When the gig economy first arrived, it was framed as the trendy newcomer on the fringes of the labour market – super-flexible hours, quasi self-employment that fitted neatly into busy lifestyles. But in no time at all, zero-hour contracts with zero employment rights has become a cornerstone of the economy – now snagging 15% of the working population. Ken Loach’s powerful new film – Sorry we missed you – follows the downward spiral of ‘freelance’ delivery van driver Ricky and his wife, Abby, a contract carer. It’s hard to watch what must be the unrelenting daily grind for many thousands of people – modern day serfdom by any other name. Small wonder then that the 2019 UK Trust Index has 86% of the population no longer believing the ‘system’ is working for them. But the headline finding of this year’s survey is that while trust in government, the media and even large charities has plummeted, trust has swung dramatically, in equal measure, towards the ‘local’ – trusting only what we have first hand, day-to-day knowledge of. And that doesn’t feel particularly sustainable. So, how to rebuild trust in the ‘system’? Ricky, Abby and thousands like them are probably too exhausted to care.
In the most recent briefing…
Interesting that Westminster has set the wheels in motion for a Citizens’ Assembly to be convened next year to consider how the country should address the climate emergency. Whether this signals a genuine willingness to explore more deliberative approaches to democracy remains to be seen but we can only hope the mainstream media will show more interest in this initiative than has been shown towards the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland – the most ambitious foray yet into more participatory forms of democracy . With the first weekend of six just completed, barely a mention (other than some carping).
The history of Scotland’s community sector is awash with examples of successful campaigning and community action. It also remains largely undocumented (nudge to academia). But despite all this experience, when a community has a fight on its hands, it is usually left to its own devices in terms of how it goes about organising itself. It seems we lack a common approach to this crucially important function. A local campaign in Leith has attracted national and international attention in recent months – one of its leading lights argues we need to build a national movement of community organisers.
Arran is well known as a beautiful island and with good connections to the mainland, it has long been a hotspot for holiday homes. Indeed four villages on the island are known to be ‘Dark Villages’ with 80% of houses deemed to be second homes. As a consequence, property prices have been pushed out of the reach of most workers with many forced to move off the island and commute instead. Recognising the threat this poses to the island’s long term prosperity, the local development trust have come up a solution that others may want to replicate.
Depending on who you talk to from the world of farming, Brexit either represents some kind of existential threat or an opportunity to put the industry on a completely new footing. But rarely in these debates do we hear the voices of the many (usually) young people who yearn to enter farming but are effectively barred for want of land that’s both accessible and affordable. Scottish Farm Land Trust established itself a few years ago with the aim of improving access to land for small-scale ecological farming. They’re currently crowdfunding for a development worker. Worth a small punt?
After extensive consultation with island communities, the Islands (Scotland) Act was passed last year. One of the MSPs who sat on the Committee that steered the Bill through Parliament represents the remote rural constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. Gail Ross MSP listened to the evidence of the challenges of island life and recognised that many applied equally to communities in her constituency. Consequently she is now proposing that similar legislation to the Islands Act should apply to remote rural Scotland as well. A consultation has been launched. Responses need to be in by end of January.
When something goes global it’s either a cause for concern or celebration. In the case of Participatory Budgeting, it’s possibly a bit of both. At last month’s PB Going Global conference in Edinburgh, delegates from around the world praised Scotland’s progress towards the holy grail of mainstreaming PB. But there was a warning too. Porto Alegre in Brazil, for so long the poster child and trailblazer of PB worldwide, reported that it had fallen victim to the politics of their new President. Thereby demonstrating PB’s vulnerability to vagaries of politics. There is however, much to learn from Porto Alegre’s early experience.
The concept of overtourism – when there are too many visitors in one destination – appears to sit hand in glove with the exponential growth of the accommodation behemoth, Airbnb. The extent to which this phenomenon has captured the market is remarkable – almost 20% of all properties on Skye now sit on Airbnb and one in ten properties in central Edinburgh are listed on the site (with 80% listed as whole properties). With many of these properties effectively operating as unregulated hotels, the situation is spiralling out of control. A recent Scottish Government commissioned report will hopefully lead to some much-needed reform.
The conviction with which Margaret Thatcher pursued her programme of privatisation was so compelling that it remains the received wisdom for many when it comes to running public services. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, there is an unbending faith that the free market will necessarily produce the most efficient, best value solution. But gradually, ever so slowly, new ideas are beginning to infiltrate the public sector’s decision-making in relation to how they spend the public pound and how that impacts on our local economies. If you want to learn more, come along to this.