • Make specific demands to the Scottish Government about what we want – for example a publicly owned, democratically accountable Scottish State Energy Company; the closure of North Sea oil and gas extraction; a just transition for workers and communities.
  • Make specific demands to the Scottish Government about what we absolutely don’t want – for example the Growth Commission’s economic plan; distant targets; fracking.
  • Don’t take no for an answer.
  • Acknowledge the importance in the mass movement of emotional response to the climate emergency, especially anger and fear (we got into a whole new dimension here, largely missing before the XR)
  • Know that we can do it

There was much talk about having so little time. The persuasion prof recommended we focus on Government ministers – not enough time to persuade the masses – but later somewhat contradicted himself by saying that people are quick to come behind issues of fairness. Surely we need to do both – hold ministers to account, right now, and continue to work in whatever ways available to us to build the mass movement, readying it to take the lead if ministers fail us.

The hall at Kinning Park Centre is large – plenty of room for an elephant. The elephant last night, sitting just behind us – you could smell him – was class. For all the talk of fairness, and of poverty, especially fuel poverty, there was no explicit class analysis. And yet what got us into this emergency was generations of exploitation of a huge number of people by a small number of people. We need to acknowledge this and keep our eye on it in everything we do, if we’re to understand what we’re up against. And because the people feeling the most pain will in the end be decisive in our fight for a fairer world.


Image by Takver, Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0