Some time ago, I wrote about an elderly lady in my street who lived alone, was beginning to become a little confused and on occasion, would go for a wander. We’re fortunate on our street in that most folk know one another and so to some extent, we could keep an eye out for her – but in truth, only to make sure she was safe. Five months ago, after a couple of falls and some time in hospital, she was placed in a care home on the other side of the city, severing whatever local connections she had. There’s a depressingly familiar ring to this sorry tale because whatever other factors were at play, her increasing sense of being alone and isolated from those around her must surely have compounded them. Feeling lonely is the social scourge of our times and while we know it affects all ages, the elderly are particularly susceptible. Although Scottish Government has recently published its national strategy on the issue, anyone who experiences the pain of loneliness is unlikely to be comforted by government good intention. In this instance, only small acts of kindness between neighbours, and building stronger connections within communities will do the job.
In the most recent briefing…
Around this time, we usually hear which words have made it into the shortlist for the Word of 2018. It’s a fair bet that ‘populism’ will be up there. When populism first started being bandied about it sounded like it had to be a good thing – that it was somehow about the concerns of ordinary people. But pretty quickly it came to be associated with a whole raft of hate-driven ideologies and bizarrely, became the rallying cry of political figures who were anything but ordinary people. A useful article by Peter Bloom tries to shed some light.
The Stornoway Trust on the Isle of Lewis is the oldest and one of the largest development trusts in the country, with 28,000 hectares of land under its ownership around the town of Stornoway. The Trust, like many community organisations on the Western Isles, has an active interest in wind power and in recent years has been working with energy giant EDF and others to develop a massive windfarm project. Recent reports suggest that in doing so, the Trust may have signed away more than just the rights of individual crofting communities to develop their own wind energy projects.
Communities will soon have a right to buy vacant and derelict land, if its presence is judged to have a detrimental effect on the community. Of course, the community may have neither the means nor the desire to own the asset in question – just a wish for whoever owns it to stop neglecting it. In which case, the local authority could, in theory, use its powers of compulsory purchase but it also may have neither the resources nor the will to own the asset. And in that case, you might imagine, it would be stalemate. But now there’s another way.
The first public toilet appeared at the Great Exhibition in 1851 in Hyde Park and for a penny the visitor received not just the use of the facilities but a fresh towel, a comb and a shoeshine into the bargain (recommendedfrom COSS) And over the next 150 years, the public toilet flourished as an institution. But with budget cuts of recent years it increasingly falls to the community to keep their public loos open. Some are rising to the challenge. The folk on Cumbrae have even made their ‘Cumbrae Cludgies’ a visitor attraction.
The 2015 Community Empowerment Act has many parts, some of which received more attention than others and some of which are still working their way through the process of being implemented. One of these sections relates to Common Good Property. The question of what the Common Good consists of has long been an area of contention, as is the matter of how these assets are managed and disposed of. Councils are now required to publish a register of all Common Good assets after fully consulting with communities. Might be worth checking out what your Council has done.
Last year, Andy Wightman MSP failed in his bid to have tighter controls imposed on landowners who scar the landscape by bulldozing tracks across their land for deer stalking and grouse shooting. Despite widespread support from environmental and conservation groups, and plenty of evidence in plain sight, Scottish Government concluded that landowners are acting within their rights. Hopefully, a different conclusion will be reached concerning the environmental damage that is being inflicted on our seabed by illegal fishing practices. Several coastal communities and marine environmental protection groups have just written to the First Minister calling for prompt action.
Perhaps the next time the world gathers to consider what actions are necessary to avert climate break down, countries should only send their economists and leave the scientists at home. After all, the scientists tend to agree about what needs to happen. But judging by the response and coverage of the recent conference in Poland which signed off a plan (of sorts) to implement the Paris Agreement, climate science and economics could not be further apart. The scientists have gone even further – claiming capitalism is over. Perhaps someone needs to tell that to the economists.
As the roll out of Universal Credit continues to face universal criticism, research into other ways of providing a baseline of financial security for citizens continues. However, amidst rumours that the largest pilot study into the feasibility of a basic income was being scaled back by the Finnish Government and that another experiment was to be concluded earlier than planned by Ontario’s provincial government, some feared the end of the road. Not so apparently. The results will simply inform the next stage of this lengthy learning journey. Scotland’s four pilot areas are expected to report back later this year.