I arrived as a community worker in Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes in 1976, when Stephen Maxwell (1942-2012) was SNP Councillor for the area. It was easy to respond to his unfailing courtesy, but I didn’t appreciate at the time the scope of his intellect, or the immense contribution he would make to aspects of Scottish life. With the likes of Margo MacDonald and Alex Salmond, he was policy lead of SNP’s leftist faction, the 1979 Group. During 25 years as policy lead of SCVO, you could say he ‘shaped’ Scotland voluntary sector; when I got to know his thinking, he influenced my own.
I’m holding an article from Issue 4 of VIEW Magazine (2006) which Maxwell wrote about community empowerment. It makes clear that we shared a similar vision of a community tier of democracy, devolving decisions right down to the people most exposed to their effects – (which he considered a human rights issue). He imagined hundreds of community groups, wee nurseries for the ‘political’ skills of communication, representation, negotiation and compromise – Scotland’s future ‘body politic’. Maxwell would be astonished at the unease of the present SNP regime with the local empowerment agenda; at their determination to expose so many parts of our third sector to inappropriate market forces.
If I was thirty years younger, I’d invite people I know to join me in drafting plans to enable Scotland’s missing tier of democracy – maybe six proven veterans of the cause. Among others, our task would be inspired by the thinking of Stephen Maxwell.
Larry’s Lunchette is a year old and I’m going to try for a second year. During July, I’m asking readers to visit our fundraising page – to help meet costs. Your decision on donating will not affect access.
At least once a week, I head up the M9 to the Trossachs for lunch – 45 mins each way and I love the drive. If I encounter 100 drivers on each trip, 99 behave well – the odd one badly; which accords with my basic belief, that people are instinctively considerate and responsible – that it’s ‘hard-wired’ within us. This also accords with relaxing Covid restrictions. But, this week, 100 doctors and scientists put their names to an emergency statement in the Lancet, warning that the apparent Govt strategy of ‘inoculated herd immunity’ is a terrible mistake, which will expose millions of people to out-of-control mass infection. I am so relieved that this is not my decision, and that our First Minister is cautious.
Although I marginally supported Italy on Sunday, I was upset for the three young lads that missed penalties, and by their subsequent abuse online. There was a post on Linkedin
addressed to Marcus Rashford: “ Children have eaten because of you. That’ll do, son”. I also enjoyed Matthew D’Ancona’s searing analysis on Tortoise: “We have a hooligan class of politicians – and a football team composed of gentlemen”.
In an extended piece, the Herald features research by the Ferret, which reveals that Scottish ministers held hundreds of meetings last year with business leaders – which have been intentionally omitted from the lobbying register through some loophole. So not only is Scottish democracy deficient at the bottom, but it’s also dodgy at the top of the pecking order. Kevin McKenna, who enjoys a spat, lets rip at the Scottish establishment.
All time heat records have recently been broken in Canada and other countries – reported temperatures 25 degrees above average catching our attention; the attendant drought and famine threatening lives. This short piece in the Toronto Star says: “I’m tired watching the world end. It’s time to get radical on the climate crisis”.
It’s not healthy for our democracy that ten of Scotland’s major newspapers are owned by just three men: Rupert Murdoch; Lord Rothermere and Frederick Barclay – billionaires who avoid UK taxation. “A small group of corporations with a narrow range of views”. Then, when you consider that two thirds of Scotch whisky distilleries are also owned by overseas companies – Scotland feels like an ‘occupied’ country.
I’m once again reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ – magnificent. This passage reflects my own reaction to the spontaneous goodwill of strangers—the power and significance of normal human courtesy. The hero, John Grady, hitches a lift on a flatbed truck with some farmworkers:
“Who nodded and spoke to him with great circumspection and courtesy… Ah, they said. Que Bueno. And after and for a long time to come he’d have reason to evoke the recollection of those smiles and to reflect upon the goodwill which provoked them for it had power to protect and to confer honour and strengthen resolve and it had power to heal men and to bring them to safety long after all other resources are exhausted.”
This passage stays with me: la cortesia.