Storytelling is probably the oldest and one of our more neglected art forms. Local traditions and folklore, the bedrock of community identity, are nurtured by the telling and re-telling of stories about our places and the people in them. The stories we tell are important for another reason too. There are still many – often those who hold the reins of power – who remain deeply unconvinced about the value of community action. For some reason, the myriad achievements of communities consistently fail to resonate with them. I’ve long assumed it’s to do with how we tell our stories. Simply pointing out that there are realistic community alternatives to the status quo clearly doesn’t wash. And even when the mainstream media’s interest is piqued, the reporting style is all too often patronising and frequently misses the wider point. There are, of course, some notable exceptions. Lesley Riddoch long ago pinned her colours to the mast. She even has a weekly column dedicated to the cause – most recently highlighting the intrinsic value of a trusted community press, particularly in an era beset by fake news. We may struggle to convince the sceptics but never doubt the value of telling a good story.
In the most recent briefing…
Last weekend at Wigtown Book Festival, the historian Sir Tom Devine spoke about his latest book on the Scottish Clearances. Slightly off script, he also launched into a tirade against what he described as a fundamental injustice in the planning system. He was referring specifically to the case of a developer who plans to build luxury housing on the Culloden battlefield despite widespread objections from communities from all over Scotland. His scathing criticism of the appeal system brought spontaneous applause from the 200+ strong audience. A good piece by Kevin McKenna in the Observer.
What price grass root democracy? Not much if you live in Dundee apparently where 1p per head of population goes to support the running of community councils. And quite a bit more if you live in the Shetland Islands – £6.81 per head of population. Community councils aren’t the only form of grass root democracy but they are the only ones with statutory responsibilities. Now further responsibilities for CCs are being mooted in the Planning Bill. How much more can CCs take with such a variable picture of support? The Ferret’s investigation team uncovers the full picture.
The largest ever study into loneliness has just been published. Across all age groups, at least a third of us say we feel lonely often or very often, and this is most keenly felt by 16-24 year olds. The causes of this social malaise are complex as will be the means to tackle it. Although, this won’t suit everyone, one approach might be to consider the value of adopting a way of life that incorporates an ‘intentional community’. Kirstin Stevens-Wood lists at least four reasons why this might be an idea worth considering.
I’ve lost count of events where delegates are invited to use social media to amplify the key messages – although simultaneously it’s implied that the digital world is assumed to be beyond most of us and only for the ‘young folk’ in the audience. It’s a bit of a cringe but there’s probably more than a grain of truth to it – not so long ago community groups would seriously debate whether or not to have a web presence. Ever conscious that the sector needs to shape up digitally, this free service popped up the other day.
Scottish Government’s review of local governance – aka Democracy Matters – is well underway with conversations taking place the length and breadth of the country. The backcloth to these discussions is, in part, how our current system of local government operates. At risk of curing the nation’s insomnia, some recommended reading for anyone with half an interest in a better understanding of local government is a recently published guide to local government finance. Or at least the first few pages entitled, All You Want To Know But Were Afraid To Ask. Beyond that point, sleep is assured.
A very graphic reminder of how the planet is heating up has appeared on the BBC website. It’s worth a look. Next week the latest scientific evidence is going to provide some stark warnings – we need to take action now to avoid irreversible climate change. How often have we heard this and yet found some way to fudge ourselves into relative inaction. The reason being that there is an elephant in the room which we find great difficult in giving a name to. George Monbiot argues it’s time we did.
On a daily basis, everything about Brexit becomes more uncertain – pity help the civil servants drafting contingency plans for each of the options. The layers of complexity involved are mind-boggling. One of these layers, which seems fundamentally linked to many others, is the place of human rights. If some of the Brexiteers have their way, the current European legislation on human rights will be dispensed with. Scottish Government have invited an expert Advisory Group to come up with recommendations that would safeguard and even enhance human rights in Scotland. They’d like to hear your views.
The process that determines what goes into the Programme for Government seems somewhat opaque – at least from the outside looking in. A strange alchemy of lobbyists, civil servants and of course, the wisdom of our elected representatives, combine to produce the work plan for the coming year. But nothing is fixed in stone. Scottish Food Coalition have been working hard to challenge the way this country thinks about food and had assumed a Good Food Nation Bill would appear in the most recent Programme. It wasn’t. Cue intensive lobbying followed by Government U-turn. An interesting insight.