I’ve long suspected that the general public is a little bemused by the concept of the third sector - I’ve come to recognise those glazed expressions when I’m asked to explain it – but recently I’ve wondered whether some of that uncertainty extends to the sector itself. Most people get the idea of what a charity is – even if it’s just via junk mail or the chugger trying to relieve you of some cash in the street. But beyond this superficial scratch on the surface, evidence of a deeper understanding of what we seek to achieve, or an appetite for some sharp debate about the things we claim to stand for, is much harder to find. Hifalutin words about our values and ethos remain just that unless we’re also prepared to talk more openly about some of those inherent contradictions and tensions that sit quietly in the background but undoubtedly undermine our effectiveness. At a time of so much churn across society, and when more is being asked of communities than ever before, the need for us to be clear about what we do and why we do it, has surely never been greater.
In the most recent briefing…
When Rumsfeld introduced the world to known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, he was talking about Iraq and WMD. However these knowledge distinctions could be applied equally well to Brexit, with a heavy emphasis on the last category. Scottish Government is preparing for the day when these unknown unknowns eventually become known and a National Council of Rural Advisors has been established to support this process. But looking down the list of appointments, you could be forgiven for thinking the only issue of any real consequence in rural Scotland is farming.
Britain likes to think of itself as one of the most advanced democracies in the world and Westminster is sometimes referred to as the ‘mother of parliaments’ because of the adoption of the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy by many other countries around the world. Notwithstanding the current debate about the effectiveness of referenda, recent analysis of the last general election results highlights just how skewed and unrepresentative our electoral system has become. A new report published by Electoral Reform Society suggests 22 million votes were completely wasted.
Actions by communities in the face of climate change are the building blocks onto which the climate actions of national governments are laid. Some months ago SCA took the decision to join Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, a broad coalition of civil society groups, who are pressing Scottish Government to renew their commitment to pursue world leading targets on climate action. You can add your support to this cause by signing here. Last week they wrote to the First Minister imploring her to be bold.
Partly because of the ubiquity of the supermarket, modern day food systems have become steadily more complex with multiple staging posts appearing in the journey between the producer and consumer. With roughly three quarters of us now living in cities, our relationship with the food producer has become ever more at a distance. Facing up to the challenge of reducing the number of connections between farmers and consumers, a community led movement of Food Assemblies has began to take root – first in France and now right across Europe.
When community groups publish their annual accounts, a monetary value is usually accorded to the assets of the organisation. These assets will be either be in the form of cash balances or have physical attributes (land, buildings, equipment etc). What we don’t value (at least in monetary terms) is the voluntary time and effort invested, and specialist knowledge and skills that communities amass over time. As this recent example from Arran illustrates, what value could be put on the local expertise that managed to avert an environmental disaster. Priceless.
If countries can be said to possess a collective conscience, the Highland Clearances must surely rank as one of Scotland’s most shaming episodes. Well over 170,000 men, women and children were thrown off the land to make way for sheep. Scotland’s land reform project, although now addressing a much wider range of inequalities, was undoubtedly driven in its early days by the ghosts of communities cleared from the land. All of which adds extra emotional charge to the overwhelming vote by the Helmsdale community in favour of taking 3,000 acres of the Sutherland Estate under community ownership.
The far south west of Scotland is a beautiful part of the country but suffers from being off the main tourist trail. In the past the ferry service to Northern Ireland sailed out of Stranraer, ensuring a steady stream of traffic passing through the town. But when the ferry terminal moved up the coast to Cairnryan, the town became even more isolated. Despite its difficulties, civic pride remains strong and Stranraer Development Trust is confident it can become a major tourist destination. Launching the first ever Stranraer Oyster Festival next month is just the start.
From a distance, Tiree looks like an island that could disappear under the wash of an average sized Atlantic swell. Its low lying profile lends itself to its historic nickname of ‘the land below the waves’. Perhaps because of this vulnerability to the elements, the community have a long track record of taking measures to build their own resilience. These actions and their latest plans are nicely illustrated through this short film of life on the island.