Language is important. How we use it determines how well we communicate with one another. The language of government, often with good reason, tends towards the prosaic, telling things as they are in the most matter of fact, functional way possible. That said, the decision to call a new initiative which could herald the most radical shift of decision making powers since devolution, a Local Governance Review, takes the lexicon of ‘dull as dishwater’ onto a whole new level. It’s almost impossible to say the words without stifling a yawn. All of which is somewhat ironic given the very significant ambition that both local and national government are investing in this exercise. Inevitably this review will invoke scepticism in some quarters – much of the accompanying rhetoric is all too familiar – but there’s something about the spirit and the open-ended nature of the early discussions that gives real cause for optimism. Over the next 7-8 months, communities everywhere will be invited into a national conversation about what genuine local decision-making should look like. The very essence and purpose of local democracy may be about to enter a liminal space. This is our opportunity to shape it. Let’s not waste it.
In the most recent briefing…
No one would disagree that the planning system is a beleaguered area of public policy and one that divides opinion. Developers complain that the system fails to deliver sufficient opportunities for development. Communities complain that regardless of how hard they try to engage with the system, their views are routinely ignored. In fact, it is a pretty rare thing to hear anything of a positive nature about planning. Perhaps someone should seek out some good news stories (if they exist at all) to balance things up a bit. They’ll have to be good if it’s to compensate for this sorry tale from Dundee.
The need to express oneself creatively through some artistic or cultural endeavour appears to be an innate part of the human condition. There can be no other explanation for the sheer scale of voluntary arts based activity that occurs day in day out in communities across Scotland. It’s estimated that over 10,000 volunteer-run creative groups contribute to the cultural heartbeat of this country. Kathryn Welch, CEO at Voluntary Arts Scotland, speaks up for her highly eclectic sector in advance of the Scottish Government’s plans for a National Culture Strategy.
The move by the tiny community on the Island of Ulva to launch a buy out of their island has attracted press attention from around the world. The reason for this may be because the case for community land ownership becomes even more compelling when the impact it would have on such a small community (six people) is so glaringly obvious. It brings to mind the oft quoted remark by the American anthropologist, Margaret Meade, that small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world and that in fact, it’s the only thing that ever has. Ulva resident, Rebecca Munro, shares what it would mean to her.
With the spotlight of Brexit falling on farming, some remarkable anomalies within the current subsidy regime are being revealed. Skewed so much in favour of the larger landowners, there doesn’t appear to be any great financial incentive either to farm the land productively or indeed to farm in a way that places a premium on the careful stewardship of the natural environment. Clearly there are many people who aspire to doing both but many cannot get access to the land. Scottish Farm Land Trust is working to facilitate this. They highlight this example of a community run farm in Perthshire.
If we are serious about recasting local democracy into a new ‘space’ that is closer to the citizen, the corollary of that is that there must be a rethink or reinvention of what municipalism can be. Last summer the seeds of a new municipalist movement were sown at the Fearless Cities summit held in Barcelona. Community organisations, city leaders, elected members and citizens from six continents came together in order discuss the potential of cities to ‘spur democratic transformation across the world’. Representatives from Edinburgh attended. It would be good to hear their take on it.
Watching RBS executives appear before the Scottish Affairs Committee and defend their decision to close a third of all branches in Scotland, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. How many times have officials from this state owned bank sat before Parliamentary Committees and, with straight faces, defended the indefensible? This is just one more instance, relatively small in the scheme of things, of the fundamental and the ever-widening disconnect between the citizen and our system of free market capitalism. Iain McWhirter, writing in the Herald, nails it.
To date, the Brexit debate has stayed with the chunky issues of trade, freedom of movement and so on. But just below the surface lies a myriad of interconnectivity between European institutions of all shapes and sizes. Connections between local government and civil society in this country are mirrored right across Europe and over time hugely significant relationships have evolved. ALDA is a pan-European organisation that is dedicated to promoting these links. How can this rich seam of European social capital be salvaged post-Brexit? ALDA’s Secretary General, Antonella Valmorbida will be addressing a meeting in Edinburgh next month.
The corporate world invests heavily in futurology. Predicting market trends and identifying global risks makes absolute sense for organisations that rely solely on profit to measure success. But elected governments are hamstrung in this respect – their horizon rarely scans beyond the next election. And yet in the global context, governments are increasingly under pressure to consider long term issues such as energy, climate and food security. And when they do, they really struggle to engage communities in this work. NESTA has been doing some interesting work on how to democratise futures planning.