Part of Something Bigger

The vigour and abundance of voluntary action – undertaken by citizens not under the direction of any authority wielding the power of the state – is one of the distinguishing marks of a free society”. This quote from William Beveridge (1948) remained an inspiration during the 50 years of my association with Scotland’s community sector – it still defines my understanding of an independent civil society.

Giant third sector organisations – behaving like corporates – must be resisted; the model that big housing associations simply consume all the wee ones, doesn’t take us anywhere – in fact the opposite; social innovation comes from small, self-directed groups of people – with exceptional motivation and understanding of their mission. Our single greatest failure, is not to have in place the means to engage with thousands of human-sized organisations at local level; so that much of the ‘vigour and abundance of voluntary action’ remains unknown and unconnected.

Through failed leadership, the Scottish third sector suffers the lack of a unifying voice or narrative. We all tend to work on individual social issues whereas to change whole systems requires being part of something bigger; the growing momentum of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) is encouraging. If you read their table ‘Old way – New way’, you’ll see an exciting work in progress – the early participatory drafting of the practicalities of a wellbeing economy. Increasing numbers of Civil Society organisations are joining this ‘collective’ (see membership) as a credible rallying point for the shaping of our ‘larger vision’; one which inspires confidence that we can change the world we live in.


My thanks to 89 readers who have contributed to the costs of producing this blog. If you can help it would be greatly appreciated. See Donations Page.


This very predictable piece by Nicola Sturgeon in Holyrood Mag says that the next election will be ‘without question the most important in Scottish history’; it will certainly be important. But her article refers to the progressive policy platform offered by the SNP – when the Chair, she appointed, to their economic recovery group was openly hostile to ‘green new deal’ thinking. The SNP knows some language of the ‘new economy’, but its actions and its camp-followers are increasingly ‘old economy’.  Come next year’s election, people like me who want IndyRef 2 will vote SNP – even work for a landslide. But Sturgeon should realise, that a growing number of us are impatient for change, on a scale that she is not.


I’m convinced that the chemistry of my brain has changed over the past six months – everything feels a bit different. This piece from the Conversation platform discusses the behaviour of different brain chemicals. But I prefer this other piece from the same platform about managing Covid anxiety and fear; there are some practical suggestions which I found useful.


The Irish journalist, Peter Geoghegan, works for the excellent OpenDemocracy and has written a book, ‘Democracy for Sale; Dark Money and Dirty Politics’. The book is a carefully researched account of how a malignant combination of right-wing ideology, secretive money and the weaponization of social media is shaping contemporary British politics and undermining the integrity of elections. Scary stuff. See Guardian Review.


Lesley Riddoch has long been a trusted commentator of Scotland’s community sector, so her article reporting apparent bias by the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) against small, local Housing Associations, is worrying; rather than subsidiarity, the SNP administration prefers large, centralised structures. Everyone agrees that the housing sector needs regulation; it’s the conduct and competence of this SHR that’s in question.


Kevin McKenna’s piece in the National argues that ‘private schools sum up all that’s wrong with our society’ – how this year’s exams’ fiasco merely reflected the unfairness embedded in our education system. His article says nothing new – but it’s a salutary prod – that we live in a culture become oblivious to unearned and unfair privilege.


This is a famous and wise quote from ‘the Teachings of Don Juan’ by Carlos Castenada:

“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old person asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush or into the bush…In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

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