Dissent and democracy go hand in glove and there’s no shortage of examples from around the world to demonstrate just how crucially interdependent they are – if dissent isn’t thriving, almost inevitably, democracy is in trouble. And if democracy is grown from the bottom up, it follows that perhaps the truest measure of any community’s ‘self-empowerment’ should be the extent to which it feels able to voice dissent. That’s not to suggest that a truly empowered community will be in constant opposition to authority or be taking contrary positions for the sake of it, but the option of doing so, when it matters, should always be on the table. And therein lies a problem. Slowly but surely, imperceptibly over the years, that option has been disappearing due, in large part, to the shifting relationship between our sector and the state. What was once a long term and transparent relationship based on grants, moved first into increasingly prescriptive service level agreements, then to output-driven contracts, and now tendering for and delivering public services. If large swathes of the third sector have become, de facto, the public sector, haven’t they effectively renounced their capacity for dissent? And isn’t that a cause for concern?
In the most recent briefing…
Rightly or wrongly, I’ve long assumed that the unions representing public sector workers have taken a broadly negative view of the community empowerment agenda on the basis that it carries an implicit threat to public sector jobs and the terms and conditions that they have fought hard to safeguard. Which is why a recent paper by Dave Watson, former head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON caught my eye. Writing for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Dave lays out his ideas for how we could be Building Stronger Communities. Seems I’ve been labouring under a false assumption.
If for no other reason the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse is iconic because it sits on the most westerly point of mainland Britain. But the lighthouse is also renowned as one of the many lighthouses designed and built by the Stevenson family (Alan in this case) and, for lighthouse geeks, it’s also the world’s only lighthouse built in the ‘Egyptian’ style. But the reason it is attracting renewed attention is because the lighthouse complex has just been purchased by the community with plans to create an important new visitor attraction for the area.
Despite the welcome Government financial support for the arts and cultural sector, inevitably the future remains deeply uncertain for many artists and makers of all forms. Good news then to see an emerging collaboration between Scotland’s community land movement and a range of artists from across Scotland. The series of commissions aims to explore the different stories of community land ownership, how land was acquired, and how the process of taking ownership has affected each community and their relationship to the land.
On a fairly regular basis I receive correspondence from individuals who have become deeply frustrated in their dealings with the bureaucracy of their local authority or some other other public body and, having stumbled onto our website, are asking for help or advice as to what they might do next. Sometimes there are existing local groups or support networks they can connect with but sometimes these aren’t available. One option that I don’t usually recommend is that they start a new group – how much information can you include in an email? Grateful then, for this ‘starter pack’ from the Communities Channel Scotland.
Some years back, Alastair McIntosh gave a memorable keynote address to a gathering of Scotland’s community sector held in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament (still not quite sure how we got permission to use the Parliament as the feat has proved impossible to repeat). He’s a man of many talents not least of which is his writing as an environmental activist. His most recent book was commissioned to coincide with the big climate conference – COP26 – now delayed by the pandemic until next November. What could have been a publishing setback became neatly woven into the narrative.
Given our histories, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that Scotland and England have pursued different paths on land reform but the differences are stark nonetheless. George Monbiot paints a very grim picture of landed privilege in England with little obvious appetite for reforms any time soon. But change can happen surprisingly quickly. Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that Scotland’s landowners would be presented with these latest protocols from Scottish Land Commission which clearly set out new expectations as to how ownership of land should be diversified and transferred into community ownership?
Scotland’s lobbying laws passed in 2016, came into force two years later and now serious concerns are being voiced by civic groups that the existing rules are way too lax and out of step with other western democracies. Access to Ministers is supposed to be recorded but many loopholes exist – for instance Zoom calls don’t have to be registered. The Covid crisis has thrown up some revealing evidence of how hard the lobbyists have been working behind the scenes to promote their clients’ interests – with apparent shifts in Scottish Government policy that contradict many of its public pronouncements.
If we’re ever to make a positive difference in terms of improving a community’s well being we need to understand how the multiple indicators of wellbeing interact and impact on one another. Understanding Glasgow is based on the idea that there are twelve such indicators – each of which needs to be in good shape if the city as a whole is to be viable. These principles can be applied from the smallest family unit up to a whole country and even more widely. The indicators for Understanding Glasgow have been incorporated into a model for Understanding Scotland. A word of warning – it’s complicated.
The Co-operative was formed in 1989 by local tenants determined to challenge the social deprivation on their estate. With support from government and their staff team, they set about a community-led regeneration: the results are high-quality housing and services for their community, and a restored sense of local pride in the area. Other benefits include a Community Resource Centre which provides a hub for events, learning opportunities, Credit Union and Citizen Advice services, affordable childcare, and a 3G floodlit pitch. Many homes are linked to a Biomass heating service providing controllable cheap heating and hot water, and Whitcomm Co-operative provides…Find out more