Senscot Bulletin: 22.09.17

Dear members and friends,


When I heard, last week, that Susan had died of cancer, aged 70, the decision to attend her funeral was immediate.  For 15 years, from 1976, she was a valued colleague and friend – one of the most impressive community organisers I’ve ever worked with; I felt sad that we’d lost contact.
            At the service (Mortonhall, Edinburgh), it is quickly obvious that the minister doesn’t know Susan – but he’d taken the trouble to visit her family – listened to their stories – tried to shape a narrative; but it just doesn’t work for me.  I came to pay tribute to a warrior – a ‘sister in arms’ through many a battle with the ‘non-believers’ –  his text has no sense of this; I pay tribute silently to the Susan I knew.  In a few years, I reflect, something like this ceremony will be staged for me; someone (I hope familiar) summarising my life in ten minutes.  These rituals serve a purpose – help with grieving – a reminder where we’re all headed; but I can’t summon much interest in my own ‘send-off’ – don’t feel it matters.
            I love and am loved by a number of people – some are dead now, but when they were alive, we loved each other; is this not a better summary of our lives.  When I think about these individuals – I realise that I am the sum total of all that love – that is who I am; it’s within this sense of belonging that I exist.  Philip Larkin’s great line: “What will survive of us is love”.


Last week, joblessness in Scotland fell to a record low of 3.8 percent – but wages also continued to fall; economist/journalist Paul Mason writes that UK workers are living through the longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years. The ‘gig’ economy – the business model of firms like Amazon and Starbucks etc – has created a culture which systematically exploits workers. The TUC estimates that in 2016 alone there were 2.1 trillion hours of unpaid overtime in the UK – £33.6 billion lost from pay packets. I can remember the 1970’s- when, in Iain Macwhirter’s words: "trade unions arguably had too much power – and used it irresponsibly in certain areas". While we don’t want to return to that – the power balance has shifted too far to the bosses. Corbyn’s June Labour manifesto included a long list of workplace reforms; I sense that is becoming the mood of the nation.


Because they contribute to the ‘public good’ – registered charities in the UK receive a ‘public subsidy’ – principally through rates relief. In 90% of cases, access to private schools is restricted to those who are wealthy – and, according to SCVO, this should not be considered charitable activity; this is a fundamentally important issue for Scotland’s third sector – on which our regulator OSCR has repeatedly capitulated. In his campaigning column in Saturday’s Herald, – Kevin McKenna points out that in two decades of Scottish left-wing govt – there has been virtually no attempt to address this subsidy of privilege.


Lesley Riddoch attended the DTAS Conference earlier this month – her piece in The National is worth reading alone – for its selection of what she calls the ‘astonishing achievements’ of Scottish communities. But, like Senscot, Riddoch is a long-term campaigner for local democracy – and her article once again probes what is an extraordinary ‘blind spot’ in the SNP’s governance of Scotland. At their Conference last year, John Swinney made vague reference to a new ‘Local Democracy Bill’ – of which little has been heard. Will this year’s Conference announce a new tier of town and island size Councils; don’t hold your breath.


On Sunday 1st October, Catalonia will hold a Referendum on its independence from Spain. The Catalan Parliament has decreed the vote, and hundreds of mayors have vowed to facilitate it. However, the Spanish Parliament has declared it illegal. This stand-off between Madrid and Catalonia is not new – but the actions of the Madrid Govt over the last few days have raised matters to another level. Apart from almost guaranteeing a ‘yes’ vote – not that it was in much doubt – it also brings a foreboding as to where further escalation could lead us. To add to the mix, FC Barcelona issued this statement.


