In over 30 years as a Social & Environmental Justice Practitioner & Campaigner in the Shetland Isles, getting involved in fighting the unfit for purpose Scottish and local planning system, lack of affordable housing, waste, recycling, polluting fish farms, sustainable development, rural transport, social exclusion, renewable energy & more, it dawned on me a few years ago that almost every issue and almost all the problems in all mentioned arenas, all basically come from the same barriers to trying to find solutions that suited folk on their Scottish Islands.
The barriers to more sustainable island communities are quite simply the one-size-fits-all regulatory framework & single tier strategies that come from either the Westminster or Holyrood Governments. This alone forces small island & rural communities to have to live under rules, red tape, regulations & their associated costs which may be fine in Birmingham, Bradford or Bristol (due to their huge economies of scale, multi choice competition options and huge access to all manner of resources) but almost always cause massive problems in places like Benbecula, Burra Isle or Birsay.
Standing where I am now at the age of 66, i look back at all the unnecessary battles, thousands of wasted hours to please a minor jumped up official, reams of paperwork & forms that seem to exist to keep someone in a job & delay or prevent your life, and so on.
Its very clear to me now that the Government whoever or wherever they are, are in the business of divide & concur which has created the situation in this country that sees thousands of folk involved in hundreds of community groups, charities, trusts, local development or enterprise companies etc etc all chasing around their individual single issues, networking with others but without the resources to get joined up and in an ever decreasing world of potential funding.
We need to stop all this and refocus on the seriously failing governments. We need to organise & all join forces, across all our individual single issue environments and demand a new governmental approach. A new government approach that allows islands & remote or rural areas to make their own rules up, rules that allow and assist island communities build the houses they need free from the expensive & ridiculous building control or planning regime. Build the seasonal businesses communities need to develop again free from draconian regulations that presently stop development for various reasons.
We need thousands of rules scrapped & new regulations enacted that help small communities not shut them down, licenses & fees removed to free up scant amounts of money to go towards the build or running of a business or service. We need our hands untied and allow each island community come up with what it knows works for them & not get dragged screaming & kicking with legislation that is hard to comply with or unafordable.
Basically we need a new way to stop remote, rural & island communities move from fading away as many are. We need a new way to bolster these communities and then freedom for each community to develop in the way each community decides is their best for them, based on local knowledge.
Yes its asking for a revolution but is there an alternative if our islands are to survive & prosper? I will put money on the fact that many of our trusts, organisations and community bodies have in their articles of association, trust deeds or aims & objectives, fine words like social & economic inclusion, sustainable development, local aspirations, local decision making, accountability, vision etc etc. Brilliant but the way we are governed ensures many of these fine words will just remain aspirational and in my books mostly fantasy!
How do we achieve this? Firstly we each look up from our single issue pathway and think about what are the individual barriers to your organisation achieving its goals. Talk to others working in different arenas to see what their barriers are to achieving their goals and so on, until you all start to see that we basically all share the same barriers.
The next step would be to find / create a vehicle or platform to allow us all to join a common themed movement that seeks more control over our communities with demands to change many of the laws that keep us democratically & economically impoverished and unable to implement our own solutions to problems. Problems caused by inappropriate and over the top laws & regulations that may be necessary in some cases in urban conurbations but become a spanner in the works when rolled out to small island communities, creating disproportionate efforts and costs to implement.
12th February 2019
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