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21st September

It’s almost 20 years since Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced UK foreign policy was to have an ‘ethical dimension’. I remember liking the sound of that, if not really understanding what it meant. Perhaps we could be more confident that our overseas aid budget would be put to good use. Last week, the new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, signalled a distinct shift in emphasis for the aid budget – which is to enhance and protect UK interests around the world. And so, if exerting global influence has become the new rationale of international development work, is there any cause for concern in the Scottish Government’s publication last week of a new strategy to ‘internationalise’ social enterprise? Just as with Cook’s ethical aspirations, the intention is a little unclear. The phenomenally successful Homeless World Cup is one obvious example of a truly international Scottish-based social enterprise. But most of the sector is small scale, community-facing and still at a fragile and formative stage.  While the sector may have travelled a long way in a short time, claims that Scotland now leads the world seem a tad overblown. Perhaps a new ‘ethical dimension’ might include a little humility?

In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • A new dance for Gigha

    Critics of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, are always quick to point out that these are highly intermittent sources of energy. What are we supposed to do when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?  And so the search has been on for a technical fix to the challenge of storing renewable energy. The community of Gigha were the original community energy trailblazers with their famous Dancing Ladies. Now they’re about to play another key role in Scotland’s journey towards a carbon-free future.


  • Numbers stack up

    In 2002, Senscot held a few events around the country to gauge whether there was any appetite to set up a new national umbrella body for development trusts. Encouraged by what they found, they pulled together a mix of start-up funding and Development Trusts Association Scotland was launched.  Since then the presence of a development trust has become a familiar feature in hundreds of communities across the country and DTAS grown accordingly. The results of its recent membership survey shed new light on this fast-growing and potent grass roots movement. 


  • 8 steps to community ownership

    To its credit, Scottish Government recognised some time ago that a low cost, high impact way of building knowledge and skills across communities was to provide the funding for small grants to enable folk to visit one another. Simple but highly effective. Last week, a delegation from the village of Wanlockhead spent time picking the brains of folk in the Western Isles about how they managed to bring the land they lived on into community ownership. Each case will be different but this 8 step guide provides a useful overview of how to go about it.


  • Invest in local priorities.

    Many communities benefit from privately owned wind farms through a system of payments that the developer pays as a form of ‘compensation’.  But over the years, the question of how this money is administered and who controls it has become highly contentious. Some Councils act as if this windfall income should go straight into Council coffers whereas communities believe the money belongs to them and should be spent according to locally agreed priorities. Increasingly, community-led plans are being produced which highlight local priorities. Coalburn, Douglas and Glespin are calling on South Lanarkshire Council to recognise the validity of their plan.


Policy talk

  • A long history

    While social enterprise may still be finding its feet within the mainstream economy, it’s worth noting that some historians think its origins can be traced back to 1761 when a group of weavers from East Ayrshire began to work cooperatively. The influence of business for the common good has waxed and waned ever since. In the 1980s and early 90s, Scotland was held in high regard for its track record in community business. A key influence during that time was John Pearce. John died five years ago but his memory lives on through an annual memorial lecture. All welcome.


  • Tower power

    One of the inequities in the way the energy supply system is managed, is that those who can least afford to generally end up paying the most. Comas, the community development project with a very direct approach to tackling poverty, have partnered with Community Energy Scotland on the ground-breaking Tower Power project – helping a community to use its collective bargaining power to negotiate cheaper electricity for everyone. There’s also a bundle of technical innovations being incorporated into this project, all of which are aimed at one outcome - cheaper electricity for all.


  • The value of a place to sit

    Opinion seems to be divided about the value of the humble public bench. Either they’re seen as a magnet for anti-social behaviour or as having a key role in fostering community cohesion and more generally, in slowing down the pace at which we lead our lives.  And it is the former view that seems to be winning the day. Benches are being routinely removed from public places – particularly in towns and cities. You may not notice until the time comes when you need a seat. This simple feature of civic life has become the focus of some interesting new research.


  • Be in Brechin

    Two years ago, the largest ever gathering of ‘Rural Scotland’ convened in Oban. This was the staging of the first Scottish Rural Parliament. Since then a huge amount of work has been undertaken both to strengthen ties with other rural parliaments and rural movements across Europe and to build a grassroots rural movement within Scotland. In advance of the second Rural Parliament due to be held in Brechin next month (a few places still available) the organisers have published a Manifesto for Rural Scotland.


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...