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It’s been a pretty exciting time to live in Scotland recently. The small matter of the referendum on independence and its implications have been debated to the smallest detail, but as a Scot living in Scotland the most exciting aspect for me was the vibrant discussion around politics, democracy, identity and representation which overtook the country.  I remember standing in some very un-Scottish sunshine at the Kelpies sculpture outside Falkirk watching my children play in the park, and being astounded by the fact the at least 75% of the conversations around me revolved around debates on currency, the long term viability and capacity of north sea oil fields and the future development of Scotland as a democratic nation. Not topics you would normally expect to hear on a sunny summer’s day!

On the 18th September, the majority of Scots, turning out in record numbers, voted no to independence – however, I do not believe that they voted either in favour of a status quo or against change.  Rather, the consensus of the debate, enshrined in the now infamous Vow of the leaders of the main pro-Union parties, was that change was not only needed, but inevitable, and that there was an appetite to deliver it.

It is within this context that restructures that we have been making in the Fellowship department at the RSA are particularly relevant and timely. I have been appointed to the newly created Head of RSA Scotland post, with a very specific remit to develop the activity and impact of the RSA in Scotland.  Scotland is crying out for opportunities to continue to engage the population and to explore new ideas and ways of delivering services, and the RSA, as a non-partisan international thought leader, is an ideal space in which to facilitate these conversations and explorations.  Having been working with our Fellows in Scotland for the past four and a half years, in other capacities, I am keen to help RSA Scotland rise to this opportunity and to make a difference.

In my opinion, the key way to do this is by harnessing the work we are doing at the RSA on the Power to Create. It is an approach which has significant resonance in Scotland, particularly given the scope for innovation and creativity within our education system.  Having spoken on the topic several times this year in Scotland, I have found that audiences can see the relevance of it to our current debates, standing as an innovative response to the stale structures which have lost public support.  The outcome of the referendum, where the winners have ended up looking like they lost the vote, requires new, creative solutions to address many of the challenges we face in Scotland which have been lost in the background of the referendum debate.

I think that as a devolved, and devolving, part of the RSA, an increased focus on impact, thought leadership and collaboration in Scotland will build on and expand existing work and opportunities at the RSA, by:

  • Working in partnership with our colleagues in ARC and other departments to develop joint pieces of work in Scotland – demonstrated previously in our work with 2020 Public Services around social productivity, and moving forward with a new project with the RSA Design team on Great Recovery;
  • Expanding existing pieces of RSA work into a Scottish context – for example exploring the implications for Scotland of the recently published Cities Growth Commission report, where our cities operate in a very different context;
  • And to develop our own programmes of activity – we already have a strong portfolio including our work with MAKLab, Social Financing and Public Banking, but there is huge potential for us to develop our activity even further.

So how can you contribute to this new approach in Scotland? Well, if you are a Scottish Fellow, now is the time to become involved.  We have a good team of Fellows leading a diverse programme of activity and events, and are always look to increase the reach of this work.  Contact me if you have ideas for partnerships, collaboration or projects, as we don’t intend to reinvent the wheel when there is work already underway in Scotland.  I will be blogging on some of the projects we are developing in Scotland when they are underway, and will always welcome your feedback and input.  And if you are not in Scotland, we would still welcome your contribution – the RSA is a global organisation and our activity will always be outward looking and inclusive in nature.

These are exciting times in Scotland, and for the RSA more generally; here’s to seeing our vision flourish.

Jamie Cooke is Head of RSA Scotland.  You can follow him @JamieACooke or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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