Azeem Ibrahim: The dawning of a new age of Enlightenment
THE new Scotland Institute promises to focus on our future and be guided by facts. It will have no axe to grind.
Today will see the launch of The Scotland Institute, a new progressive think tank for Scotland at a critical time in its history. In a changing world where the hopes and dreams of the community of Europe are being urgently readjusted, where definitions of nation and state are being re-examined and the future independence is raising more questions than answers, it is time Scotland had access to new levels of committed scholarship and research. The Scotland Institute is intended to be that source of timely, dispassionate, in-depth analysis of huge and important questions affecting Scotland’s future.
In a world of media soundbites, of opinions masquerading as facts and misinformation and disinformation being interchangeable, it is imperative that an independent body be established within the Enlightenment tradition to produce unbiased research unadulterated by politics, partisanship or prejudice. This new institute intends to provide informed reasoning and debate from leading scholars, historians, economists and political scientists that cannot be labelled left-wing, right-wing or even centrist. The reports and policy papers will be forward-thinking and will generate innovative and practical solutions to problems and challenges, guided only by factual evidence, not ideologies.
Scotland is considering independence at an uneasy juncture in the world’s history. The European Union does not necessarily prove a solution to the problems of Scotland becoming independent, now that its financial structure is revealed as deeply flawed. Membership of the Community will mean different things for those with different agendas about Scotland’s fiscal, defence and foreign policies as the independence referendum approaches.
The dominance of the US as the world’s economic driver is being challenged by China, and the rise of emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Russia is shifting balances of power away from Europe and the USA. Scotland needs to understand what is involved in repositioning itself as an international player in a volatile world of shrinking resources, growing populations and shifting allegiances.
The demographics of emerging countries are too often overlooked – Scotland, like other countries in Europe and Japan – has a low birth rate and an ageing population with not enough people working to sustain the needs of senior citizens and dependent relatives. In comparison, populations in South Asia and Turkey have reached the “golden demographic period” where the productive working population is proportionately much bigger, providing the potential for even more rapid income growth. .
It might be thought that there are more than enough expert studies of what Scotland could and should be in the future. But there seem to be few that do not have an ideology to promote or an axe to grind. Scotland deserves more than rhetoric, conjecture, patriotic fervour or wishful thinking. The institute has already sent out proposals for studies of the EU monetary requirements and the defence of an independent Scotland. It is intended that detailed policy papers will provide some definitive answers on subjects such as the regulation of financial institutions, an analysis of economic changes before and since devolution –together with those expected after independence – a Common Agricultural Policy review and a review of Scotland’s defence capabilities.
These studies to be detailed, impartial and relevant to the academic, political and economic worlds with practical, innovative and achievable outcomes.
By using a multi-disciplinary approach, engaging minds across a wide range of disciplines such as sociology, technology, philosophy and environmental science, the Institute will recreate a fertile meeting of minds similar to the salons and seminars of the enlightened Scottish universities in the 1700s. Scots had recognised that if the country were to prosper, men would need to be educated and trained. They saw a reformed educational system and the application of science as the keys to progress and change.
The reformers, thinkers and intellectuals of the time debated the conditions under which economic growth would occur, the role of banks and the state – not unlike the debates under way now concerning the euro zone. They based their writings on critically researched sources and the universities brought together philosophers such as David Hume, political economists such as Adam Smith, and many notable social thinkers, scientists, physicians, rhetoricians and theologians. They were Europeans before the EU – borrowing and adapting social theories from Holland and France as well as England. And of course beginning with the Union in 1707, a protracted and unfinished debate got under way concerning Scotland’s relations with the English. Freedom and its meaning, the sources of change, the limits that should be placed on power were the context for Enlightenment deliberations just as they are today.
Today’s challenges are complex and demand complex solutions. Much of the work envisioned will necessarily entail extracting Scotland’s uniqueness from the UK’s blended policies, history and economy so that a picture will emerge of Scotland as distinct and entire. Only with this analysis of Scotland the nation and Scotland the state can the informed decision making begin about the issue of independence.
Scotland cannot wait much longer for the necessary next steps to address its pressing social and economic issues. Unemployment among Scottish youth is higher than that of the rest of UK, more people are on welfare than ever and manufacturing jobs are eroding instead of increasing. It is time for some critical thinking along the lines of those early Enlightenment improvers.
The Scotland Institute will continue this tradition of intellectual excellence and impartial inquiry, in the pursuit of a renewed commitment to sustainable policies for Scotland. A think tank divorced from politics, academia and business, yet encompassing all disciplines, can offer long term visions and pragmatic solutions by combining the best of all minds and being beholden to none in particular.
The Scotland Institute will be launched today in Glasgow at The Trades House of Glasgow, 85 Glassford Street, Glasgow.
• Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute (www.scotlandinstitute.com)
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
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