At last week’s sitting of the Scottish Rural Parliament, during a session on Democracy and Local Governance, we heard tell of the Misak tribe from Columbia. Faced with existential threats to their culture and ancient tribal lands, they needed a plan to safeguard their future – and therein lay a problem for them. Misak language contains no future tense. Their understanding of the future is a version of their past entwined within the never ending cycle of life. Shaped by this nonlinear philosophy of time, they produced their Plan de Vida (Life Plan) which has since become a template for many other indigenous communities asserting their rights of self determination. Perhaps not quite what the Scottish Parliament had in mind when it decided that communities are to be encouraged to prepare Local Place Plans. Although Scottish Government has yet to publish guidance on what these plans should contain, we can be sure they will not be an open invitation to local people to determine their community’s future. Much more likely is that the guidance for these place plans will require communities to remain within the constraints of other plans laid down by local and national government.Where’s la vida in that?
In the most recent briefing…
Over the past year a simple walk in the woods has probably never been more valued by so many people. For many it may even have been literally a lifesaver. If you’ve been using a local woodland as a respite from lockdown it’s very likely that you’ll have been walking in one of around 200 woodlands in Scotland that are either owned or managed by the local community. Every community believes their woodland is special but only one can win the accolade of being the ‘finest community woodland in the country’. Closing date for nominations is approaching.
For reasons that no one has yet to be able to adequately explain, for some years now Scottish Government and the housing regulator have had a clear preference for ever larger consortia of housing associations operating at a regional or even national level. And yet venture into the South Lanarkshire community served by West Whitlawburn Housing Coop and the case for small scale community controlled housing becomes self-evident. Chief Exec since the Coop formed in 1989, Paul Farrell is retiring. Typically, he fires a few parting shots at the ‘system’ that he has clearly struggled with over the years.
For years, the Climate Challenge Fund has been the single biggest mechanism for acknowledging and supporting the contribution of communities in tackling climate change. Not to underplay the contribution made by CCF, but there has long been a perception within Scottish Government that the role of the citizen in this respect is at the margins. Thankfully that perception is beginning to shift. The Citizens Climate Assembly has just concluded and an important consultation on how the general public should become engaged in Scottish Government’s mission to become a Net Zero Nation concludes later this month. Well worth a look.
Back then it was considered quite a scoop when Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, shared with her audience that even she occasionally suffered from imposter syndrome. The audience was mainly on her constituency doorstep, Govan, and she was talking over the airwaves broadcast by Sunny Govan, one Scotland’s best known and oldest community radio stations. This is much more than a radio station. Sunny G has delivered multiple benefits to Govan since winning its first licence in 2007. But like many community enterprises affected by the pandemic, Sunny G is now fighting for its life.
In 1995, a lethal heat wave hit Chicago. Two similarly disadvantaged neighbourhoods, adjacent to each other, fared very differently. Ten times the number of elderly residents in one neighbourhood died compared to the other. Subsequent research pinpointed the critical factor to be high levels of interpersonal contact that routinely occurred in the neighbourhood with less deaths. That contact occurred because of what the sociologist Klinenberg calls ‘social infrastructure’. Libraries, pocket parks, pavements – public spaces of all kinds. And not just the quantity but the quality of its design. We know this but occasionally it’s worth reminding ourselves of it.
The rules and regs that apply to crofting are notoriously complex and are administered by the Crofting Commission – a government agency. Although widely acknowledged as being under-resourced, the Commission is nonetheless routinely accused by crofting communities as being complicit, by dint of inaction, in allowing crofting as a way of life to slowly die out. At a recent packed gathering of the Young Crofters wing of Scottish Crofting Federation, the call to the Crofting Commission was unequivocal ‘do your job and give us access to the crofts that remain – act now or crofting dies’. Serious stuff.
The 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act has reached the age and stage when the Scottish Parliament starts to look for evidence of its impact and whether the Act has done anything to strengthen the hand of communities. The committee in charge looked at two parts of this multi-part Act – participation requests and asset transfer. If it was issuing a progress report it would probably read – ‘tries hard but could do better’. The main conclusion the Committee drew was that the most disadvantaged communities are benefiting the least from the provisions of the Act. Well, well, what a surprise.
There comes a point when wealth beyond a certain level acquires a super-charged momentum of its own, taking the high net worth individual into a world of super-rich and beyond. As a society we tend to treat these individuals with an unusually high level of deference, awestruck by their ‘wisdom and insights’ into the problems of the world. Notwithstanding that the source of their wealth doesn’t always bear close scrutiny, their philanthropic activities which we seem to accept without question, are not always what they seem. New research from Bath and Newcastle Universities makes for interesting reading.
Greener Kirkcaldy is a community-led charity and development trust working in Kirkcaldy and throughout Fife. It would like to see a future where everyone is able to heat their home affordably, eat well, and tread more lightly on our planet. The charity works towards that by delivering projects to meet the needs of local people: tackling fuel and food poverty, improving health and wellbeing, and bringing the community together. The organisation takes a community development approach, supporting volunteers and the wider community to make Kirkcaldy a greener and fairer place to live. Greener Kirkcaldy formed in 2009 when a group…Find out more