In my imagined library, there exists a well-thumbed book. Let’s call that book Local Democracy Matters. The first few chapters – explaining how and why the current system has evolved into the very antithesis of local, and why it’s so essential that we fix it – have been aired so often that most people just skim over them. For many, it’s the middle section of this imagined book that holds most interest, largely because it’s also the most contested. In one chapter, we’re offered a vision of local democracy that’s been re-engineered from the bottom up – a new, universal tier of hyper-local government with real authority enshrined in law. Then in the next chapter, an entirely different proposition – one in which citizen participation is valued every bit as highly as elected representation and where power is distributed much less evenly because communities must decide for themselves how much control they want to have. These two versions couldn’t be more different – and there may well be others still to be discovered. But anyone expecting the book’s final chapter to shed some light will be disappointed to find only blank pages. Next week, work on that concluding chapter finally begins. Pens at the ready, everyone.
In the most recent briefing…
Judging by the performance of the RBS management team when they appeared before a Westminster committee, no amount of reminding who they actually work for will deflect them from their scorched earth policy of branch closures across Scotland. Taking up the cudgel on behalf of the many rural communities set to lose a bank presence has been Scottish Rural Action. This and many others issues that concern rural communities will be raised at the next Scottish Rural Parliament, the date and venue for which was announced today by the First Minister.
City of Edinburgh Council has long recognised that there’s been a breakdown of trust between itself and the residents of Edinburgh – particularly with regards to the way that its UNESCO world heritage site, Edinburgh’s Old Town, has been managed. Not so very long ago the Council formally committed itself to restoring that trust – even being prepared to be judged by the City on that basis. No one is suggesting that this has been made any easier with the financial pressure from years of austerity but this account from Old Town Community Council of recent events really beggars belief.
Alongside the growth of industrial scale farming, has been the rise in the number of food producers who are just as interested in the ecological aspects of small scale farming and in connecting with the communities that live nearby. In France a remarkable organisation – Terre de Liens – has been acquiring large amounts of land to enable young entrants to farm as smallholders in an ecologically sensitive way. Scottish Farm Land Trust has similar aspirations and their research indicates the demand is massive. Anyone interested in this approach should try to get along to their AGM next week.
It is all too obvious that the safety net of the welfare state is struggling to adapt to the challenges of the modern era. So many people without adequate housing, without sufficient food and the wherewithal to engage with a rapidly changing world. The gap between the haves and have nots keeps widening. An interesting alternative to the idea of a Universal Basic Income has come from University College London which in many ways is a reboot of the current offer of universal services such as education and health but widening the scope to include housing, transport and so on.
A quote in the Scotsman from one of Scotland’s leading property consultants caught the eye. “For most buyers an estate is a luxury purchase to enjoy, not unlike a superyacht or a Lamborghini.” The idea that the purchase of an estate could be described as little more than a gaudy show of wealth is in part what drives the community land movement on. Perhaps in the interests of her ‘continuing professional development’ that property consultant should take a trip to Ulva and gain some insights into what owning land actually means to the people who live there.
Successful community buy-outs such as the recent high profile one on the Isle of Ulva can have a ripple effect. Success often breeds success and stories like Ulva’s can send a message to other community groups that anything is possible. The community of Glenurquhart on the shores of Loch Ness is now considering launching a bid for a wide range of amenities around one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions – Urquhart Castle. They’re citing Ulva as their inspiration.
As an island nation and a nation of islands, it’s a bit of a mystery that the marine and coastal environment doesn’t have greater prominence within national policy. Perhaps in response to this policy vacuum, coastal and island communities have become increasingly active in recent years. A national network provides a platform for its members to become more vocal on the big issues of concern. None bigger than the emerging ecological disaster that surrounds our salmon industry. COAST, based on Arran, have no fear in speaking truth to power. Fergus Ewing is in their sights.
There are all sorts of good reasons why publicly funded programmes come to an end but some just seem to disappear from view without anyone knowing why. One such programme was SCARF – small amounts of funding that enabled local people to determine for themselves what they wanted to research about their communities and then to carry out the action research themselves. It was a universally popular scheme but for some reason it just petered out. Almost 10 years on, SCDC, the Poverty Alliance and others are proposing SCARF 2.0.