The Scottish Parliament's think-tank

In An Enlightened Future by Susie Maguire

Photo of silver birch treesPhoto by John Price on Unsplash

Susie Maguire, the writer and performer, was unable to take part as planned in the Futures Forum’s event on “Scotland 2030: A Citizen’s Income?” on Tuesday 2 April 2019. We therefore asked her to contribute her thoughts on the issue in whichever way she wanted.

Below is Susie’s response – a dream – along with her reflections on the piece and several reference points that she used in its preparation.

Alice dreams. In the hours before waking, her REM sleep is filled with images of herself in situations which are pleasing. She walks through a glass-sided corridor in a renovated building, towards a group of people who, it seems to her, are colleagues and friends. They talk about their plans for the morning; some of them will cook lunch for a 50 at a care-centre, some will give one-to-one contact with the residents, some will clean, some will run music and art workshops. This is their volunteering unit, and they love it.

Alice knows she will be reading to about 14 people today. She can see their faces alter from shuttered to absorbed, as her voice draws them in to a journey which flows through a symbolic landscape. A few have their eyes closed and one has curled up on the floor cushions, transported to her own child-scapes of playful discovery.

Alice’s dream changes, skips forward to tomorrow and tomorrow, when the hours will be hers to use, and she pictures a huge new roll of lining paper hanging from the wall of her room, the bundles of her paint and collage materials, and the words and images she wants to work with. They came to her in previous dreams, distant flags from her subconscious. There are 3 figures, herself at different times and ages. One is protecting Two, and Three is running ahead up a hill towards a tree laden with fruit.

In her dream, Alice smiles and outside it her body begins to wake up, but she is still deep inside the dream. She finds a bunch of flowers in her hands, irises, pansies, lilies, all her favourites. She is dressed in strong red and lilac clothing, in a painted room, reading. Is she in a Matisse painting, or living as one? 

She turns over to the cool part of the pillow and her dream fragments. The sky darkens. She is in a queue somewhere. Restless. Nobody is talking. She struggles to see what she’s queueing for – some kind of office ahead, with a couple of guards by the door. Papers are requested. Alice worries about her papers. Has she brought them? All of them, every detail on every form she ever filled? No. How will she answer their questions? She isn’t sure what day it is, what she’s there for, but it seems there will be an interrogation. The queue moves. She hears a voice asking: How does she use her time? What time? Isn’t she working every minute? No? Is she ill? She is recovering. It’s not easy. Whose problem is that? Hers. She can’t find words to explain why this is not true and not fair. She sees herself in front of a desk, apologising for something. She’s going to cry. It’s humiliating. 

She turns her head away and breathes and then turns back to the face at the desk. She could paint this face. It is a mixture of self-importance, duty, and unhappiness. Two faces, the real person and their work persona. The uniform face. Could she help this person? Could she give them part of her dream? Take them out into her landscape, point to the distant flags. How would they interpret the faint symbols? ‘Come and see’ or ‘Keep away’? Would they laugh at their own dreams and visions, bury them under their desks? 

In her dream, she asks for time. She wants time to be elastic and unpressured. She sees an opportunity for connection.
To each according to their needs, from each according to their ability.
Reversing power systems.
Clouds moving rapidly across gold, pewter, silver skies.
The words Confidence, Imagining, Humanity, 20 feet high, spelled out across hillsides above a set of carved chalk-figures, individuals, families, the young and the elderly. 
Communal lives, etched into being as a mark of intent. 
Equality. Fulfillment. Purpose. 

She looks at the uniformed person’s eyes again. How would such things be intrerpreted, from behind that desk, that defensive structure? Could they see what she sees? A river, a boat, a coastline, a blue sail painted with a dolphin? A forest stretching for glen after glen, and running through it – she turns over again – people older than herself, much older, white-haired, bald, moving, stretching, like trees themselves. Some hold saplings, some dig holes to plant them. The pattern repeats. Escher-like, a continuity of renewal. 

Light is reaching her, where she sleeps. Her vision becomes that of a soaring bird, perspective and focus shift. The higher she is lifted by the warm wind, the further she sees. Below her is a land alive and breathing. That is where she lives. This is the connection.

Reference points

There are many personal stories of the experience of poverty and its effect on individual lives, and plenty of factual information out there to support or to negate them. I wanted to present something lateral that doesn’t supply easy answers or argue with a view to the practicalities of funding, but looks instead at the question ‘WHO ARE WE AND HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE?’ 

Besides, I was never any good at arithmetic, better at stories.

I hope that, framed in this way, I’ve offered a creative, open view of that question, for individual interpretation. Alice is, of course, going through a Looking Glass into an imagined enlightened future where fear and enforcement are no longer tools to be used against citizens. 

Below I’ve added six links to recent (indeed very recent) views in newspapers or other online places about life in poverty, anxiety, the Machine of the Systems we live with now. 

I hope this might be seen as a necessary background to the (huge) topic and the dominant ‘we can’t, it’s impossible’ discourse about changes.

“Arts contribute more to UK economy than agriculture – report”

“Bill Shorten: ‘Poverty wastes people, it wastes opportunity'”

“Report on authors’ earnings has worrying implications for diversity”

“Coming soon: the great universal credit deception”

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee: Welfare safety net inquiry

Very Well Mind: Mental Health Resources

Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Susie Maguire, May 2019

The Author

Susie Maguire is a writer, performer, tutor, editor and dreamer. She is currently co-editor of New Writing Scotland, the annual collection published by The Association For Scottish Literary Studies, at the University of Glasgow (editions 35, 36 & forthcoming 37).  

Scotland 2030: A Citizen’s Income

Video, podcast and written report of our event on 2 April all available here

Scotland’s Futures Forum exists to encourage debate. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the Futures Forum’s views.