Co-creating a new Scottish Enlightenment - RSA

Co-creating a new Scottish Enlightenment


  • Picture of Jamie Andrew Cooke
    Jamie Andrew Cooke
    Head of RSA Scotland
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21st Century Enlightenment. This phrase is much more than simply our tagline at the RSA, it is the driving motivation behind the work we do, a commitment to the principles we were founded upon alongside an aim to make the relevant and impactful in the world we live in today.

These principles were grown across Europe from a number of different thinkers, but owes a strong gratitude to the work which was developed in Scotland, when Edinburgh was viewed as the Athens of the North (slightly galling to me as someone living outside Glasgow!).

It is unsurprising therefore that within our ongoing work at the RSA, Scotland has a critical role to play. RSA Scotland, which I am honoured to head up, is a vibrant part of the global Fellowship, serving as a connection point between the RSA in the UK and the rest of the world. We are leading a wide range of exciting projects with colleagues from our ARC (Action Research Centre) team; have a varied programme of events, lectures and networks in Scotland; and collaborate with colleagues in the US, Australia and elsewhere to develop activity. With a growing Fellowship of talented, committed people from across the country, we are in a great position to increase our impact and to help improve the country.

This impact is underpinned by collaboration, and in a Scottish context one of our key collaborations is with the Scottish Government. This was highlighted yesterday when the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon MSP gave a keynote speech on Brexit at the RSA House in London. Standing in our iconic Great Room, she reflected on the Enlightenment links that we share and the opportunities which are ahead of us if we can harness those principles.

We are a non-partisan organisation and the topic of her speech was not RSA policy, yet the underpinning values of seeking to find ways to enhance universalism, autonomy and humanism are reflected in the approach and vision being pursued by the Scottish Government. There are a number of thematic areas where we work together – the development of potential basic income trials in Scotland, where the Scottish Government has built upon RSA work; inclusive growth; public health; procurement; and planning.

This collaboration, rooted in a foundation of the RSA being a critical friend that supports and challenges from a position of interest in the greater good, is helping to increase our impact in Scotland. It helps ensure that our work, whether the Inclusive Growth Commission or reports on Basic Income, is not simply talk but rather has the chance to shape policy and direction of travel in Scotland.

Given the turbulent times ahead of us with Brexit, I believe the space and need for a safe, independent space like the RSA has never been greater – we have to provide the opportunity to create a new way of doing policy and thought leadership, where, as Matthew Taylor outlined, politics can be a source of wisdom and hope.

It is an exciting time for RSA Scotland, a challenge that we are enthusiastically responding to. Working with our nation Fellowship Councillors, Lesley Martin and Neil Mclennan, and our Scottish-based thematic Councillor Brian McLeish, the team is exploring ways that we can continue to be a beacon of Enlightenment in Scotland and the world. 

We will continue to respect the critical friend role that we can play with Scottish Government and other key stakeholders, and to explore the ways that we can help to shape policy in Scotland.

Critically, we need you as Fellows and friends of the RSA to help us achieve that goal – contact us with your ideas, your connections and your opportunities.  Times of turbulence can also be times of creativity if we rise to them – help us co-create a new Scottish Enlightenment at the very time we need it most.

Jamie Cooke is Head of RSA Scotland. Connect with him on Twitter @JamieACooke and @theRSAScotland, and via email at [email protected]  

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