With the threat of Stormont collapsing gaining more headlines in our papers, a group called Make it Work has emerged to pressure civil society into engaging positively with the political process. Writing for Slugger, Peter McBride, Chair of ‘Make It Work’ argues for a positive approach towards our devolved administration.
Why would we have to mount a campaign to make this place work? That sums up the challenge perfectly – it isn’t working.
Our politicians have made enormous progress since the conflict, of course they have; political violence, murder and assassinations have all but been eliminated. Not completely, but nearly.
But they need to finish the job, to create the conditions for stability, growth and participative democracy. The governments also have an important role, as conveners of, and contributors to the Talks process, and as guarantors of the Belfast / Good Friday, St Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements – they must apply brainpower and brawn in various formats to ensure serious work is achieved.
Remarkably, the ‘ugly scaffolding’ around the edifices of the institutions has served us well; it has created political stability, albeit to the point of gridlock. Just look at the politics of Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland and the UK and you can observe their volatility, alienation, dizzying speed and constant change! We might reflect on the benefits of this certainty, as we redouble our efforts to improve the practice of government.
How might this be achieved?
First, we must sweep away the cynicism – it’s too easy to carp and complain from the side-lines; that’s why the spontaneous movement of ‘Make it Work’ came into being, born of a passion for improvement.
Second, we must re-engage with the politicians and the government(s); they have a lonely, or at least, disconnected time, in many ways, exercising power in a kind of vacuum, often unsupported by party structures, strong branches, animated conferences and robust evidence-led debate; that’s where Make it Work hopes to help channel some of those frustrations, but also the raft of creative ideas and innovative solutions into the Talks process and the accompanying discourse in civil society – that’s what makes up participative democracy. We respect electoral democracy too, of course.
Third, we must find ways for ordinary people and groups, trades unions and workplaces, businesses and clubs, societies and community groups to find their voice. So far, we have encountered anger, frustration and scepticism about our chances of success, but also passion and energy to build a better future.
Our young people’s volunteers have been asking ‘Why Make it Work?’ and posting the responses online @MakeItWorkToday – that cheers me up every day, as I see enthusiasm and eagerness, to counter the jaded voices of those of us who are weary with stasis.
Fourth, we must critique what our politicians are doing and saying; likewise the governments, the US and the EU. This isn’t just a cheer-leading campaign, however important that function is to encourage our decision-makers to make bold progress – it will have content, too; as we talk to groups ‘out there’, we are hearing their concerns and their aspirations for a better future. We hope to give expression to those voices and to raise the level of political and policy debate – that is the duty of all active citizens. We relish the opportunity.
Fifth, and finally, we want to build a better place, a fully functioning democracy where voters and citizens can have their hopes and fears met and challenged, a safer, prosperous society where the balance between economic growth and social cohesion can be managed sustainably.
That’s why our clarion call is lucid and compelling: ‘Make It Work’!