Scotland’s Natural Resources are in Peril: The New Political Urgency For a ‘Representative Resilience’
Scotland’s pre-eminent socio-ecologist Patrick Geddes understood the relationship between our ecology and a functioning society. While delivering a lecture in 1922, he found peculiarity in the ever-growing prioritisation of money over nature as an approach to sustaining humanity, insisting that “we live not by the jingling of coins, but by the fullness of our harvests’. His words echo more pertinently than ever as we collectively endure the blowback of a decaying neo-liberalism that traded our natural resources to the market in favour of a hyper-normalised existence, dominated by an over-financialised national economy. Decades of a resource-extractive approach in the name of perpetual growth has cast a long shadow over any kind of responsible ecological decision-making in regards to climate.
Within this backdrop, a political awakening is happening throughout the corridors of Westminster that those who are passionate about Scottish ecology and self-determination would do well to urgently heed. As the ongoing climate collapse in much of the ‘global South’ (mostly shielded from our screens) now draws closer to our own (literal) shores – the more recent, tangible signs of environmental degradation has resulted in the current UK government reluctantly dispelling their ‘sickness of experts’ mantra; their hand now forced to muster a strategy that can steer the lands through an environmentally uncertain future. The reality is that it’s possible to strategise effective solutions for biodiversity, soil fertility, water scarcity and renewable energy transition without pre-existing, mature, fully resourced plans already in place. The more concerning news is that as that realisation sinks in, Scotland’s ‘natural wealth’ and therefore ‘value’ to the union as a potential exploitative source of natural resources increases. Scotland now is becoming an attractive solution to ‘fill the gaps’ within Westminster’s lack of long term ecological planning.
Fortunately, political devolution has offered a level of protection over Scotland’s land, water and biota, despite the Scottish National Party’s reticent approach to drive forward more robust measures on community land reform that already sits within their purview. Devolution has ensured that the Scottish Government has the necessary levers to ensure key natural resources (e.g. water) are kept in public hands. In stark comparison to the privatisation of water across the border. Crucially, however, the spaces of power that Scotland operates within have recently been shifting beneath its feet. Vindication of Conservative rule delivered from the British electorate in the last general election, has resulted in an emboldened, ever-more authoritarian British state, a series of opportunistic power grabs through the Brexit process, plus the flexing of illegitimate influence over Scottish autonomy. The familiar populist ploy incessantly nudging at the Overton window, testing the limits of what the public will grudgingly concede from those who supposedly represent us.
Scotland’s comparative richness in natural resources coupled with Westminster’s recent attempts to undermine Scotland’s’ authority over its own affairs mean that our natural resources are under serious threat from a Tory-led union that will not be afraid to leverage its own political influence and their closely associated private interests that are already malignant within vast swathes of Scottish land.
A renewed impetus to confront new threats offer also opportunity, however. The Scottish public has the potential to erect a rear-guard defence against interference over our natural resource governance by mainstreaming the practice of civic/community control over key natural resources. Devolving power over our ecologies, not only from Westminster to Holyrood, but then again from Holyrood to local communities provides an extra layer of buffer in the defence against future power grabs from illegitimate authority structures. Furthermore, it accords local protest more power to resist any attempted changes to our local ecology, be it driven by private interests or the authoritarian creep of political entities.
I call for a ‘representative resilience’ to be invoked that directly tackles both environmental uncertainty and the local democratic deficit in Scotland. It requires ourselves within our local communities to become politically active through the lens of ecological power in order to negotiate a new ‘‘resilient communities’ settlement with the Scottish Government. The new ‘resilient settlement’ will be co-designed, spearheaded by communities and their local knowledge systems – breaking from the traditional techno-managerial method of participative consultation so often favoured within Holyrood. The demands should be for a meaningful community stake not only in patches of land in Scotland as things currently exists through land reform but instead, across all of our key natural resources, encapsulating a series of representative processes by promoting community ownership and democratic institutional variety at the local level. Potential representative avenues include the creation of localised climate peoples assemblies, citizen’s juries enshrined with significant decision-making powers over the future of our local environments and a more stream-lined, fully resourced process for communities to become stakeholders/co-owners in land, water and biota. Better yet, the full devolvement of our key natural resources to civic control returning nature to the commons.
This proposed new settlement can be leveraged through resistance and active non-participation in current national resilience policies until a new re-distributive settlement can be reached. Civic Scotland has a plethora of recent examples of effective civic control – hard fought wins over many years – but the question we should be asking is – why is it such a struggle?
The dominant, false narrative currently peddled that Scotland is a drain on the union rather than a key asset to the British state masks a strategic interest in accessing Scotland’s rich, ‘green’ potential. As the spectre of environmental uncertainty looms over the United Kingdom, Scots must become increasingly politically active to protect our environment with the potential to become an outward looking model for grassroots sustainability for the rest of the world.
Help to support independent Scottish journalism by subscribing or donating today.