Sometimes a book just has to exist, and For a New Agreement of the People was one of those books.
The first Agreement of the People was printed in 1647 and presented to the Council of the New Model Army. The Levellers wanted a constitution based on this document, but it wasn't to be. And now in 2015 we still don't have a constitution, which, as Angus Reid writes, "leaves the vast majority of people at the mercy of a parliamentary class that can withdraw our civil rights and liberties according to political whim and by simple majority".
The project began in 2012, when poet and artist Angus Reid wrote a poem calling for a constitution for Scotland, ahead of the referendum, which he described as a "marker that I hope can help to define a consensus". The poem was installed in 16 locations around Scotland, from the outside of a shoe shop in Dunbar and the Orkney Library in Kirkwall to the Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh. People were encouraged to leave their mark on a response wall, and these responses were projected in the Scottish parliament as part of the installation. In August 2014, the Scottish government published a consultation paper for an interim constitution for Scotland... unfortunately written by politicians.
I first came across Angus' work in an article he wrote for the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. By this time of course, the referendum had resulted in an uneasy "No" and Scotland is (for now) still part of the UK. The poem really spoke to me... surely it was time for a written constitution for the whole of the UK, not just for Scotland! In this 800th year since Magna Carta, with political debate about the European Convention of Human Rights vs a proposed Bill of Rights, fears about immigration, questions about British values and whether the unelected House of Lords should be reformed, the time seems overdue for a debate on a constitution for the UK written by and for the people.
Plus I loved the way the poem elegantly folds around corners, and a book structure instantly sprang to mind!
I asked Angus Reid for his permission to print the poem in a book calling for a UK-wide constitution, and very generously he agreed that I could, and as a bonus he promised to write an introduction to go with it. There was a lot of emailing to and fro early on as we discussed how the book might look, a suitable title and some cover ideas. This was very helpful.
But why print the book at all? Why an artist's book, rather than a campaign? It's simple. I love the story of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the church denouncing the corruption of the religious elite, and it seemed to me that Angus had already begun that process by posting his poem on the walls of Scotland. But what happened next in that story was that Luther's writings were printed and then distributed widely, triggering the protestant reformation – which is why a printed book is important. Other influences were the 17th century pamphlets (including the original Agreement of the People) which became political weapons particularly during the civil war between the king and parliament. Then in the 18th century Thomas Paine (quoted in Call for a New Agreement of the People) continued the pamphleteering in pre-revolutionary America. But ultimately it had to be printed, because digital is temporary.