The UK does not have a written constitution. However, since Scottish devolution, the Human Rights Act and the Scotland Act are seen to be quasi-constitutional documents that frame all public policy decisions. Drawing upon recent participatory democracy and civic engagement processes from other small Nordic nations, the Constitution Street project will take the form of a new, written constitution by, with and for the residents of this, one street in Scotland.
Informed by interviews with my neighbours, census data and archive material, each aspect of our lived experiences and aspirations in relation to one fundamental human right will be explored through storytelling For example, what does the right to food mean for the Turkish café owners, the allotment growers and the Italian fish and chip shop family on Constitution Street? What does the right to private and family life mean for same-sex families, care home residents, new arrivals to the Kirkgate high-rise block and singletons in traditional tenements? What does the right to the highest attainable standard of health care mean for pub landlords or those battling addiction? These in-between complexities and ambiguities will offer a portrait of present day, urban living referencing a think global, act local approach to human development.
In these wildly unsettling and disorientating times for geopolitics with competing claims to national representation, agency and identity, many of us turn to the hyper-local world view and realpolitik of the town, community, or street to find tangible hope in our shared humanity over division and prejudice. Constitution Street in Leith, Edinburgh, stretches east to west for half a mile, from the sea to the city. Its mix of architectural styles and purposes- from residential tenements, a high-rise tower block and a care home, to the industrial docks, whisky warehouses and medieval, cobbled lanes- embodies the constantly shifting dualities of old and new in our capital city and the waves of immigration and emigration mixing culture, language and perspective. Constitution Street is a liminal land, on the cusp of change, in our age of anxiety.
Anxiety is now recognised as systemic amongst so-called Generation Y (those born 1980 – 2000) and often attributed to job insecurity, the high cost of housing, the exposure of social media and perceptions, real or imagined, of having to prove yourself. Understanding the causes and balms for anxiety can make us curious about how we want to be more at ease in the world. In the aftermath of Brexit, Scotland now finds itself in between independence referenda and UK General Elections- poised to undertake further conversations about self-determination and the collective future we want to shape. In between times are the best of times and the worst of times (Dickens) – they make us feel both anxious and excited. It is in this dynamic space that ideas bubble, ferment and rise or fall.
Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.” The Good Samaritan
I am taking a sabbatical from my day job with Voluntary Arts Scotland during July 2017 – February 2018 to research and write Constitution Street. If you have an interest in this work, please get in touch.