I have the incredible privilege of being able to travel all across rural Scotland in the next six weeks, talking to people about their priorities for rural life. We are creating a Manifesto for rural Scotland, which will capture the needs and aspirations of people who live here, and collectively, we can use this to advocate for change.
Scotland has an election in just a few weeks now, which makes it an interesting time to be talking politics with a little ‘p’ as well as Politics with a big ‘P’. As an organisation we are apolitical – we aren’t aligned to any political party – although we do get support from the current Scottish Government. That gives us the opportunity to raise any issue, with any body, whether an individual, organisation or business. And it means that whatever people in rural Scotland tell us they think is important, becomes important to us too – we have no other, hidden agenda and no election to win, although of course we do need your support to be effective.
My own travels will be taking me to Angus, then Islay and Jura, Campbeltown on the way home, then over to Loch Lomond, Rothesay my home town and Inverclyde – not usually considered the most rural of places, but in receipt of its first LEADER allocation this year. I’m then heading to Shetland, Cairngorms, Fife, and finally, Stornoway. I’ll be holding at least one event in all of these locations, often more than one, so that we can find out what people all over rural Scotland believe is most important.
The directors of Scottish Rural Action will be running a whole additional series of events – we’re a small organisation with just two staff and the whole of rural Scotland to represent – so they need to be actively engaged in what we do. Something I’m grateful for, as one of those members of staff, is their experience, from community-led hydro schemes to farming to broadband to caring. They hail from as far apart as Shetland to Dumfries and they too will be holding events and meeting people from all across the country, in Moray, Aberdeenshire, Gairloch, Oban and many more.
I’m feeling full of anticipation and excitement, but I’m a little nervous too. It’s not easy speaking and facilitating, often on my own, to (hopefully) hundreds of people I don’t know. I did a pilot event in Glenisla, a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it – the people there were so engaging, open and positive for the future. Events in the south of Scotland led by our Chair Amanda Burgauer and Director Maggie Gordon went very well too, so they tell me, and we’re already getting lots of people sharing our posts and filling in the online survey.
The Manifesto should reflect everyone’s views, especially those of the people who often aren’t as well heard by decision makers, so if you’re coming to one of our events in the next few weeks, then come with your thinking caps on and your ears open. It’s quite a responsibility for all of us to write a Manifesto collectively in this way. Solving the challenges we face in rural Scotland isn’t an easy job, but it’s worth it, and I can’t wait to start planning how we best tackle them together.