Our relationship with food is a curious one. It is what keeps us alive and yet we show remarkably little interest in where it comes from or what goes into it. More than half the food we consume is now categorised as ultra-processed. These ‘food products’ have such low nutritional value and carry such a risk to our health it’s a wonder they are even classified as food. But this food is cheap, filling, and in many respects, addictive. And that’s just one part of the food system that’s in crisis. The soils that grow our crops are being steadily degraded, depleted of nutrients by the over-use of fertilizers, while our flying insect populations – those vital crop pollinators – are being devastated by insecticides (just think when you last had to clear your windscreen of splattered insects). Throw into the mix the scandal of food banks and the scale and complexity of Scotland’s food problem becomes clear. The Scottish Government has an aspiration for Scotland to become a Good Food Nation and will consult soon on new legislation. We’re supporting the Scottish Food Coalition’s campaign to get everyone talking more about food. Your Good Food Nation starts at your kitchen table.
In the most recent briefing…
Forty years ago the indigenous Misak people of Colombia were displaced from their land and very nearly disappeared. In response to this threat, the Misak developed a particular approach to envisioning their future which they call Plan de Vida. This technique has transformed their lives, enabling them to reclaim their lands and rediscover their cultural identity. The Misak have since been sharing their unique approach and have transformed the lives of hundreds of indigenous peoples across South America. Over the next few weeks they will be visiting communities across Scotland to share knowledge and understanding.
Last week Labour committed itself to free bus travel for everyone under 25 (in England) – partly because of the prohibitive cost of transport and partly to encourage more use of public transport. In Scotland, transport costs for young people are similarly high wherever they live but in rural areas cost and availability of options can present a huge barrier to accessing jobs, training or education. Scottish Rural Action has just published some worrying figures. If rural communities are to retain their young folk this is a key question that needs an answer.
Dumfries is no different from many other market towns in Scotland that once flourished but now struggle to rekindle their economic and social vibrancy of old. There have been many attempts to unpick this conundrum and all manner of remedial actions have been proposed – most notably the National Review led by architect Malcolm Fraser – but there is clearly no silver bullet. However, the decline of Dumfries’ town centre appears to have reached a point where the community will no longer stand by. Led by local anchor organisation – The Stove Network – the community plan to buy the high street.
In the run up to the Scottish Independence referendum, a non-partisan initiative called Collaborative Scotland was launched which focused purely on the process of that debate with an emphasis on encouraging ‘respectful dialogue and cooperation’. Whatever the outcome, they recognised we would all need to work together afterwards. They recently embarked on a bus tour around highland communities where they introduced their methodology of respectful dialogue to gauge its applicability to the challenges these communities face. They were encouraged by what they found.
In the last edition of Local People Leading, an article by Neil Gray appeared which was originally published in Bella Caledonia. The author presents a highly critical view of housing associations which many in the RSL movement, for obvious reasons, took issue with. The purpose of this Briefing has always been to stimulate debate and to promote new thinking and ideas but in doing so it neither seeks to cause offence (as this article appears to have done) nor diminish in any way the case for community control. Housing association leaders have been quick to respond.
Ten years ago Scotland was being hailed a world leader for setting the bar higher than any other country in its commitment to tackle climate change. But where Scotland once led, other countries could soon be about to overtake. While Scottish Government has said it will reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, others (France, New Zealand and Sweden) have already targeted 100%. Countries from around the world where climate change already poses an immediate threat to livelihoods are now calling on Scotland to step up and reclaim its place at the forefront of global climate action.
The phrase community anchor organisation was first coined in 2004 in a Home Office report- Firm Foundations. The idea that in order to thrive, communities must have their own independent, locally controlled organisations was not new but this particular phrase seemed a useful way of encapsulating the concept. Scottish Community Alliance has championed the idea ever since, aiming to develop a better and more widespread understanding of it. For the past year, detailed research has been ongoing to explore the potential relationship between community anchors and public service reform. Findings will be presented at an open seminar next month.
Davos is where the world’s political and financial elites gather annually to affirm to themselves and each other that it is they who run the global show. But in recent years they have been joined by another elite grouping. One that is notionally comprised of civil society leaders, CEOs of international aid agencies, global social entrepreneurs and the like. But who are these people? According to Australian civil society activist Vern Hughes, they represent a very distorted picture of what civil society actually is. He argues that the authentic voice of civil society can only be found within our communities.