This post is taken from my Padua address at the launch of Radix Italy (see full text).
Everywhere in the world we are seeing a movement of people wanting to take control of their own lives. Wanting the structures of government to move closer. To be able to listen, to be flexible, and to tailor solutions that fit their communities.
And, above all, they want their government to be human not bureaucratic.
Brexit, the movement for Catalan secession and, before that, Basque autonomy, the movement for regional autonomy in Italy, the desire for Scottish independence, the recent split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These are all symptoms of societies that want to feel that they have control over their own lives.
At Radix, we are strong supporters of the devolution of power. We believe that centralised power is, eventually, destructive. That communities do better when they work out for themselves how they should thrive. When the governing institutions are part of local community structures rather than trying to run everything by bureaucratic remote control.
But – and there is always a but – we must also be careful. There is a risk that autonomous movements fall into the trap of trying to gain support through the politics of division. That they divide by emphasising cultural difference rather than shared ambitions. That they become nothing more than petty and degrading arguments about how much money is paid to others – whether it’s the European Union or other regions in the same country.
These arguments are divisive and unhelpful. They undermine, and eventually destroy, feelings of solidarity. And without strong solidarity, no democracy can survive.
Rather than the politics of division, I would much rather challenge autonomous movements to come up with a new vision. To be able to tell their citizens how, once they have control, they will do things differently. How they will be better able to adapt to the modern world and prosper within it. And how, importantly, autonomy or independence are not mechanisms for shutting off co-operation with others.
Rather they can be mechanisms for a more flexible co-operation. Co-operation that is given willingly rather than being imposed from above.
That is why at Radix in the UK we are just about to launch a new project. It is called Britain 2050. Britain will be out of but close to the European Union. What is our vision for what that Britain will look like by 2050?
We aim to bring together people from all the different political parties and those outside to see if we can unite behind a shared vision for our future.