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9th Jan 2019

The word ‘idiot’ derives from the ancient Greek for a private citizen who professes no interest in being involved in politics. In the birthplace of democracy, it was simply an article of faith that every citizen would become actively engaged in the political decisions of their towns, cities and nation state. Democracy, as the ancient Greeks conceived it, was a civic duty and any citizen could be called upon to serve.  No hustings, no elections, and no political parties. Just the random selection of individual citizens who would willingly step forward when their names were drawn by lot.  Known as sortition, this form of democracy would be anathema to our modern-day career politicians.  Yet it is a particular form of sortition – the citizens’ assembly – to which many countries around the world are now turning to help resolve some of their most intractable problems.  And as we settle down to watch the next instalment of modern-day British democracy hitting the Brexit buffers, with all the weaknesses of our electoral system laid bare, many now argue that a randomly selected assembly of citizens, expertly guided and supported, might just offer the most sensible way forward. We’d surely be idiots not to try.


In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • Who is the landlord?

    The Stornoway Trust on the Isle of Lewis is the oldest and one of the largest development trusts in the country, with 28,000 hectares of land under its ownership around the town of Stornoway. The Trust, like many community organisations on the Western Isles, has an active interest in wind power and in recent years has been working with energy giant EDF and others to develop a massive windfarm project. Recent reports suggest that in doing so, the Trust may have signed away more than just the rights of individual crofting communities to develop their own wind energy projects.


  • Force the sale

    Communities will soon have a right to buy vacant and derelict land, if its presence is judged to have a detrimental effect on the community.  Of course, the community may have neither the means nor the desire to own the asset in question – just a wish for whoever owns it to stop neglecting it. In which case, the local authority could, in theory, use its powers of compulsory purchase but it also may have neither the resources nor the will to own the asset. And in that case, you might imagine, it would be stalemate. But now there's another way.


  • Flushed

    The first public toilet appeared at the Great Exhibition in 1851 in Hyde Park and for a penny the visitor received not just the use of the facilities but a fresh towel, a comb and a shoeshine into the bargain (recommended toilet reading from COSS)  And over the next 150 years, the public toilet flourished as an institution. But with budget cuts of recent years it increasingly falls to the community to keep their public loos open. Some are rising to the challenge. The folk on Cumbrae have even made their ‘Cumbrae Cludgies’ a visitor attraction. 


  • Whats in your Common Good

    The 2015 Community Empowerment Act has many parts, some of which received more attention than others and some of which are still working their way through the process of being implemented. One of these sections relates to Common Good Property. The question of what the Common Good consists of has long been an area of contention, as is the matter of how these assets are managed and disposed of. Councils are now required to publish a register of all Common Good assets after fully consulting with communities. Might be worth checking out what your Council has done.


Policy talk

  • Wanton destruction

    Last year, Andy Wightman MSP failed in his bid to have tighter controls imposed on landowners who scar the landscape by bulldozing tracks across their land for deer stalking and grouse shooting. Despite widespread support from environmental and conservation groups, and plenty of evidence in plain sight, Scottish Government concluded that landowners are acting within their rights. Hopefully, a different conclusion will be reached concerning the environmental damage that is being inflicted on our seabed by illegal fishing practices. Several coastal communities and marine environmental protection groups have just written to the First Minister calling for prompt action.


  • Science vs Capitalism

    Perhaps the next time the world gathers to consider what actions are necessary to avert climate break down, countries should only send their economists and leave the scientists at home. After all, the scientists tend to agree about what needs to happen. But judging by the response and coverage of the recent conference in Poland which signed off a plan (of sorts) to implement the Paris Agreement, climate science and economics could not be further apart. The scientists have gone even further - claiming capitalism is over. Perhaps someone needs to tell that to the economists.


  • The search for financial security

    As the roll out of Universal Credit continues to face universal criticism, research into other ways of providing a baseline of financial security for citizens continues.  However, amidst rumours that the largest pilot study into the feasibility of a basic income was being scaled back by the Finnish Government and that another experiment was to be concluded earlier than planned by Ontario’s provincial government, some feared the end of the road. Not so apparently. The results will simply inform the next stage of this lengthy learning journey. Scotland’s four pilot areas are expected to report back later this year.


  • Understanding populism

    Around this time, we usually hear which words have made it into the shortlist for the Word of 2018. It’s a fair bet that ‘populism’ will be up there. When populism first started being bandied about it sounded like it had to be a good thing – that it was somehow about the concerns of ordinary people. But pretty quickly it came to be associated with a whole raft of hate-driven ideologies and bizarrely, became the rallying cry of political figures who were anything but ordinary people. A useful article by Peter Bloom tries to shed some light.


About Scottish Community Alliance

Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.

The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...