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06 October, 2017
More than strong leaders – I believe that powerful political narratives shape our society – in my lifetime, two in particular: 1) The Social Democratic story rescues the world from a self-serving elite – which has captured the wealth and the political systems. Ordinary people will reclaim and re-invest power in a democratic state – attuned to the common good: 2) the Neoliberal story rescues the world from the collectivising, overmighty state – which crushes freedom and individual opportunity. Through the free market – heroic entrepreneurs will deliver wealth – which will trickle down to everyone. At different times – one or other of these philosophies has captured the public imagination; that humankind has advanced through our extreme competitiveness - or the opposite - that it’s our urge to co-operate that's spectacularly unusual.             Now that Corbyn is the bookies' favourite to become the next PM - we can expect the defining debate about state ownership to gain momentum. But a new 'nationalisation' needs to acknowledge 'localisation' - the human scale organising and collaboration in neighbourhoods around the country. In a recent article, George Monbiot advances a ‘story’ about reviving community around the places where we live; neither the market nor the state – but around a great neglected economic sphere: the Commons. Local resources owned and managed by community enterprises; a vibrant participatory culture – making decisions to ensure that local wealth is shared by everyone. Monbiot calls this the Politics of Belonging. It’s easy for me to embrace this ‘story’- because it happens to be where I pitched my tent many years ago. Still here. - Read full bulletin

29 September, 2017
In the early 1970s – training as a community worker – I first encountered John Bowlby’s ‘attachment theory’: that as infants we need to achieve a secure relationship with at least one primary caregiver for our successful social and emotional development. Over the last twenty years, neuroscience has confirmed – that these earliest (first year) relationships actually encode the neural circuitry of our brains; ‘the known but not remembered’ pathways of our future relational life             The Big Issue in Scotland was launched in 1993 by two good friends – Tricia and Mel. Through their work, I learned about the ‘invisible population’ in our cities of ‘street people’ – who sleep in hostels or in doorways – people with little sense of belonging anywhere. The main learning for me was that ‘rough sleeping’ has little to do with the housing shortage – but with a far more intractable inner sense of homelessness. There are people with no happy memory of ‘home’ – for whom the notion of ‘belonging’ brings only fear. In human terms, this is a great wounding; an understanding of attachment enables us to begin to address it.             Every human being is somewhere on the secure/insecure attachment spectrum – our relationships tell our story. I was born just as war broke out in 1940; my dad was interned and my mum became very ill -  turbulent times. Whenever, occasionally, I feel 'abandoned' – without prompting, my mind conjures the image of my mum’s mum – my nonna in Glasgow: ‘waving from the backroads, by the rivers of my memory, ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind’. - Read full bulletin

22 September, 2017
  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”. - Read full bulletin

15 September, 2017
  Just bought John Le Carre’s latest novel – ‘A Legacy of Spies’; the story references several characters from his previous books – including a guest appearance from George Smiley himself ! - hoping for a weekend of contented immersion.  My left brain knows fine – that both Philip Marlowe (Chandler) and George Smiley (Le Carre) – are fictional creations; but our right brain decides for itself what’s ‘real’ – for as long as I can remember, both these characters have featured large in my ‘circle of influence’.              Superficially, my heroes have little in common; Marlowe; the hard-boiled, wisecracking private eye – stalking the ‘mean streets’ of 1930s Los Angeles.  Smiley: tubby, bespectacled, scholarly – recruited to Britain’s Secret Service from his obscure Oxford College.  But, meeting them both, you would recognise courage, integrity, honour – and a certain ‘undefeatable’ quality.  Interestingly, they are both, by choice, ‘loners’ – without partners.  Another important similarity is a look they often wear – as though they had something special to do. Some time ago – a friend (forty years younger) gave me the boxed set of Breaking Bad; in spite of recommendations, it didn’t chime with me and I didn’t persevere.  When asked why, I explained that I couldn’t fathom who was the ‘good guy’ in the story – who would restore moral order.  My friend was dismissive – saying that ‘real life’ was not as simple as ‘goodies and baddies’.  I’ve come to believe – that in everything that can be called art – there is a quality of ‘redemption’. This is probably 'old fashioned' now - but Marlowe and Smiley would understand what I mean. - Read full bulletin

08 September, 2017
I've never met Kezia Dugdale – don’t expect to; but her resignation – her reported disaffection with the whole Scottish political 'circus', invites comment.  An official website says her mum and dad were teachers; that she attended Aberdeen and Edinburgh yoonies; did the usual political researcher stuff.  When she emerged as party leader in 2014, I phoned a couple of friends – still in the Labour loop; told she was a bright and popular newcomer – but very little ‘grounding’ so ideologically flimsy; untainted but untried.             I’m never comfortable watching the proceedings of our parliament on TV – the general standard of MSPs is not impressive.  Their established ‘normal’ tone of debate is, to my mind, unnecessarily hostile, acrimonious and hurtful; they can’t realise how much of a ‘scunner’ their casual malice is to most ordinary folk.  Dugdale made the wrong call on Corbyn’s Leadership – but so did nearly everyone – that wasn’t grounds for her departure.  I think she found the whole gig so unpleasant – didn’t want to be there anymore.             The bruising world of Scottish politics supports a level of cynicism, corrosive to any sensitive human soul; Dugdale has been wise enough to recognise that this is not ‘normal’ behaviour – has escaped to reclaim her life.  I wonder if, in due course, this exceptional leader will resurface in civil society as a social entrepreneur – new exciting adventures.  Not sure what it says about the Scots – that we conduct our politics so venomously; except that many consider common courtesy the measure of how ‘civilised’ any society is. - Read full bulletin


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