Having spent the last week at an international summer school at Porto University, Porto, Portugal talking about online and offline participation, I felt like I was in my element. The weather was a very comfortable 20-24 degrees Celsius and the sunshine very welcome, although I missed the green spaces and I loved the rain as I landed at Glasgow last night. Home sweet home! Its always lovely to go away, but so nice to come back as you appreciate all the little (and maybe large) things that you take for granted! I do wonder sometimes if I am the only one that goes to a warm country and swells up like a pumpkin? 🙂
The conversations with eminent professors from the Universities of Bologna, Porto and West of Scotland and my peers were enlightening at how each European country was positioned in the European Union and the hegemonic discourses of power that the countries in the north hold over those in the Mediterranean.
It was interesting to draw comparisons between Portugal and the UK, as historically they were once ‘superpowers’ who excelled as traders who then became invaders and settlers and colonised parts of America, India (Goa) and Africa. It was also quite clear that Portugal is currently suffering greatly from austerity measures imposed due to the global, European and national economic crises.
The discussions around inequalities and marginalisation were interesting to say the least as these are the discourses that I am studying as part of my PhD.
What was so interesting about this particular summer school was that it looked at how to engage people through civic and political participation to have a ‘voice’ or ‘say’ in their lives. Every example I gave related to the independence referendum campaign in the Scottish context – they had a couple of ‘in-house experts’ – interesting how quickly a person picks up facts in areas that they care about!
What fascinated my colleagues the most was the engagement of communities who had previously been seen by popular political parties as too much hard work. The work that the Radical Independence Campaign has done to get the message into these communities and give them back the ownership to make decisions that they wish to make, is incredibly empowering and uplifting. It certainly makes me emotional when I think of this. When decisions affect all of society, then all of society should be informed and be part of the decision making process, and given the respect and dignity to make up their minds for themselves – not be told that they are genetically indisposed to make their own decisions, as the Scottish Labour’s leader Johann Lamont did – and on national television, or indeed the monologue of Westminster and the puppets deployed by them in Scotland that we are too wee, too stupid and too poor. The tide is turning, and everywhere we go, once people’s questions are answered, they begin to see a future which is preferable to them. It gives us all a higher purpose to work towards, to actually make that positive difference and a better future for all those that come after us. What an incredible legacy to leave behind for the generations to come.
Through conversations with people from university, the political field, on doorsteps, halls and stalls, I have found that respect and dignity and actually listening to each other gets more results – positive results.
N N Riaz