During the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove was famously quoted as saying, “people in this country have had enough of experts”. While he may have had an ulterior motive for making that claim, (perhaps legitimising baseless blandishments on buses) he was able to do so because he knew there was more than a grain of truth in what he was saying and that it would play well with his audience. It was feeding into the zeitgeist which was castigating all those ‘experts’ who, for better or worse, we had come to depend upon and who, by their actions, had somehow betrayed us – politicians, bankers, the media and others all mired in scandals of their own making. But perhaps the real grain of truth is that we as citizens have also been somewhat complicit in this and, through a mixture of civic complacency and passivity, we have allowed our own critical faculties to become blunted. The next big ‘civic challenge’ that we face in the months ahead is to consider to what extent local democracy matters in our lives. This is a genuine opportunity to reimagine how local decision-making is done. In these matters, in your community, only you are the expert.
In the most recent briefing…
Compass is an organisation that describes itself as a pressure group and a gathering point for those who want to build a good society. The chair of Compass is Neal Lawson and he has long argued that the way our current system of politics operates is hopelessly outmoded and incapable of responding to the challenges of contemporary society. His latest thinkpiece – Beyond Monopoly Socialism – challenges our political parties to shift in their one-dimensional approach to power and consider how instead power could be used to build progressive relationships with others.
The first recorded instance of a community coming together in a collective enterprise was a group of weavers from Fenwick in Ayrshire over 250 years ago. Who knows how many thousands of examples of community action have occurred since then. While the memories of these may still linger within the heritage and history of individual communities, it’s still relatively new for all this knowledge to be shared around the country. For some years now, Scottish Government has had the foresight to fund a Learning Exchange programme that allows this to happen. Great news that this will continue next year.
When the Beast from The East struck it was interesting to see how fragile the supermarket supply chains were. The normally well stocked shelves quickly became, and remained, empty after just one or two missed deliveries. Probably not helped by the all-too-easily-fermented panic buying, it nonetheless raises the question of how we would cope during an extended weather crisis. Perhaps some lessons can be gleaned from the small, community owned retailers with their shorter, more locally based supply lines. Dig-In Bruntsfield point to three things that made them more resilient in the face of the weather.
200 years ago when entire communities were being cleared from the land to make way for sheep, there is little evidence to suggest that the rest of the country showed any great concern for the injustices being meted to their rural cousins. But while society was ordered somewhat differently in those days and that might explain the absence of organised opposition, it’s not an excuse that could be used today. Nonetheless, as Lesley Riddoch points out, landed interests continue to act without regard for the basic human rights of some of those who live on their land.
In stark contrast to the constant threat that the tenant farmers in the Scottish Borders must be feeling as a result of the Duke of Buccleuch plans for large scale forestry, the tiny community of Ulva and the slightly larger community on North West Mull, must feel that they have taken a giant step towards securing their futures for generations to come with this week’s award from the Scottish Land Fund. The award feels like more than just a major contribution towards the purchase price – it’s a vote of confidence in the future of Scotland’s community land movement.
The full extent of food poverty in Scotland may be hard to determine but we know that it is widespread and growing year on year. Some have been critical that the proliferation of food banks and other community food providers has become the new normal and that this is deflecting attention away from the root causes. No one however doubts the crucial contribution that these services make. A timely and thoughtful new resource just published by Nourish Scotland and others proposes that dignity should be an intrinsic part of this provision and suggests ways to achieve it.
The size of Scotland’s diaspora has acquired almost mythical proportions with some suggesting that around 100 million people across the globe have a legitimate claim on Scottish ancestry. Such a number may be stretching the bounds of credibility but whatever the facts, there’s unquestionably a large number of people out there who feel well disposed towards this country and in many cases towards a particular part of the country. A clever idea, that originates in the States, has been picked up and adapted by Scotland’s Towns Partnerships as a potential source of funding for communities.
Despite a broad consensus across the planning system’s ‘establishment’ that there is no reason to give communities a voice within the appeals system, an alternative view is nonetheless picking up a head of steam. Last week, City of Edinburgh Council gave evidence at Scottish Parliament and acknowledged the current system is failing communities and that some reform was necessary. In the previous week, Scottish Environment Link made a similar argument. Andy Wightman MSP, writing in the National lays out a compelling case for seizing this once-in-a-decade opportunity.