Every day I cycle the same route to work and lately I’ve noticed a particular road-sweeper who I pass at more or less the same spot. What I’ve been struck by is the attentiveness and care that he gives to his work. I’m not suggesting others don’t do a good job, but this one seems a little different. I’ve watched him seek out litter from places when it might be easier to pass by.
He pulls out weeds which I suspect he’s not required to. Each morning, I make a point of looking out for him although he is completely unaware of my unspoken admiration. I thought of him while listening last week to fellow Leither, Jemma Neville, at Edinburgh Book Festival talking about her new book which is named after the street she lives on – Constitution Street. The book is based on conversations she conducted with 60 of the street’s residents – occasionally discovering something extraordinary amidst their ordinariness.
In many respects the book is a meditation on the sort of community, the sort of country, that we all might wish to live in. Ultimately, it’s a book about remaining hopeful and a much-needed reminder of what really matters in life – your community.
In the most recent briefing…
As Edinburgh empties itself of the Festival hordes and large tracts of the public realm that have been appropriated by venue companies are handed back to the people, the perennial debate has begun about who actually benefits from hosting the world’s biggest arts festival. Bigger, better, faster, funnier – it’s always more than the previous year, and as long as it stays that way this cultural juggernaut appears unstoppable. But many now argue that at the very least there should be some lasting legacy for Edinburgh’s communities. Bella Caledonia’s Mike Small takes aim and fires with both barrels.
It’s fair to say that a certain lack of clarity surrounds the nature of Scotland’s Common Good in terms of the rules that determine how this particular class of asset should be recorded, valued and managed. Some have argued that the Common Good should be treated as community assets rather than council assets and at the very least should be reported on separately and with greater transparency. The investigative journalists at the Ferret have recently uncovered some worrying evidence of mismanagement with the value of these assets falling significantly over a sustained period of time.
Somewhat contradictory messages doing the rounds just now about how well the Highlands and Islands are doing. First there is the news that regional authorities from Spain, Greece and Croatia have concluded that Scotland’s efforts to reverse the historic depopulation of the region have been so successful they want to copy us by establishing agencies in the mould of HIE and HIDB. But then, closer to home, we read reports from James Hutton Institute that we will soon be facing a crisis of de-population unless urgent steps are taken. Lesley Riddoch attempts to dig behind the headlines.
Richard Beeching is truly famous for just one thing – closing around 5,000 miles of Britain’s railway network. Any railway line that wasn’t turning a profit in the 60’s was for the chop. Many communities fought to save their lines and stations but few had any success. Some communities, however, never gave up the dream of having their line reinstated. Communities the length of the old Borders line campaigned tirelessly for years and are now reaping the benefits. Which is why last week’s announcement by Transport Minister Michael Matheson was such a cause for celebration in the Levenmouth area of Fife.
It could be argued that the community land movement punches well above its weight. It has a public profile that belies the fact that just 3% of Scotland’s land is under the collective ownership of local people. Although the policy landscape is becoming ever more conducive for communities to consider the option of ownership, many barriers remain in place. One of which is the vexed question of how communities can access sufficient finance. The Scottish Land Fund is the obvious first port of call but there are others. Useful research into this area published by Scottish Land Commission.
An important next step in the land reform journey begins with a consultation that ends on 18th September. This relates to the potentially controversial Part 5 of the 2016 Land Reform Act which is the community right to buy land to further sustainable development. It is controversial because in certain circumstances, when a prescribed set of conditions have been met, a community will have the right to acquire land even if the landowner doesn’t want to sell. In effect a form of compulsory purchase. Important therefore, that the Scottish Government get a strong response from the sector.
Talk of re-nationalising parts of the economy in order to increase the resilience of our national infrastructure has entered the mainstream – the recent acquisition of the last shipyard on the Clyde and the growing calls for the train operators to be returned to public ownership being examples. But is too simplistic to consider re-nationalisation as the antidote to corporate power? State owned enterprises in a global economy often mimic the behaviour of their private competitors. Interesting piece from Open Democracy arguing that if we want to ‘reclaim the commons’ it needs to be led from the bottom up.
Was there ever a time when public service wasn’t so inextricably meshed with the ethos of private gain? It seems almost naïve in the modern era to suggest that the revolving door between high political office and the opportunities to cash-in should somehow be jammed shut. Would anyone stand for high office if they were barred from the board rooms in the City? Or perhaps the cynicism and absence of trust in our institutions should be accepted so that our system of politics can be allowed to become what it is – transactional deal making. Interesting thoughts from Branko Milan.