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9th October 2019

Politics is such a fickle business - to the outsider it’s a mystery why some things happen and others don’t. Not so very long ago, land reform had completely stalled. Political interest had cooled and those interested in maintaining the status quo were beginning to believe it had all just been a bad dream. But at last week’s Scottish Land Commission conference, we saw how far the policy pendulum can swing back again. Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham MSP now clearly believes that the question of who owns Scotland’s land and how it is managed and used, is pivotal to much of what Scottish Government wants to do  - welcome news no doubt to all those in the audience who had worked hard for this policy shift.  But in his new book, Winners Take All : The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas strikes a note of caution in highlighting an important distinction between different types of reforming zeal. His point being that too many self-professed social reformers will argue it’s perfectly possible to make omelettes without breaking eggs. Although Scottish Government might accept that some eggs need to be broken, the more relevant question might be, how many?

In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • EPIC winners

    Describing the world of voluntary arts is an almost impossible task given the sheer range and diversity of what comes under that heading. Martyn Evans, former CEO at Carnegie UK, once said that doing some sort of creative cultural activity is not just a nice thing to do, it is the key to a happy life. And as people having creative, cultural and happy lives tend to like a party, the Voluntary Arts movement gathers annually for their EPIC awards bash. Not that they are a particularly competitive bunch but awards ceremonies need to have a winner. Drum roll…

  • Mapping the issues

    In many respects a community share issue is an old idea in 21st century wrapping - the idea of raising funds by public subscription has been around for years. Most war memorials, for instance, that were erected after the First World War were funded in this way. But community shares are more than a simple donation. They offer someone a chance to ‘invest’ in a local project and sometimes even make a little return on that investment. The number of share issues has been slowly growing and recently they have been mapped. Interesting to see the range and geographic spread.

  • Peace of Mind

    In the last edition I raised the issue of how and where investment in social care should be directed. Clearly there is no silver bullet that will resolve a crisis that is already crippling the system, but a step in the right direction has to be to build the resilience and resources of community based services. But local networks that have the capacity to respond to the needs of potential users of a service are unlikely to emerge spontaneously. They need to be nurtured and developed to fit local needs.  Could the answer lie with encouraging more projects like this?

  • Plundering the Commons

    There seems to be a growing awareness of something called the ‘commons’ and in particular how these collectively ‘owned’ resources have been appropriated by various corporate interests and/or the state and subsequently lost from public view. There’s also a growing interest in rethinking how these assets that we have in common could be put to better use for the common good. A new book by Prof Guy Standing reviews how the commons have been plundered through the ages and takes a sweeping definition to include everything from our cultural commons to the air we breathe.

Policy talk

  • Pissoirs and PB

    The phrase participatory budgeting (PB) is widely recognised but perhaps not fully understood – at least not in the way that it’s being practised elsewhere in the world. PB Scotland is hosting a major conference later this month at which some of the US and Canadian experience of PB will be shared. In many other countries, PB is completely normal and has been mainstreamed for years. For instance, Paris commits 5% of its capital spend (£89m) to a participatory process. That’s the equivalent of 45 euros for every citizen – no wonder Parisians engage in such numbers.

  • Ditch the steretypes

    A while back, Noel Mathias of WEvolution posed an awkward challenge in this briefing for anyone who’s interested in the future of community work. His concern was that community work simply hasn’t kept pace with events and as a result has become a bit of an irrelevance. Noel called for a new national framework to shape a new breed of community worker that would be truly fit for purpose. Harsh words perhaps which no doubt rankled with those tasked with keeping community work on track. Colin Ross at CLD Standards Council invoked his right to reply.

  • Community empowerment into the future

    My point in referencing Anand Giridharadas (see intro) is because land reform needs to be understood, in part anyway, as a zero sum game. In other words, in order to address our distorted patterns of land ownership for the common good, some interests are going to lose out just as other interests will benefit from the proposed reforms.  I was recently invited to write a short piece to stimulate interest in the new National Planning Framework that will be published next year, and in this I pursued a similar line of argument in relation to the future of community empowerment.

  • Ideas for delivery

    Everyone lauded the initiative of Scottish Government when it published one of the first ever strategies by a national government to combat loneliness and social isolation. The real challenge, however, comes in designing and delivering actions on the ground that will make a real difference to people’s lives. An excellent briefing on this issue from Local Government Information Unit highlighting some innovative ideas and approaches that have been pursued around the country. At the end of the day this national strategy will need community led delivery.

About Scottish Community Alliance

Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.

The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...