The algorithms that drive social media are beyond most people’s comprehension in terms of the power they wield and the profits they earn for their owners (if you want to scare yourself watch Social Dilemma). Presumably it was an algorithmic assumption about me that caused a particular TedTalk by the First Minister to be pushed into my line of sight after just a few Google searches on the general theme of ‘well-being’. Slightly resenting this unwarranted intrusion, for a while I resisted the temptation to click. But it was a compelling watch. Listening to her place the rights of children, kindness and the mental health of the nation on a par with GDP at the centre of her government’s economic policy, what’s not to like? And although this was in the relative calm of pre-Covid (notwithstanding the long shadow of Brexit), the ambition to build a well-being economy seems remarkably undiminished and currently sits front and centre of the Scottish Government’s plans for post-Covid renewal and recovery. And yet the conundrum of how to achieve the kind of system change that this implies remains unanswered. Hard choices, unpalatable to many, would be required. Perhaps we should leave it to the algorithms.
In the most recent briefing…
The speed and flexibility of the community response to Covid has been one of the most striking features of the past six months and it’s clear that the lessons learned during those early months will be called upon during what looks likely to be a challenging winter. The Community Learning Exchange is one means of both recognising the scale of what communities have been doing and capitalising on all that experience to support and build the capacity elsewhere. A great example is Health n Happy, a development trust serving Rutherglen and Cambuslang, who have begun sharing their unique approach to lockdown.
Despite the progress that the community landowning movement has made over the years, there are many who sit on the other side of this particular aspect of the land reform debate and wait for the first community landowner to fail in spectacular fashion in order to confirm their prejudices. The arguments to support the idea of communities owning their own land have been laid out many times but rarely as powerfully and cogently as in a speech by Professor Jim Hunter at a CLS conference held a couple of years ago.
In the last edition, I described my experience of giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament on the progress (or lack of it) in relation to community empowerment in general and in particular two sections of the Act – sections 3 and 5 that relate to participation and asset transfer requests. A few voices at a Committee is one thing, but it is surely much better that the committee in question hear from those who have lived experience of trying to use the Community Empowerment Act. Running until 23rd October, the Local Government and Communities Committee is canvassing your views.
Despite Covid having knocked the wind from the sails of the short term letting industry and its principal cheerleader Airbnb, with many property owners reflecting that their 2nd house ‘investment strategy’ needs a rethink, the prevalence of unregulated short term letting properties continues to blight communities – Edinburgh and Skye being the worst affected. Driven largely by the work of the Homes First campaign, Scottish Government has launched a consultation as a first step towards reform. PLACE , a self organising network of Edinburgh residents, are to the fore of this campaign. Their submission is a useful starting point.
David Cameron’s ‘big idea’ during his tenure as PM was the Big Society but it wasn’t long before ‘other priorities’ led to it being quietly binned. More recently Boris Johnson asked one of his team to produce some ideas on how to sustain all that community spirit that he’d observed in response to Covid. Embracing the challenge with real gusto, Danny Kruger MP produced a long list of recommendations for a new era of community power. His boss’ letter of thanks for all his hard work suggests that his ideas are unlikely to see the light of day.
As always seems to be the way with legislation, the devil is in the detail and now that the high level arguments that surrounded the Planning Act are out the way (the most amended piece of legislation in the history of the Scottish Parliament) the real arguments can begin about the detail and where that devil is hiding. Local Place Plans have been heralded as the way to give communities much more traction in the planning process. We argued that to all intents and purposes, this was an old idea with a new name. Yet to be persuaded otherwise.
Occasionally a new model pops up that looks like it might challenge the primacy of ownership in our society – the sharing economy showed early promise but with the rise of the world’s largest hotel chain that didn’t own a hotel (airbnb), the largest retailer but without any shops or goods (Amazon) or largest world’s transport company without vehicles (Uber), initial enthusiasm soon faltered. Nonetheless, as Kelly Bewers at Pioneers Post argues, if the new systems we need are to be genuinely more participatory, inclusive and democratised, our understanding of ownership probably needs to evolve from where it is just now.
The loss of biodiversity around the world is every bit the existential threat to humankind that the closely related challenge of climate breakdown is. Last month, a global campaign was launched calling on a massive programme of investment ($500 billion) in community led action to avert further biodiversity loss. Timed to coincide with the UN summit on biodiversity, an open letter was sent to the UN Director General signed by 150 conservation groups from around the planet (22 from Scotland). David Attenborough has fronted a short video to launch the campaign.
Birse covers over 125sq. km on Deeside in the north-east of Scotland. The parish (district) has four main parts: the three scattered rural communities of Finzean, Ballogie and Birse and the largely uninhabited Forest of Birse, which covers over a quarter of the parish’s total area. The parish has around 330 households, with half of the population living in Finzean and half in Ballogie and Birse.Find out more