I’m genuinely conflicted about this. Asked recently to share some thoughts on the policy landscape for communities, I began with the usual overview – the legislation designed to embolden communities, the heightened government interest in more participative, deliberative forms of democracy and the current policy love-in with ‘place’. I could easily have described this as a golden age for communities. Indeed, it felt strangely disloyal not to. But I took a different tack – ‘trickle-down democracy’. Just as ‘trickle-down economics’ – a theory of wealth redistribution – failed to deliver anything for the poorest in society, these ‘empowering’ initiatives, however well-intended, simply lack the coherence and the collective force to shift anything in terms of where power currently rests. Worse still, they seem almost conditional on no other part of the system having to take them too seriously. In other words, for all the time, effort and money invested, deep down there’s little genuine interest in changing anything. That said, next month the most important phase yet of the Democracy Matters conversation gets underway. It seems a long shot, but if enough communities were to get behind some of these much more radical ideas, that trickle-down democracy might just become a long overdue flood.
In the most recent briefing…
When the concept of community owned renewable energy was first mooted, it’s fair to say that the major incentive for communities to become involved was financial. Selling green energy into the national grid in return for a long term and sustainable income stream was a no brainer. But a recently published report calls for a complete reboot of the way we think about energy – a new national strategy that would transform our energy system into one designed to reduce demand and localise energy supply. This would place communities at the heart of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017 and was the worst natural disaster to hit the island in recorded history.The power grid was completely destroyed leaving millions without electricity. In the absence of any other government assistance, a group of survivors in one of the towns – Caguas – began a community kitchen to help feed others. It gradually developed into a network of self-help organisations committed to re-powering the island – both in a civic and electricity sense. The story of this extraordinary tale of community resilience will be told next Saturday at an event in Yoker.
One of the big achievements of the Land Reform Act 2016, was the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. This not only put human rights to the fore of the land reform debate but also made explicit some of the hitherto unspoken assumptions about how land should be owned, used and managed going forward. One of these, the expectation that communities should be involved in decisions relating to land, has recently been the subject of some scrutiny. On the evidence gathered so far, it’s clear there’s still some way to go before this becomes normal behaviour for all landowners.
For most folk, the prospect of unplugging permanently from the internet is pretty much unthinkable. Like it or not, a fast connection has become an integral part of our lives. But evidence tells us that 20% of Scots are not online and for this group, their digital exclusion can only exacerbate other forms of disadvantage that they’re likely to be experiencing. Ever mindful not to assume their tenants are online, our locally run housing associations are nonetheless beginning to recognise the potential of using social media applications more widely in their work. Interesting report just published by GWSF.
Anyone who has even vaguely followed the fracking debate in Scotland over the last few years could be forgiven for thinking that the Scottish Government had come down on the side of an outright ban. Turns out that what some understood to be a solid ‘No’ is in fact a ‘no-support planning policy’. Whatever that phrase means, fracker-in-chief Ineos believe they can drive a coach and horses through it. One reason for their optimism may lie in the current make-up of the Board of the environment watchdog SEPA. Worrying piece in Bella Caledonia by George Kerevan.
What are the factors that determine how people treat one another in their communities? Where do levels of trust in the institutions of society stem from? In Nordic countries, they would argue that the foundations for this are laid down in the early years of a person’s life and it is this insight that shapes their education system. There is a word in the German language – Bildung – which describes their approach. Revealingly, Bildung has no equivalent word in English. While we focus on exam passes, they focus on a much deeper appreciation of the whole person.
Philanthropy provokes some interesting reactions. If someone has enormous wealth and they choose to give it away, it seems churlish to question their motives. But at a time when democracy worldwide is at its lowest ebb on record (Democracy Report 2020) and when this coincides with global wealth becoming concentrated within an ever smaller group of individuals, perhaps that is exactly what we should be doing. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian takes no prisoners with his call to the super-rich Just pay your taxes and let fairly-elected governments decide how the country’s wealth should be spent for the common good.
For better or worse, this is going to be a busy year for anyone interested in planning. Not only will the new Planning Act start to bed in, but work on the new National Planning Framework (NPF4) begins with an enormously ambitious programme of public engagement is underway. NPF4 is the high level, long term plan for Scotland and as such important for communities to be aware of, and if possible, contribute to. Perhaps to stimulate discussion, Scottish Government asked for some opinion pieces. I submitted one on the theme of Community Empowerment in 2050.