Common Good

In a sea of cynicism, when it seems as if the courts, the media class and the political elite are against us, here’s a blast of practical Glaswegian idealism, ‘its not all bad news – crisis can also be a process of transformation.’

About the only way folk feel they can exercise their democratic rights, is through the ballot box. While corruption levels in public life and everything else that ordinary people need to sacrifice to get through their week, seem to be at a record high – we are soon again to be given the choice of who will become the minder of the public estate. Cynicism is rife and trust wanes. And folks belief that ordinary people have the ability to be involved in shaping their future, their environment and their communities wanes with it.

But what else do we have?

The “Common Good Awareness Project” is not here to tell you what to do. It is here to highlight some – not alternatives, but well established laws, democratic structures and principals that could help “ordinary people” become part of the decision making process in their communities.

What is the Common Good?

The Common Good is over 500 years old – is rooted in our community – and permeates through our daily lives. It is a hedge against short term solutions and political expediency. The common Good is a long term investment. Most Glaswegians know we own the parks – even young people. There are still strong remnants of ideas that things should be shared and include everybody – All over Scotland. (Read the Scottish Enlightenment our culture was built on these principals.)

The Common Good contains a substantial range of public assets of land, property, such as schools, public buildings, parks, art work and much more. There are laws that should protect these assets, a historical and cultural context, and the Common Good is based on democratic principals.

Our Common Good is part of who we are as a nation. Not in the flag waving sense, but what we share as people of the world – from the Enlightenment and our history of struggle for the underdog. Why are we not proud of these achievements? Why do we not drape our city squares, cover the side of buses telling the world – and creating festivals of these things?

“500 Years Celebration of the Common Good of Scotland”
“The Scottish Enlightenment 18th Century Excellence”

(The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By 1750, Scots were among the most literate citizens of Europe, with an estimated 75% level of literacy. Wiki)

These were part of a processes of commonality – outporings of generosity that had a far reaching effect and influence, not only across Scotland but across the world. Other countries recognise this wealth more than we do ourselves.

If we lose the Common Good we lose a uniqueness that can’t be replaced.

Our Common Good is under threat all over Scotland – as administrators of our assets look to solve their short term problems by using our long term wealth. If our Common Good disappears, it can’t ever be replaced by using money. We lose the Common Good and we also lose the story, the history, the institutions and the idea of the civil society that created it.

But its not all bad news – Crisis can also be a process of transformation.

The all out threat to our Common Good is timely and has unearthed and reminded us of some useful possibilities. If there is one thing we need in these times of irrationality, disassociation, separateness, and isolation, is something to focus on – something that has a past a presence and a future – something we can build our vision, (even the poorest of us) of where we want to go.

What we are looking for here, is not some new government initiative, finance, private partnership, representation, or drain on government funding. We simply want recognition and control over what already belongs to us. We want the Common Good land, the valuables, and the profits that have been made off of our Common Good, to be put back into the Common Good fund for communities to decide what use these assets and profits should be put to – Remembering assets run into millions an pounds.

There are many examples where the Common Good is being used to benefit local communities (and many more examples where it is not.) There are places where Common Good assets have been re established, taken back from the developers and the mismanagement by those we employ to look after them – And all carried out by people who had never heard of the Common Good before realising their institutions (town halls schools etc) could be protected using Common Good law.

The Common Good could be used as a democratic filter system, in which
government legislation, proposed regeneration schemes and commercial
developments, could be passed through – to see if they properly serve the
community, are needed, have been thought out properly, allocated the right
space and of what social benefit to local people?

These funds could also be used to develop citizenship in young people, through real things and in giving them some responsibility and use of the very assets that were established “through” good citizenship and a vision of a better society.

There are many ideas, experiences and possibilities. The question is how do we collect Common Good information and spread the word about, what it is and what it represents. How do we create activity? How do we make it interesting for young people? This the project will set out to do.

The law and some aspects of Common Good can be complex and a wee bit
difficult to understand, but we have people to help us with this. The
project will mainly concentrate on awareness that the Common Good exists –
but awareness through doing things – particularly among our young, who have
most to gain.

So there is work to be done – but think of what could be achieved through our collective effort.

The site has been organised to encourage anybody who is interested and a
wide range of topics and activities. If we are to make our Common Good useful we need to go where we haven’t been before – Look at things through other peoples eyes – listen more – and dispel the fear of being involved.

Most young folk want a free and creative life – we need to learn to trust them – encourage their capacity to learn through a common good – lest they turn into adults whose only concerned is in the “personal”.

I think theCommon Good is the best thing we have got going for us – It has nothing to
do with party politics, sectarianism, and the cynicism that keeps so many locked in indifference and the mistaken belief that “There is nothing we can do”.
There is plenty we can do and the Common Good serves as a useful hub in which to organise – how we can do it.

What the CGAP website is set out to do is:

*Present some ideas of how folk can get involved through their own time
scales and experiences – using all the tools at our disposal

*To point to the rich wealth of research and work in Common Good, that has
already been carried out and to encourage more.

*To highlight the campaigns, the groups and the people who have been
working hard to protect the Common Good in our name.

*And to create a Common Good map of Scotland.

(NOTE: This is not all going to happen tomorrow – it is going to take some time, commitment and dedicated work – there is lots to do, but that’s always the case with things that are worth while). More on the Common Good project here.


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  1. Scunnert says:

    Great article and an excellent idea.

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