Perspectives is the quarterly magazine of Democratic Left Scotland (DLS), a non-party organisation whose roots lie in the socialist, feminist and green traditions and whose members work for progressive change throughout society. Some of us are involved in political parties, others are not, but we all agree that there is more to politics than parties and that building a better world depends as much on winning hearts and minds and promoting cultural change as on framing policies, fighting elections and wielding power. This broad conception of progressive politics is fully reflected in the magazine. Subjects covered range from policing and pensions to painting and philosophy; analysis, commentary and review mingle with satire, gossip and poetry; and contributors from across the political spectrum include such leading writers as Gerry Hassan, Lesley Riddoch, Chris Smout, James Mitchell, Alf Young, Bea Campbell and James Robertson.
Perspectives has been published regularly since DLS was founded in 1999, graduating to its present format – roughly 30 pages long with a different cover for each issue – in autumn 2002. Since then 31 issues have appeared. Discussions are currently under way about whether to ‘relaunch’ the magazine under a new title later this year in anticipation of the independence referendum likely to be held in the autumn of 2014. Over the next two years, we plan to host a national conversation about constitutional options and about what kind of society Scotland can and should become.
With our value-based, yet non-partisan politics and the experience we have gained over the past decade, we are well equipped to play this role. Our guiding principle is the ideal of self-determination. A good society enables and encourages all its members to strive for autonomy in their personal lives and to participate in collective, democratic efforts to shape the lives they share with others, whether as citizens, colleagues and associates or as members of households, families and neighbourhoods.
On the governance of Scotland, we take the view that the various options subsumed under the general heading of “devo max” or “independence lite” all deserve serious consideration and that every effort should be made to avoid polarising debate between those who seek to preserve the Union in more or less its existing form and those who favour ending it. It makes no sense to discuss constitutional questions in the abstract in a world where national sovereignty is qualified. So as well as asking what powers and responsibilities should be vested at different levels of government, we need to ask what are the substantive problems to which Scottish self-government is, or might be, the solution.
In hosting Scotland’s national conversation about what is to be done and who should do it, Perspectives will continue to question conventional wisdom. Take, for example, the future of the Scottish and wider British economies. Is there really no alternative to long years of fiscal austerity, economic stagnation and high unemployment? And what kind of economy should we be trying to create? Few would disagree that the balance of economic activity needs to shift from finance, consumption and imports to industry, investment and exports. But argument rages about the proper role of the state, the tax-transfer system and the best way to provide public services, not to mention the environmental and social consequences of economic development and the relationship between the growth of GDP and human well-being.
As this example makes clear, the remit of Perspectives extends well beyond the borders of Scotland and the purview of mainstream opinion. We are interested in the UK, European and global context of Scottish politics, just as we aspire to move beyond neo-liberal capitalism to a world which is no longer in thrall to private capital and market forces. At the same time, we recognise that none of the various models of social transformation we have inherited from the last two centuries of efforts to create a better world will serve us today and that if the European left is to regain its historic sense of purpose and become, once again, a force to be reckoned with, it must rethink its narrative and strategy and refurbish its ethos and image.