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People & Parliament - 0 - Methodology

 

Click Links from the Menu below to Navigate the People & Parliament Report

Summary and Contents Part 3 - Political Process Sample Participant Forms
Part 0 - Methodology Part 4 - Raw Data Related Material: The Parekh Report
Part 1- Identities Part 5 - Sources Embracing Multicultural Scotland Report
Part 2 - Vision Part 6 - Statistics Le Monde Diplomatique Article

 

People & Parliament

 

Part 0 of the Full Report - Methodology

    (numbered as such to allow Parts 1-3 to reflect the 3 main questions asked)


 

0. An Exploration of National Values

 

0.1 Why People & Parliament?

 

Scotland’s new Parliament will be the first time we have ever had a democratic assembly of our own. The old Parliament - the one that existed until 1707 - gave no voice to such groups as women and the poor.

 

The new one is different. It is equally for all Scots, and for the purposes of this report we will use the word “Scot” in a very wide sense. We will take it to mean anybody who lives here and is willing to cherish and be cherished by this place and its many peoples.

 

The new Parliament faces us with an exciting challenge. It offers a rare opportunity for a modern nation to completely rethink how it does politics.

 

It means that groups whose voices have been unheard in the past might be listened to. It means that visions for the future might be shared and worked towards. It means that the best of ancient and modern ways of making national decisions might be allowed to find expression.

 

But to rise to that challenge means that we, the people of Scotland, must present our politicians and civil servants with a clear understanding of the values that we want them to express on our behalf.

 

In 1997 a small committee of ordinary citizens gathered under the convenorship of Canon Kenyon Wright to launch a project that would allow values to be deeply explored or “discerned,” thereby deepening and widening the debate about Scotland’s future.

 

The steering group sent invitations through dozens of organisations and media ranging from The Big Issue (circulation 68,000) to BBC Gaelic TV. Representations were made to every Scottish Council and presentations given at community events such as the Portree Mod. These invitations invited people to form People and Parliament Groups that would discuss three “questions” or issues about Scotland. In total, 30,000 printed forms were circulated in the autumn of 1998, going out to all parts of Scotland.

 

The first question was to be answered by completing a paragraph beginning: “We are a people who....” This aimed to help people discern their sense of place, belonging, identity and values as they are  now. It was preceded by a “warm-up” exercise which invited “each person [to] spend a few minutes sharing a personal experience of life in Scotland today.”

 

The second question aimed at visioning the future. It was answered by completing a paragraph that starts: “By the year 2020 we would like to see a Scotland in which....”

 

The third question asks people how they think politics should be conducted if the desired future is successfully to develop from present-day reality. It is therefore answered by completing a paragraph that begins: “We therefore expect our Parliament to work with the people in ways which...”

 

0.2 The Public’s Response

 

In the autumn to winter of 1998 nearly 500 groups met throughout most regions of Scotland. These should not be considered to be a “scientific sample,” but they could fairly be said to represent the voices of those Scottish communities with a voice to be heard. Our main concern was to get as many people as possible involved with the process of expressing what they want from their Parliament. In addition to all the groups that responded, we know that a great many other groups and individuals have found the questions stimulating to reflect upon. Interest in our methodology has therefore also been expressed further afield, for example, in England and even India, including through such bodies as the UK United Nations Committee, senior staff in the Foreign Office and politicians and government officials in New Delhi.

 

Canon Kenyon Wright’s position as Chair of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and a member of the Scottish Office’s Consultative Steering Group which, on 15 January 1999, revealed its all-party consensual work on the operating procedures for the new Scottish Parliament, has ensured that People and Parliament findings have been continuously if indirectly fed in to Scottish Office thinking. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to suggest that this national exercise may have made an impact at a crucial time, and may have done so even before its completion and publication.

 

The People & Parliament committee placed special emphasis on reaching groups which often go virtually unheard. The results therefore represent high proportions of people living in poverty, disabled folk, ethnic and linguistic minorities, women and children. Many of these groups also constitute high proportions of the Scottish population where, according to a 1995 Scotsman report, roughly one fifth live at or below the European dignity threshold.

 

The results presented below come mainly from Scotland’s grassroots communities. However, we were heartened to note that where groups such as business and professional people took part, the values they expressed were surprisingly similar to those of marginalised people. That is to say, there was a high level of “confluence” or “flowing together” of most of the main findings. Participants in People & Parliament appear to represent a people who hold a fairly coherent set of national values.

