The National:

This is from a newsletter from Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, called Reinventing Scotland. It explores the wellbeing economy. Sign up here to receive it every Tuesday at 7pm. 

THE single biggest barrier to progressive change on wellbeing, independence and even sustainability in Scotland is our reliance on politics to lead that change.

Civil activism in Scotland is dominated by political discourse and the biggest champions of change are addicted to party politics. Party politics makes gradual improvements here and there, playing at the margins (that's what it’s designed to do) but it cannot deliver the radical step-change Scotland needs to become an independent nation focused on the wellbeing of our people, our economy and our environment.

New vehicles for change

In the past, especially if you supported independence, there was nowhere to move that agenda forward other than through the SNP. The 2014 referendum changed that.

The National:

There was the uninspiring and largely ineffective Yes Scotland but there were loads of local Yes groups and national organisations such as Women for Independence, National Collective, English Scots for Yes, Business for Scotland and Pensioners for Indy. There was a real movement and although there was a dominant political party, the heart and soul of that movement wasn't political. Once the referendum was lost, the swift closure of Yes Scotland saw the disappearance of its database of a million plus independence supporters and mothballing of social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Desperate for somewhere to go and unwilling to give up the fight, independence supporters flocked to the SNP, driving the party’s membership into six figures. This changed the language of the independence movement and by association changed the language of the most progressive voices in Scotland to that of politics, and the recent adding of more political parties to that mix has just reinforced the language problem.

Political language is a barrier to progress

People react emotionally and negatively to political language. They can spot it a mile off. They expect arguments, hackles go up and it triggers the fight-or-flight reaction in people's brains. People don't like “being messaged”, they don't like the double-speak, rhetoric and manipulation of political language.

If we want to change minds and introduce progressive ideas such as a move to a wellbeing economy, or a just transition to renewables, then we need to change from the language of politics to the language of hope and ambition.

The National: Believe in Scotland has made the case that independence is normal – and this will be a key message to voters across Scotland

This is what Believe in Scotland does and every week activists report that losing the political insignia and telling people that “we don't support political parties, we just believe in Scotland” completely changes the dynamic.

Even in regions where independence support is lowest, we get almost zero pushback once we describe who we are, and have pleasant discussions with both the undecided and those that disagree.

Don't get me wrong, we need progressive parties to be successful, to vote through new progressive laws … but should they lead the independence movement? Can they lead a national movement that drives progressive change? I haven't thought so for a decade at least.

Politicians can't ride two horses at once

Politicians have to win seats, they have to avoid negative press, they have to weather personal attacks, navigate hostile tribalism. It creates a certain culture, a certain language for minimising those dangers but it turns people off.

The use of jargon and complex terminology makes political discourse inaccessible to the general public, reducing understanding of and willingness to engage on progressive issues. Vague language to avoid committing to specific actions or policies and selective presentation of facts creates distrust and reinforces division by framing issues in a way that appeals to a political base, increasing polarisation and creating barriers to open and free discussion.

We know this, we just don't know that we already know this

George Orwell’s essay Politics And The English Language says political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Dr Deborah Tannen, professor at Georgetown University, in The Argument Culture, explains how the adversarial language of politics creates a culture of debate rather than dialogue, hindering collaborative problem-solving.

The National: Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky’s (above) Manufacturing Consent examines how language is used to control public discourse and maintain power structures. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity states that the language a person speaks influences their worldview, even how they experience and understand the world. The differences in languages affect thought, perception and behaviour, so speakers of different languages think and act differently, reinforcing cultural differences.

I would suggest that the languages within languages (called registers) have a similar effect. That overuse of the political register within the wellbeing and independence movements limits our creative thinking and our ability to empathise with the undecided and therefore to engage in productive conversations on our shared values and so improve understanding of the need to change. If you want proof of this, just log on to any social media platform and wait five minutes.

The language of our values is the language of our belief in Scotland

As soon as the General Election is over on July 5, we must all drop the politics and get involved with the civic movements that desire the change we need. We need to talk to people about our shared dreams, hopes and aspirations for Scotland – how we get there and how we protect the wellbeing of the people in-tandem with the wellbeing of the environment.

If our campaigning remains dominated by political discourse then Scotland will also remain dominated by the Union and, by extension, its harmful neoliberal capitalism.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the CEO of Business for Scotland, the chief economist at the wellbeing economics think tank Scotianomics, the founder of the Believe in Scotland campaign and the author of Scotland the Brief.