With Brexit, President Trump, and threats of another independence referendum, we are all learning to expect the unexpected. It can sometimes feel as though the world is spinning out of control.
Yet, as digitally-empowered citizens, we are able to influence politics in an unprecedented way. Our ability to learn, inform, connect, organise and advocate has never been greater. There may be fake news online, but there is huge amount of real news and informed opinion available to anyone with a smartphone, and the platforms to share it with a few swipes and taps.
There may be trolls, cybernats and anonymous unpleasantness on social media, but there are many more normal people who find common cause and share information, opinions and humour.
These are worrying times for those in power: one false move and they can find themselves under digital siege from constituents, interest groups and a public which can unite and protest at lightning speed.
Here in Scotland during the 2014 referendum campaign, people used social media to challenge assertions, create networks and make their voices heard. Since then, we have seen many other examples of citizen activism. Concerned parents organised as No2NP and forced the Scottish Government to think again over their Named Person scheme.
We have seen campaigns from football fans over proposed ‘offensive behaviour’ legislation, and community groups like Save Govanhill bravely challenging the political establishment’s apparent indifference.
Social media has created influential voices who shape political debate in a new way. My favourite example is the individual economics bloggers who spend their spare time correcting our politicians’ “alternative truths”. They provide a valued public service, complementing mainstream journalists. Digital empowerment enhances traditional means of activism. When we started Scotland in Union in 2015, it was just a group of people who met through old-fashioned campaigning during the 2014 referendum. Through our online presence, as well as more traditional means, we found thousands of people agreed with us. Social media and online press coverage have been the biggest factors in our campaign’s rapid growth, and helped to create networks of local activists who campaign together on the streets.
Whatever your views, the means to get involved are more readily available than ever before. You can write an email to a newspaper; start a debate on Twitter or Facebook; write a blog; submit a Freedom of Information request; lobby your MSP or MP via platforms such as theyworkforyou.com; crowdfund a billboard; or create a new group to get people behind your cause.
We are no longer passive in the face of change, or in thrall to the establishment. The days of unearned deference to politicians, or unthinking loyalty to a particular party, are falling into the past.
If you feel passionate about a particular cause, do something about it. It’s never been easier, or more effective. Aux armes, citoyens!
Alastair Cameron is a member of Scotland in Union and works as a management consultant in Edinburgh.