Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments


Can Citizenship be a Gift?

The reality of citizenship as a moral ideal may be visible anywhere; but ultimately citizenship demands political, public, recognition.

Central to my work over the last 23 years has been the idea of citizenship. One central idea has been that the organisation of the social care system (and many other public services) operates in a way that is hostile to citizenship: support is a gift coming from, and defined by, the professionals funded by the state.

It struck me, way back then, that it would be more consistent with our dignity and rights if such support was self-directed and based upon our right to support and clear entitlements. This perception led to both the development of Inclusion Glasgow and to the creation of self-directed support.

Over those 23 years I tried in many ways to convert service gifts into public entitlements. This was fruitful and had many positive consequences. But, on reflection, it remains an unfulfilled and problematic objective:

Can citizenship be a gift?

At a moral level I think that, in conditions of injustice, the effort to re-imagine relationships more respectfully - through the lens of citizenship - is possible. Weil makes a similar point as follows:

In order to feel true gratitude (the case of friendship being set aside), I have to think that it is not out of pity, sympathy or caprice that I am being treated well, it is not as a favour or privilege, nor as a natural result of temperament, but a desire to do what justice demands. Accordingly he who treats me thus wishes that all in my situation may be treated in the same way by all who are in his own.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Whatever our circumstances we can choose to see each other as equals - as citizens.

But the fly in the ointment is obvious if we think about this politically. Citizens were never granted citizenship by their kings or oligarchic rulers. Citizenship had to be fought for. In this sense citizenship cannot be a gift.

Over the past few years I have watched ideas I helped realise and the concepts which I helped define lose their way. I know this is partly just the effect of reality. You can imagine things - but reality will always be different. You can build small things and control them - but large things will have their own logic, way beyond your control. And that is as it should be. Life will not be controlled.

But there is also a sense in which my own ideas are failing because they require a different kind of political support - and that support is missing. It is okay to work 'under the radar' but in the end it is the political process within which ideas will be developed, defined and instituted.

How the idea of citizenship can become the reality of citizenship must, I think, be a task of citizenship. That is, it must be a political happening.