Hello and welcome to the October issue of the Voice for Arran! We hope you are well and enjoying the arrival of the fresh autumn days.
This issue opens with a protest song – Yon Muckle Stob – an original Scots rendition of a well-known tune, L’Estaca, by local musician and writer, Malcolm Kerr. When I received this article I was charmed by the tale of the song’s formation and with the song itself, and as the pieces for this issue have come together, the spirit of Yon Muckle Stob has in some way come to frame the intertwined political themes present in the following pages.
Sitting here now reflecting on how the stories of protest and political struggle have touched me, I have also been forced to look at my own pretty dismal record of political participation over the years. Of course some of this, as I am understanding more deeply from the articles, is not my fault. In a recent blog, George Monbiot expresses the difficulties present in the UK political system very clearly (see the article on the Scottish Climate Assembly). The present two-party system we have does not give much meaningful opportunity to engage. However I know too I have avoided certain means and ways of political participation, partly because I tell myself, in matters that concern my life, that yes, I am an active and responsible citizen!
Sally Campbell’s piece Our Collective Responsibility, however, has brought my disengagement sharply to my attention. In looking at ways to help solve the climate and biodiversity crises, she turns her attention to democracy and accountability on Arran. And as she asks, “I recently watched the on-line meeting of Arran Locality Partnership (ALP). How much do YOU know about it?” I thought – well, not very much. She notes that many people she has spoken to about this have never heard of it. She then asks, “Where is the democratic accountability in these groups deciding on Arran’s future?” This really made me sit up.
Now I’ve spent some time consciously thinking about it, I realise I actively veer away from such initiatives as the ALP. It’s partly because they are not part of my day to day focus or work, but it’s also because I am put off by the, to my ears, fairly impenetrable jargon that seem to characterise these events. The language makes it hard for me to engage, to understand even what is being said, and what the issues are that are being ‘consulted’ on. I doubt I am alone in this. Or in the fact that I find the heartfelt expression of truth in a song like Malcolm’s, or in a talk like Sir Geoff Palmers (see Climate Change and Racial Injustice) much easier to connect with than that of the language and issues of local government consultation.
But there I notice another disjuncture, between this disconnection to our political system and the energy and dedication coming out of the pieces in this issue. So many of us seem to be turned away from formal channels of participation, meanwhile time and again I read accounts of so much engaged and inspired activity, which fill me with hope and inspiration too. In Sally Campbell’s article we also hear how Greenpeace have dropped boulders into the North sea to ensure the Marine Protected Areas really are protected; in another piece we hear of the 12th Birthday of the No Take Zone in Lamlash, an entirely community led achievement; and we hear each month of the ongoing activities of Eco Savvy, a network of people working continuously to promote the environmental health and sustainability of the island. The will is there, but the routes of formal political participation don’t often seem to connect up with it.
Scotland is just starting its process of setting up Climate Assemblies, similar to that which has taken place in England over the last year or so. The logo for this initiative claims that it is ‘Doing Politics Differently’. Maybe governments are now listening to protest movements, such as Extinction Rebellion, who have been calling for greater participatory democracy, and an alternative way of doing Politics, since its’ campaign began. I will wait with anticipation to see if this turns out to be so. I may also try to join a local government online event. There is one coming up on October 5th as part of Challenge Poverty week in North Ayrshire, and as part of a new Scottish government narrative on a wellbeing economy, where the health of the community and environment supposedly takes precedence over economic concerns.
It all sounds hopeful but the words of Yon Muckle Stob keep returning to me – that freeing ourselves, and our natural world, from undemocratic structures takes a lot of work, and perhaps also takes a move by those in power to an understanding that those making democratic advances, are not “anarchists” or “criminals”, as Monbiot points out, but are people with the energy and inspiration to make a difference to our world, and need therefore to be met as such.
Have a great month and I hope you find some inspiration in this issue, Elsa