 

It is important to remember that the groups represented here are self-selected. Nobody was forced to take part in order to create a representative sample. As such, there is an inevitable bias towards those people in the population who take an interest in values and the Parliament. These, however, will also be the sort of people who stimulate debate about values when the new Parliament is running. They will be “opinion leaders” in their respective fields and communities. How they think is likely to influence others who have less well-formed views. As such, the self-selection of groups in our sample is not necessarily a flaw, but it must be kept in mind if generalising about all Scottish people. For example, if there had been a group that had said, “We are a people who drink a lot and hate the English,” such a voice would have been likely, because of the nature of the process, to be under-represented. Also, even allowing for differences in population density, some areas are more represented than others. For example, Fife Council was one that took the process to heart and organised a good response from that region.

 

 

0.3 Method of Data Analysis

 

Because it was left to groups how they wanted to structure their response to each open-ended question, the method we have used is good for finding out the scope of what people think but it is bad at quantifying how strongly they think these things. As such, this is what would be called a “qualitative” endeavour rather than a “quantitative” or measurable one.

 

For example, many groups mentioned that they want to see Scotland get rid of nuclear weapons. It is therefore defensible to conclude with a statement like, “A considerable number of groups voiced opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland.” However, it would be meaningless to count up the number of times this is mentioned and express it as a percentage. To do so would be pseudo-scientific because, if they had been specifically asked about, say, Trident nuclear submarines, there would have been many other groups who would have added their voice of opposition, and some would have wanted to say that they think Trident should stay.

 

Such information is best handled by quantitative surveys - ones which ask a representative sample of the population a specific question, and then calculate the percentage of agreement or disagreement. Our concern has been to get to something deeper and richer than mere percentages. We have tried to develop a methodology which exposes the roots of what Scottish people think about their nation and its democratic processes, and why they think in that way. Our approach, for example, is capable of showing how factors like religious belief, educational tradition, history and the effects of place on the human mind interweave in causing, to take the example already mentioned, many of our people to have an unease about something like nuclear weapons. As such, a study like this possibly penetrates beyond just the grassroots of what can be superficial opinions, and down into the taproots of national identity and aspiration.

 

But how does one get at such a picture from the collected musings of hundreds of little groups scattered around Scotland? The approach that we have developed entails discernment. Discernment can have many meanings. One of these is that of Ignatian spirituality. Another, very similar, is Quaker. Other approaches are found in different faith traditions and, of course, many are secular. Obviously, different people choose to interpret the word in different ways.  One sense in which we will use the word here is that to discern something is to mull it over and sift through sense and nonsense until a meaningful and collectively agreed picture emerges.

 

Clearly, two levels of discernment have been exercised in producing this report. The first and most important is that each People & Parliament group has conducted its own discernment exercise producing their results. Both from direct observation and reports back, our Steering Committee understands that this could be a deeply thought-provoking, moving, and even transformative experience for many of the participants.

 

The second level was discernment of the results by members of the Committee. We went about this by taking each response form and highlighting the statements that most stood out - what we called “indicative statements” because they indicate something that was striking and was therefore a possible part of a bigger picture; a deeper taproot. Obviously, we selected statements that made points strongly and well, regardless of whether or not we agreed with them. Indeed, one of the criteria for selection, was that if a statement seemed to be of little consequence, but it was felt to be an “irritation,” in some way, it was included. This was on the basis that we human beings rarely censor points of view that we dislike directly, but tend unconsciously to censor by acting as if statements with which we might disagree are irrelevant, unhelpful or repetitive of what has already been said. An example of a statement that was included on this basis was the one from three boys at a Glasgow school bluntly saying, “We want to see Saddam Hussein obliterated.” 

 

After selection, indicative statements were coded and grouped into nine categories for each question. These categories - the “coding frames” - was not selected in advance. Rather, they evolved as being what was necessary to contain the range of views expressed by respondents.

 

Finally, we conducted a Committee discernment process to corroborate and extend our own impressions of what was important, and gauge more clearly how different groups’ statements interconnected. This was undertaken by each committee member presenting their individual perceptions of the main issues contained within the original responses. By listening to the presentations of each other, we then tried to learn our individual blind spots and limitations, reassessing our understanding of the issues in the light of this heightened awareness. After discussion of what we had learned as a group, we then tried to discern in a more balanced, objective way, the issues which, we felt, participants would wish us to highlight, on their behalf, in the final report.

