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July 11, 2012

Postcards from Scotland – a story worth telling

Seven years ago, Carol Craig set up the Centre for Wellbeing and Confidence – seen at the time as a counterpoint to a perceived tendency amongst Scots to see the glass as half empty. Much of the early focus was on positive psychology although Carol’s recent thinking seems less fervent in that direction.  She’s commissioned a series of short books reflecting this nudge of the tiller.  One of these is about our sector – The New Road: Charting Scotland’s inspirational communities. Worth looking out for.


Rationale  – The New Road: Charting Scotland’s inspirational communities. Carol Craig

In the face of huge challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, financial melt-down, globalisation, falling living standards, rising inequality and mental health problems,  it is becoming increasingly clear that western societies will have to make huge changes. In short, we cannot go on in the same vein: we need to envision and enact a radically different future.

Scotland is well-placed in some respects to make a significant contribution to this new thinking: we played a major part in the 18th century Enlightenment and many of the factors which facilitated Scotland’s leading role are still in place. Namely, we are a small, networked society with high levels of education and commitment to social improvement where it is easy to have conversations across subject disciplines. 

In the Enlightenment period Scotland had ‘settled politics’ thus allowing energy to be channelled into non-constitutional issues. This is not true today. The case for and against Independence may absorb a lot of the country’s intellectual energy. But then again it may release it – giving Scots the first opportunity to really consider what we want Scotland to become independent for. In short, the independence debate may encourage us to consider what kind of society we want to be. 

This juncture in western culture and Scottish political culture requires outlets for new ideas across a whole range of topics – environmental, social, organisational, political, cultural, psychological, economic and spiritual – as well as new frameworks and ways of conceptualising.

Postcards from Scotland aims to help develop this new thinking in a readable and accessible format and publicise, to a much greater audience, some of the projects in Scotland which are already aiming to help bring about a new way of living.

When I finished working on the new edition of The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence last year I felt a certain sadness that I had come to the end of my working relationship with Derek Rodger from Argyll Publishing who I found a joy to work with.  He had published The Tears that Made the Clyde and then proposed to republish my first book. So as I handed over the last rewritten chapters of The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence I wondered if there might be another book that we could work on. 

I was increasingly interested in materialist values but didn’t think this a particularly likely topic for Argyll nor did  I envisage myself writing a substantial book on the topic. So this is why I started to think about a series of small books relevant to Scotland but also about the big issues of our time – hence the series we have announced today called Postcards from Scotland.

So when I started to think about this book series I knew I did not want a series of books written by isolated, abstracted thinkers sitting at their desk somewhere divorced from reality. I wanted a series which was more ’embodied’ and connected to human experience. I also didn’t want to have a precise template which would then dictate the shape of each volume. No I was keen to have a series that had some recognisable form but which also had space for individuality. After all few things in the natural world are consistent; diversity is the norm. 

I also wanted to put collaboration and relationships at the heart of this series. This is why we are so keen on the idea of having at least two people contributing to each volume. Ideally this will be an older person with a young person who makes up for their lack of writing skills or expertise in the area with their energy and freshness of perspective

As there is very little money in publishing I was also aware that most of the contributors would have to participate knowing that they would get no financial recompense whatsoever for their involvement. The Centre is putting some money into the first six volumes and all authors’ royalties will come to us to invest in future books. 

Very early on I knew that one of the books I wanted to commission would recount some of the great work which is currently happening in Scottish communities – particularly environmental and social enterprise projects.  The problem was who could I commission to do this?  Who could I ask to go round Scotland visiting projects and then writing this up when (other than expenses) they would not get paid one penny? 


This is when I realised that the answer lay close to home – my husband Alf Young to be precise.  Alf is often described as the best living Scottish journalist. He is particularly gifted at writing about what is going on in organisations and many readers used to love his weekly profiles of Scottish businesses. He is now semi-retired and so has some free time. However, I am still not sure if he would have accepted the commission if I hadn’t then added another dimension to my request. Would he undertake this journey round some of Scotland’s most inspirational community projects with our son Ewan? Ewan is passionate about sustainable development. He has a degree in the subject, lives a low carbon life in a cabin in the woods and works for the Ullapool Community Trust. This is Ewan’s world. He could help choose the projects and would be a knowledgeable and helpful travelling companion and collaborator in the writing phase. As soon as this was agreed the title became obvious: A father and a son go on a journey – that sounds like ‘the Road’, except it is a hopeful journey hence the title ‘The New Road’.