Only one other candidate in the history of US elections has won more votes than Trump. With British media having long since abandoned any semblance of neutrality in its coverage of US politics, the reported reaction to the result has been one long sigh of relief – but with little investigation of why a staggering 72 million Americans voted as they did. Which is worrying because the answers have as many implications for our country as they do for America. Michael Sandel’s new book, The Tyranny of Merit, argues that it was the wholly predictable consequence of our cultural obsession with the ‘age of meritocracy’- the notion that we can all succeed if we just work hard enough and that ultimately, we get what we deserve. Sandel explains why any system based on winners and losers is so corrosively damaging to the social fabric and why, if large swathes of the population are forced to carry the ‘burden of their own failure’, it will inevitably feed the electoral appeal of these ‘anti-elite’, populist leaders. The book is a full frontal attack on the cult of individualism and a rallying call to rebuild the common good. Are we really all in this together?
In the most recent briefing…
An Achilles heel of the community power movement has been the lack of rigorous academic research to back up some of the widely held assertions that, if implemented, would require most of our existing structures and systems to undergo radical overhaul. There is a view held by many, not often verbalised, that the limits of what communities can achieve have already been reached and any ambitions to go further should be constrained. The economist Elinor Ostrom, Nobel prize winner, made it her life’s work to refute that view. Her ideas have recently been reframed to fit current challenges.
Many years ago when DTAS was getting off the ground, I had the pleasure to go on a fairly extended road trip around Scotland to meet those community organisations who might think about becoming members. That trip included my first visit to Shetland and I’d been told I should head for a place called Northmavine. Last week, I dipped into DTAS’s Annual Conference and watched a lovely film about the work of Northmavine Community Development Company. The folk I met all those years ago, Margaret Roberts and Maree Hay, are still very much at the heart of things. Speaks volumes.
On 1st January, we’re leaving the EU. Hundreds of agreements and provisions that have been the basis of our relationship with the EU – that all need to be untangled in the very near future. Westminster has established a funding mechanism called the UK Shared Prosperity Fund which will replace the soon to disappear EU Structural Funds that have underpinned countless community initiatives over the years. Down south, a coalition of third sector intermediaries has come together to demand that they take control of the Shared Prosperity Fund. Is anything of a similar nature happening in Scotland? SCVO?
The Scottish Government’s five year national infrastructure investment plan is not usually cause for comment but something in the title caught the attention – ‘A National Mission with Local Impact’. Alongside the more predictable proposals for large scale infrastructure investment in roads, housing etc there were some that seem to reflect a genuine shift in focus to the local. Most notably £275m for community led regeneration – dubbed the new Place Based Investment Programme. An excellent briefing note from LGiU provides more detail. This could be significant if ‘community led regeneration’ actually translates as regeneration that is led by local people.
Who really understands public finance? One minute we have unavoidable austerity and the next the entire economy has been nationalised. While there seems to be a tenuous correlation between money in (taxes) and money out (public expenditure) there’s rarely any imperative for the two to be balanced. However the money in bit (tax) is undoubtedly important and for some reason has long been thought of as something to be avoided (legally or otherwise) and kept to a minimum. It hasn’t always been like that. The Ancient Greeks considered the paying of tax to be a privilege and a status symbol.
As the Local Governance Review (known to many as Democracy Matters) begins to get back on course after the hiatus of lockdown, it’s inevitable that there will be a period of adjustment as all parties reflect on how best they can respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic. COSLA recently published what they call a Blueprint for Local Government which spells out their vision for strengthening local democracy and supporting communities. Disappointingly, there’s no mention of their willingness to explore new forms of local governance. Strengthening local government is only one part of the solution.
Slowly, many would argue too slowly, we are starting to confront some of the more uncomfortable aspects of Scotland’s history – the legacy of which is still being felt around the world. Interesting piece of research just published by Community Land Scotland into the links between the vast wealth generated by involvement in slavery and patterns of land ownership in parts of the Highlands and Islands. As former MP Brian Wilson points out, in some respects, nothing has changed. Wealth is still the only criteria required to qualify as a fit and proper person to own large tracts of the country.
One of the undoubted pluses to emerge from the Age of Zoom has been the greatly increased accessibility of meetings and events – not to mention the reduced carbon footprint. For better or worse, the world has become a much smaller place with opportunities to meet truly amazing people from all over the planet. The Global South Speaker Series organised by Glasgow based WEvolution is a good example. These engaging conversations with global community leaders are not to be missed. Next up is a must for anyone with half an interest in credit unions and community banking.
As the tide went out on the shipbuilding history of Govan, many families in the community were left without work and meaning. Modern Govan has been left high and dry by this post-industrial legacy; roots are being lost, values are becoming blurred, and the fast-flowing current of modern life is leaving many behind. GalGael was founded in 1997 and has worked since then to create a cultural anchor point around which local people are re-kindling skills, community and a sense of purpose. GalGael offer hospitality to the marginalised, a sense of place to the disconnected and the right of responsibility…Find out more