During Common Weal's new #CommonFuture campaign, the team will be taking you on their Common Weal journey. Here, Common Weal’s Operations Manager Tiffany Kane explains why she wants to keep fighting to transform Scotland
I WASN’T ALWAYS an independence supporter.
In the run up to the referendum I was a working class woman enrolled as a mature student at a university where the majority of lecturers were unionists and there wasn’t any obvious campus activism. I was struggling to find any information outwith the mainstream media – and the media seemed absolutely certain an independent Scotland was only for utopian idealists and dreamers who didn’t have a clue about how to organise an economy and society properly.
But I knew I wanted things to be different. Most of my friends and family had given up on politics after New Labour and the Iraq war - they stopped believing anything would change. They were so disillusioned that they thought I was wasting my time even considering if independence could mean a different kind of future for Scotland.
But I was studying sociology and spending hours reading about the social and economic systems we were living in. I was starting to understand the way our economic system was creating a vastly unequal society. I was seeing clearly how it was shaping our culture, impacting on our mental health and wellbeing, on our workers’ rights, and destroying our environment.
I was understanding how it led to the housing crisis and why it generated global and economic inequalities. When you start to see the world through different eyes and challenge everything you once took for granted it has a transformative effect on you.
I was also working part-time for The Big Issue and hearing harrowing stories from people who felt let down by the system and excluded from society. I decided that accepting the status quo wasn’t an option for me. This surely wasn’t the best we could do.
So I looked for answers in what was the early stages of the independence campaign. I was hoping to believe that this could be the answer. But at first I just wasn’t inspired. It simply didn't grab me. It sounded too much like more of the same.
And then I discovered Common Weal.
Criticising what was clearly wrong with the system was the easy part, anyone could do that. The hard part was mapping out a clear alternative. Common Weal was imaginative and creative, it had clear ideas about transforming Scotland into a better place, armed with ideas about how we could build a better society that looks after people and planet. It was exciting. It was bold and confident and it convinced me without a shadow of a doubt that we could do this. That independence was worth the fight.
And that was me hooked. I read everything they published, signed up as a regular donor, and spoke about them to anyone who would listen. And the enthusiasm I felt helped me convince many friends and family that independence was an opportunity we could not pass up.
We know we didn’t get the result we worked so hard for. But for me there was one thing that still gave hope; we still had Common Weal ideas and vision. That provided enough inspiration and passion to keep me going.
I graduated from uni totally skint and ended up working for my worst nightmare - a bank. Good money, soul destroying work. I was preparing my application for a masters in political comms when my sister informed me about a job at Common Weal. I jumped at the chance. Not a hope in hell of getting it because I didn’t have the experience, but I went in with the mindset that I would start by cleaning the lavvys if it meant I could be part of something I really believed was essential for shaping the future of Scotland.
I didn’t get the job. But the director said there might be potential for me to do something else. Fast forward two and half years as Operations Manager and I still feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it.
Don’t get me wrong – there are challenging times in here. It can be hard work. But when you’re trying to make a massive impact on your country and trying to transform your society it’s not going to be easy. But that’s why we do it. I can hand on my heart say that I’ve never worked anywhere where people are so committed to their work. That’s because it’s so much more than a job to us. Every single person that works here could easily earn double what they are on now somewhere else. But we believe in what we’re doing and for us it’s worth it. What’s life all about if you don’t have a moral purpose?
As Operations Manager one of my jobs is looking after staff. The director is the only person really working full time. The rest of us are contracted between 25-30 hours. Some of us have two jobs; everyone would pack them in in a second and dedicate all their time to this work if they could. The model we’ve created works, but it’s hard to sustain. We want to keep doing what we’re doing but do it better. It's just difficult when your resources are limited.
I’m proud of the team and everything we’ve achieved. But I can't help imagine what we could achieve if everyone was on full time hours, on salaries that meant they could commit for the long term – and if we had a budget for more creative projects. We're always planning for the future (and many of our supporters are constantly coming up with brilliant ideas which shape a lot of what we do). I could be here all day listing the exciting ideas we have. But to make more of them possible we need to up our game.
So I feel I have to ask you: where would we be without any of the work Common Weal has done? No National Investment Bank. No work on a Scottish currency or any of the other big policy questions about Scottish independence. No CommonSpace employing journalists to write real, independently-minded news. On everything from childcare to challenging GERS, from public rental housing to participatory democracy, fracking to ending PFI – who would have put in the hours to produce the work that moved us forward?
Common Weal is like a magnet for those of us who really care about social change. I’ve met incredible people on this journey like the hundreds of Common Weal locals who still blow me away with how much of their free, volunteered time they put into changing their local communities (don’t miss the brilliant event they have organised for this month – ‘Gearing up: For a Better Scotland’. And the dozens and dozens of people who have given up their time to write policy papers and books, speak at events and volunteer.
And of course there's the many, many of you who email us to say thanks or to offer ideas or to tell us which bits of our work matter to you. Your generosity, constant encouragement and praise makes all of this worth it. People tell me Common Weal gives them hope. It gives them confidence. At events I meet supporters who wear their Common Weal badge with pride and tell me that it feels good knowing they are part of something important, something they feel is making history.
We want to keep fighting for Scotland and making a difference – but without always asking too much of our staff we need your help. We’re asking all supporters to please consider if they think Scotland is in a better position because of Common Weal. And if the answer is yes, please take action by becoming a regular supporter with our current average of £10 a month (or £5, or more if you can afford it). Whatever you can afford it will make an enormous difference.
After two and a half years at Common Weal I’m more convinced than ever that this was the best decision I’ve ever made. Without Common Weal I don’t know if I would have been as committed to Scottish independence or ever believed that social change was possible.
I’d love so many more of you to be part of this. I think it’s worth every penny.
HELP BUILD A COMMON FUTURE TOGETHER: Visit allofusfirst.org/donate