NOTICES: We can’t flag all notices here, but more jobs, events and tenders available on our website. See  this week:
JOBS: Balerno Village Trust, Social Enterprise Academy, Gairloch and Loch Ewe Action Forum, Isle of Luing Community Trust, Glasgow Homelessness Network, Wasps Ltd, Zero Tolerance
EVENTS: BlueGrassmarket Festival, 24th Sep; Thai Cook & Dine Evening, 28th Sep; MacMillan Coffee Morning, 29th Sep; Pop-up-Cafe, 03rd Oct; Leading Growth for Senior Leaders
TENDERS: Mental and Holistic Health Support – Renfrewshire Council, Provision of Services for Survivors of Trauma – Falkirk Council, Provision of Cleaning Services – Westray – Orkney Islands Council,
Join the Ready for Business Linked-In group and follow on Twitter.
The SENs Weekly Update: The Draft Programme for our SE Conference at the Westerwood Hotel – on the 7th/8th December 2017 – is now shaping up. “Collaborating towards a Sharing Economy” will again be run in partnership with Social Firms Scotland and Community Enterprise; with support from the Scottish Community Alliance – exploring how social/community enterprises can work better and more effectively together. Places are available for around 120 delegates and, as always, we anticipate 70% of attendees to be made up of front-line social enterprises – with around 20 places being reserved for national intermediaries and/or support agencies. Further details (speakers etc) to follow. To book your place, see Booking Form .


Andy Wightman, Scotland’s intrepid land reform campaigner, claims in a report published this week that there are almost 4000 derelict sites in Scotland; the Scottish Greens want to give local councils the power to tax them – a ‘vacant site levy’. According to their research, 70% of this land is suitable for development – and taxing it would generate £200m a year to build affordable homes. In Jan 2016, the Greens tried to amend the land reform bill to tax vacant land – but the SNP rejected it. The worsening shortage of affordable housing suggests that this report will get some serious consideration.


Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, this week announced a new – long overdue – Govt initiative to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. The initiative will: establish a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group; create an ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ Fund of £50 million (over 5 years); and invest an additional £20 million in alcohol and drug services. The make-up of the Action Group – chaired by Jon Sparkes (CEO of Homeless Charity, Crisis) –  will be announced shortly – but the Govt will be looking to draw upon a wide range of expertise and experience to ensure as many voices as possible are heard.


When the Community Empowerment Act extended the right to buy to all of Scotland – there was an optimism about what this could mean for communities in our cities. However, news this week that the community buy-out of Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital has been thwarted is a further dent to this optimism – and not the first example of this in the city. Once again property developers have won the day. Questions need to be asked about whether or not the Act – in urban areas – has bitten off more than it can chew.


Reminder: The 3rd John Pearce Lecture takes place on Monday, 2nd October (5pm) at the Deeprose Lecture Theatre at Glasgow Caley. This year’s lecture will be delivered by Laurie Russell (Wise Group) on the theme: “Are social enterprises in Scotland fit and agile enough to face the challenges of the future?”. See details on bookings etc.The evening also includes an update on the Social Enterprise Collection (Scotland). Individuals and/or organisations who in time may wish to add their papers to the Collection can fill in this ‘Pledge’ Form


This week’s bulletin profiles a community co-operative set up by students at Edinburgh University. The Shrub Swap and Reuse Hub (Shrub) – set up 3 years ago – initially to allow new students to collect, for free, all the stuff left behind by previous graduate students – demonstrating how young people can address climate change. Already, over 12 tonnes have been saved from landfill. Shrub continues to grow – with over 300 members, 200 volunteers and 6 part-time members of staff. It holds a Swap Shop four times a week, where folk can exchange what they don’t need – for what they do need. Shrub is also tackling food waste through its Food Sharing network – redistributing unused food from businesses to the local community.


At last week’s funeral service, I reflected how the great drama of Christianity had once dominated European, and my own, consciousness; how its exit has left an enormous gap in our self-understanding. This is how John Updike saw it in 1993:


‘Modern fiction… thrives on showing what is not there: God is not there, nor damnation and redemption, nor solemn vows and the sense of one’s life as a matter to be judged and refigured in a later accounting, a trial held on the brightest, farthest quasar. The sense of eternal scale is quite gone, and the empowerment possessed by Adam and Eve and their early descendants, to dispose of one’s life by a single defiant decision. Of course, these old fabulations are there, as ghosts that bedevil our thinking,’


That’s all for this week.
Best wishes,




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Senscot is a Company, registered in Scotland. Company Reg No. 278156: Scottish Charity No. SC 029210