 

A kind of story or picture thereby starts to emerge. This is meaningful because it “makes sense” of the range of what people are saying. Even contradictory statements can make sense when understood as a stream of national consciousness that, on certain issues, braids like a river of many streams over rough ground but then reunites elsewhere. For instance, many groups considered Scottish identity to be distinct and important. However, there was wide divergence as to whether this should best be expressed within a continuing Union or through independence. Whichever of these views was held, the aim tended to be similar - to benefit community, improve health and education, etc..

 

From reflection on such material a “story” - the people’s story - was then woven together. This weaving is presented below using quotations to illustrate the points that emerged strongly. Where it seems appropriate so to do, these have been attributed so as to reflect the diversity of voices that were speaking.

 

 


0.4 Stratified Sample Study, and Presentation

 

To encourage maximum participation and for other reasons just stated, the discernment methodology developed in People & Parliament’s approach did not work with a scientific sample of the Scottish population - that is to say, a sample “stratified” to include representative proportions of all sectors of Scottish society. However, we note that the findings that People & Parliament has come up with from Scotland’s grassroots people are very similar in nature to those of the consultation exercise conducted by the Scottish Office’s parliamentary Consultative Steering Group - a study which also used key informants rather than a stratified sampling approach. However, to test our sense that our findings are broadly representative we have commissioned an independent System Three poll to test six closed-response statements with a representative population sample. These statements have been chosen to reflect a typical consensus from our response groups. As this poll has not been completed at the time of printing this report, its findings will be available subsequently on request (address in front of this report).

 

A executive report of the published results is being issued to the press and to all candidates in the elections for the Scottish Parliament in March 1999. This means that candidates will be better informed than they might have been.

 

A short summary of the findings will be sent to all groups for which People & Parliament have addresses. The executive report will be sent to all who participated and sent an SAE specifically to indicate that they wanted feedback.

 

After a period of time, the original People & Parliament response forms will be deposited for public consultation (except in cases where confidentiality has been requested). This is expected to be in either the National Library for Scotland or the Scottish Record Office.

 

0.5 Attribution of Statements

 

People & Parliament has been a process that reflects the open sharing of information that many respondents say they expect of the Parliament. As such, it has been open to any group to participate. Groups were told that “a summary will be produced using all of the responses” and that this would be “presented to the press and all members of the Scottish Parliament...”

 

It was clear from the response sheets that whereas some groups were speaking officially on behalf of their organisations, others were meeting under organisational auspices in a very loose way. Accordingly, it would be safest to say that whereas the following document often presents information at face value as being associated with a particular organisation, it should not be assumed that these organisations’ governing bodies have necessarily given their blessing to the statements in question.

 

In presenting the narrative commentary analysing the findings, we have tried to draw a careful balance between attributing statements to groups that might want to be acknowledged, and protecting the identity of others that might not wish this. One consequence is that, in places, the narrative may appear to give a more pronounced voice to “established” groups. For example, a statement like “Friends of the Earth in Stirling said...” may impact upon the mind more than a bland statement like “a Stirling environmental group said...” We would ask readers to be aware of this and not be misled into thinking that the contributions of potentially vulnerable groups have been downplayed.

 

Every attempt has been made to transcribe with accuracy the usually handwritten statements made by the respondents on the original response sheets. If any doubts arise as to accuracy, further reference can be made to the original response sheets which we hope to lodge in a public place of safekeeping as stated above.

 

Most of the quoted statements below can be seen in fuller context and sourced in the appended tables under the appropriate coding frame response category. Sometimes, however, quotes have been taken from different categories and so they will be harder to identify with ease. This is inevitable because statements often apply to more than one category and also, there is an inevitable element of arbitrariness in the coding. Please note that material quoted from response sheets is either in quotation marks or indented text.

 

Click Links from the Menu below to Navigate the People & Parliament Report

Summary and Contents Part 3 - Political Process Sample Participant Forms
Part 0 - Methodology Part 4 - Raw Data Related Material: The Parekh Report
Part 1- Identities Part 5 - Sources Embracing Multicultural Scotland Report
Part 2 - Vision Part 6 - Statistics Le Monde Diplomatique Article

 

 

 

 

 

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