Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish artist Matt Baker

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Butterfly Revolution – small positive actions for a better world

Since the momentous days of the referendum campaign I’ve continued to talk and listen to many people who had very different perspectives and involvements in the big conversation over the last 2 years. Where I am standing right now feels like a very positive place – yesterday I was with a group of young people between 17-26, the conversation turned to politics (or rather ‘the world’) – the chat was animated, informed and passionate… sense is that even a year ago this conversation would have been very different…a disinterested shrug and avoidance of eye contact possibly?

My positivity is because I believe that much of the hard work has been done – the referendum has awoken us to the power we have in our own hands to create our own future. So what next?

It has been said that the referendum achieved consensus about the society people wanted...and that the differences were about how to make that happen. By my reckoning the areas of consensus included:

  • Social Democracy – a belief in the principles of transparency, inclusion , ownership and decision-making being in the hands of the many instead of the few.
  • Social Justice – equality of opportunity at the centre of everything we do
  • Social Economy – a society that invests in its people first (through education, welfare and opportunity) rather than focussing on making a climate for ‘business’ and expecting the profits of business to trickle down and provide for citizens.
Many have joined political parties – this is positive stuff….but one of the great lessons of the referendum for me was how ‘politics’ was revealed as just one tool in the kit that we need to make things happen and build lasting and sustainable progress. If we lapse back in to assuming that it is only the politician’s job to do politics then we are one a short route back to disinterested shrugs and avoiding eye contact.

Everyone brought what they could to the referendum debate – be that wit, food, organisation, creativity, commerce, sport….we worked with politicians on an equal footing and felt we had a stake in creating something – rather than feeling that we were being used. Through the consensus we built about the kind of world we wanted to live in we got other places interested in questioning whether they too could think differently about the future…..particularly places close to home like England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

I am forming three basic questions:
  • How to continue the positive consensus of the referendum discussion?
  • How to make that inclusive to everyone, however they voted in the referendum?
  • How to use Scotland’s societal energy as a positive force in other places in the world?
It seems pretty clear to me that the next opportunity to bring this social democratic movement to the fore is in the forthcoming UK General Election – there are some very obvious targets within the Westminster system (eg dodgy democracy like the House of Lords, equality gap of opportunity and wealth in society etc) that could be highlighted by the ‘scottish effect’. But it seems equally clear to me that this will only be possible if we maintain the collective approach that keeps professional politics in an equilibrium with a larger social movement.

I believe that the most effective change comes when ordinary people start to change the world around them themselves – and this then inspires the organisations who maintain our society to become better.

You can’t beat a thousand butterflies with a gun. But, you can beat a gun with a thousand butterflies

I’ve been inspired recently by Gene Sharp's book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ which has become a bible of non-violent change across the world over the last 20 years. Dr Sharp has 198 strategies for people to change the culture of power around them…..a factor that is common to many of these strategies is the use of easily identifiable symbols – so that seemingly diverse acts are connected because they use the same symbolic language. This is where the idea of the Butterfly Revolution comes in.

Not long after the referendum I was part of a group that identified the factors of the ‘scottish effect’ as:

  • Issues not Ideology
  • Practical Acts and Good Craic
  • Aspirational not Oppositional
  • Positive Vision not Party Political'
  • Positive and Inclusive
  • Smart, Funny and Resourceful
  • United Action

We talked about ways of keeping these features alive to the benefit of the three questions raised above.

The idea of the Butterfly Revolution is not new – it is something that grew from different sources during the referendum campaign (notably a post by Robin McAlpine on Bella Caledonia and Andrew Mac’s beautiful Saor Alba poster).

I’d like to put forward a butterfly symbol based on the butterfly in Andrew Mac’s* poster  that stands for all the small acts made by ordinary people towards changing their world using the ‘scottish effect' (the 3 social principles enacted through the factors listed above).

I’m proposing that the use of this symbol is entirely self-stewarded and inclusive. I have made up some button badges and am giving these out to people that I know and work with - if you would like to do the same and spread the Butterfly Revolution then send me an email to studio at and I will send you the image file for the badge and a link to a company that produces badges* very cheaply online – you can order batches of the badges from them for yourself……..or do something altogether different and surprising with the symbol!

Link to Facebook/Twitter ribbon - here

So - what does the Butterfly Revolution stand for? Everyone will have their own answer….mine is 'a movement for a better democracy - brought about by real people doing real things for themselves'

Lets get this done!

You can’t beat a thousand butterflies with a gun. But, you can beat a gun with a thousand butterflies

*if there are any badge manufacturers out there who would like to be part of this by offering at-cost production of the badges – please get in touch

*I've tried unsuccessfully to trace Andrew...if you are reading this please get in touch

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