I enjoy the occasional public lecture and I don’t really mind what they’re about – listening to those who do the intellectual heavy-lifting for the rest of us can be oddly reassuring. Pick of this year’s talks came from a young English barrister, Jamie Susskind, speaking about his book Future Politics – Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech. Now, while I like to think I can operate a smart phone with the best of them (of my age), this talk left me completely slack-jawed. Notwithstanding the amount of personal privacy that we’ve already wittingly (or otherwise) surrendered to the tech giants, the real sucker punch came from his analysis of what all this means for our politics. With algorithms evolving at exponential rates of sophistication, this is a revolution that remarkably few people seem to be aware of, let alone understand. He describes how some of the fundamental building blocks of our democracy – justice, liberty, equality etc – are being utterly transformed. It’s not the moral rights and wrongs of technology that concern him. It’s more that we, as citizens, have been way too passive for way too long in the face of this tech onslaught. Is it too late too??
In the most recent briefing…
If not quite the holy grail of social research, it has certainly consumed many hours of academic enquiry – identifying those vital ingredients that when mixed together produce the alchemy of a successful community project. Someone somewhere may be designing the algorithm capable of such a feat but until then it will continue to be about gut instinct and feel. I recently was part of an event held at Kinning Park Complex – a former school building run by the community as a local resource. You couldn’t mistake the feel of the place. Turns out it has quite a history too.
Given that 98% of Scotland’s land mass is designated as rural, it might be assumed that we all have easy access to the benefits of fresh air and the natural environment. But with more than four fifths of the population living in urban areas, that would be a false assumption and one with significant implications for our physical and mental health. None of our cities are as densely populated as Paris, but something is happening there that our urban councils might learn from – citizens are encouraged to apply forany neglected space in the city.
One of the low hanging fruits of the austerity years has been ‘community work’. Ask most councils today if they employ any community workers and you’re likely to get a shrug and nostalgic sigh. Community Energy Scotland (CES) are one of the many community-based intermediaries still committed to grass root community work but have long lacked the resources to do it. With new funding just received from Scottish Power, CES will be delighted to be back to the coalface of building local capacity and energy initiatives. But is corporate funding the future for community work?
Scottish Community Alliance is a network of national networks, all of which have community-based memberships. Most recent network to become a member is theCCN draws together a diverse group of communities from around Scotland’s coastline, all of which are dedicated to protecting their marine environment. An example of the work that CCN support was contained in the recent amendment to the Crown Estates Bill (in the Final Stage so no small achievement!) which now bans the commercial removal of entire kelp plants from the seabed – a victory for people power over commercial interests.
No one can doubt that Scottish Government has been whole hearted in its support of social enterprise over the years. A 10-year strategy, a three year fully funded action plan and an eco-system of support infrastructure that many believe is unparalleled anywhere on the planet. All good stuff. But in the interests of keeping our feet firmly on the ground and before the planning begins on the content of the next action plan, perhaps we should reflect on where all this started and what the original drivers were. Gillian Murray provides an excellent potted history.
10,000 people with a heightened awareness of homelessness has to be a good thing. £3m raised to help resettle homeless folk also has to be a good thing. Doesn’t it? Social Bite’s second and much expanded Sleep in the Park event took place last weekend and as with the first one, it has divided opinion. As Mike Small of Bella Caledonia puts it, ‘it’s difficult to question its mixture of ambition, innovation and drive for social justice….but the project does raise some serious questions about social enterprise and social policy in Scotland that need addressed.’ A thoughtful and challenging piece.
Scotland’s land reform journey and our community land movement is viewed by many (usually from afar) as radical and something to aspire to. The reality is never quite as rosy but nonetheless the perspectives gained from sharing and comparing with what’s happening elsewhere are always valuable. Today Community Land Scotland are co-hosting a UK wide event in Manchester, building a picture of land reform as it develops across the four home nations. Land reform can represent different things to different people. National Museums Scotland want to document land reform through the collection of objects that hold special meaning.
When Julia Unwin ventured north earlier this year to share some of the findings from her work on the future of civil society, she made it clear that her remit hadn’t been to look at Scotland (funding constraints?) but that she thought many of the conclusions could equally apply here. A year or so ago, SCVO were testing the water before launching a similar investigation into the future of Scotland’s Third Sector. Perhaps that will resurface once SCVO’s new CEO, Anna Fowlie, has had time to find her bearings? In the meantime, more thoughts on the future of England’s civil society.