Val McDermid's challenge to 'Imagine a Country' should make us think about how greater equality can reduce Scotland's crime rate – Karyn McCluskey

I have been thinking about hope – its role in shaping our futures and its link to imagination.

Author Val McDermid and Professor Jo Sharp asked 100 people in Scotland to write 1,000 words about the future for a collection of essays called 'Imagine a Country' (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Author Val McDermid and Professor Jo Sharp asked 100 people in Scotland to write 1,000 words about the future for a collection of essays called 'Imagine a Country' (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Eminent UK neurosurgeon Henry Marsh has written a wonderful book, called And Finally, about operating on patients with complex brain cancers and conditions and his own diagnosis of prostate cancer. He writes about the role of hope and how even patients with a terminal condition strive for it.

“Hope is a state of mind, and states of minds are physical states in our brains, and our brains are intimately connected to our bodies,” he said.

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Hope is a positive cognitive state, it enables well-being and sits alongside our determination and planning to reach a goal. It is rooted in much of the work around positive psychology by Martin Seligman and others, and it’s complicated.

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We cannot long for something to happen and yet know that it never will. Having hope means that we develop the agency to change ourselves, systems and indeed a country.

Hope is a potent emotion, if enough people feel it and act upon it, then great change is possible.

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This leads me to imagination. Author Val McDermid and Professor Jo Sharp asked 100 people from all walks of life across Scotland to write 1,000 words about the future and what they would want to see in a country they wanted to live in. They called the collection “Imagine a Country”.

I wrote about libraries, the opportunity to read, expand our knowledge and brains and explore. Others penned chapters from zero-carbon to supporting children, from the Enlightenment to teaching children philosophy, from the joy of wooden huts to having children fed, happy and safe.

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Book review: Imagine a Country, Edited by Val McDermid & Jo Sharp

It is an embarrassment of riches in its diversity of thought and ideas. Reading it tilts my world a little, encourages consideration about what change looks like from a different angle and reprioritises what is important to people. It is an imaginary McDermid-and-Sharp citizens’ assembly.

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Some suggestions are eminently achievable, and indeed perhaps already on the way to being realised. Others are constrained by a myriad of issues, such as re-establishing ‘trust’, as who do we trust now?

Others I read, nodding my head, thinking that would be wonderful, but I don’t think that will ever happen. That’s the most dangerous mindset, writing something off before it starts, becoming the naysayer. To stop imagining.

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Val and Jo are discussing Imagine a Country at the Edinburgh book festival this month and I look forward to the questions and the conversation. I’ll try to bring an open mind.

What has this to do with justice? So many of the ideas contained would transform the lives of so many of us. They could deliver equity and equality, for well-being and policies and practices helping to prevent people from breaking the law. The outcome would be far fewer people in the justice system, far fewer victims and much more.

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It would be wonderful to replicate these 100 stories, with 100 people who live lives far from the book festival, and 100 young people who might come up with something quite different. We need to make room for new voices, new ideas and not crowd them out. We could all do with a little more hope and imagination.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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