June 4, 2014
Shape your rural parliament
Across Europe there 23 rural movements in operation – all different ages and stages of developing their Rural Parliaments. The granddaddy of them all is Sweden. Now in its 26th year, All Sweden Shall Live (something lost in the translation perhaps?) draws its support from a 5000 strong membership of village action groups and can draw anything up to 1000 delegates to its bi-annual Parliament. New kid on the block is Scotland, holding its first Rural parliament in Oban in later this year. The programme is starting to take shape and your input to that process is invited.
You are invited to help shape the programme for the Scottish Rural Parliament due to be held in Oban in November 2014. The organisers would be very grateful if you could complete this VERY short survey monkey
Scotland will have its first Rural Parliament this November in Oban, but our friends in rural Sweden have a 26 year long track record in running these events. On May 16th to 18th, I was privileged to be one of a small group from Scotland joining 750 delegates attending the 13th Swedish Rural Parliament in Sandviken, 100 miles north of Stockholm. It is organised by local groups working with Hela Sverige ska leva! – which translates as All Sweden Shall Live! – the impressively organised Swedish village action movement.
I travelled with John Hutchison and Emma Cooper, the Chair and Co-ordinator respectively of Scottish Rural Action, the organisation responsible for the Scottish Rural Parliament.
Even before the event began on Friday, the stadium venue was a cheerful mix of conference, reunion and carnival, with animated conversations and greetings among the delegates, volunteers dressed in colourful traditional costumes, and dancers and jugglers performing ad hoc in the large exhibition area.
As the session opened, a group of folk dancers made their way through the crowd, ending up on the stage where they whirled around a bit more to tunes from a lone fiddler before being joined by a pair of rappers. The result was a glorious cultural mash-up with the fiddler weaving tunes around the beats, the folk dancers throwing shapes and the rapping dudes declaiming with gusto – perhaps about rural development issues, who knows?
Those acts, followed later by a theatre group, a circus artist and a bluegrass band set the tone for the rest of the day, blending serious presentations on weighty issues with lively local culture and a welcome leavening of downright silliness.
As Staffan Nilsson of All Sweden Shall Live said in his welcoming remarks, “We need to work hard and efficiently – but also have fun!”
A warm and thoughtful welcome from Governor Barbro Holberg of Gavleborg County (which she described as “Sweden in miniature”) emphasised the need for partnership working and gave the example of a small village who had reacted to the closure of their fire service by setting up a local association to take it over and run it. Now, even the priest might be called from delivering mass if there was an emergency.
In Sweden, where citizens have traditionally paid high levels of tax and expected the state to provide for all their needs, this shift to service delivery by community-based organisations is revolutionary. While it is regarded with suspicion by many, it is clearly gathering pace, particularly in rural areas.
More examples of local success came in a lengthy presentation on The Best Village in the World, which brought together projects and initiatives from different places into one ideal village, charmingly illustrated in cartoon form. The booklet accompanying this initiative is available here, and is a really inspiring piece of work.
The Great Rural Prize, sponsored by Land magazine, was awarded to a 19 year old entrepreneur who has pioneered a joint production kitchen where local food producers can rent space and equipment to process their products, so they don’t have to spend money on premises of their own. The winner – striking a starkly familiar note – said that some of his award money would be donated to the local food bank.
Later, Scotland’s Vanessa Halhead spoke about the European Village Movement, and delegates were shown short videos about rural policy prepared by the Swedish political parties in advance of the European elections.