Heading in for winter

The appearance of geese high in the northern sky after they've left their summer breeding ground in the Artic and head for over-wintering pastures signals a turning point in the year.

It is one that ties us in with the natural rhythms of this place and within the ecovillage where I live, Findhorn, we make every effort to reconnect with the patterns and flows of the natural world and with the traditions of our ancestors who lived here. Full moons are marked with meditations. We celebrate the old Celtic festivals – Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain – as well as the equinoxes and solstices with bonfires, songs and dances. But nothing we can concoct ties us in so magically and so surely with the web of life that surrounds us as these moments of the year when the geese arrive, and then depart again in spring.

To me at least it is unsurprising a blog aimed at exploring life in an ecovillage should begin with geese. For sure, the visitor to Findhorn is greeted with much of the conventional hardware that might be expected in an ecovillage. The first sight of the community from most angles is the four wind turbines, standing proud and tall, that make us net exporters of electricity. In the settlement itself, housing designed according to ecological principles is progressively replacing the caravans that housed the community pioneers who first settled here in the early 1960s; we have now built 51 eco-houses. A biological waste-water treatment plant – a 'Living Machine' – treats our sewage. A large amount of organic food is grown in our community-supported agriculture system, EarthShare. We have a community currency and bank.

Ecological footprint

Yet, at the heart of our lives is something less tangible. When visitors ask me 'Where can I find the ecovillage?', expecting to be shown the eco-technology or the houses, my favourite response is to whisper conspiratorially, 'It is invisible'. By this I mean that at the heart of what we are about is the creation of healthy and loving relationships – with ourselves, with each other and with the world around us. Our ambitions are much greater than merely reducing our resource consumption. (Although this is hugely important here. We recently received the results of an ecological footprint study of the community conducted over the last year which suggests that our footprint is one half of the national average – the lowest footprint ever recorded, as far as we are aware, for any population in the industrialised world.)

The core aim, however, is altogether more visionary and utopian: to facilitate a transformation in consciousness and to create a model of a happy and healthy community that is sustainable on all levels. This noble task is not without its paradoxes. The greatest of these is that, as a community built around a training centre, we are dependent on air miles. Lots of air miles. Around 3,000 people a year come here to do courses. A second is that while Findhorn has won admirers and partners in the United Nations, among universities in the United States (which send under-graduates to study as part of their degree programmes) and among activist populations as far afield as Japan, Brazil and California, it has had a harder time landing the impulse in its own Scottish backyard.

Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to explore further these are other dilemmas and to introduce you to some of the people wrestling with them. Two of the core metaphors of the ecovillage movement are the lighting of candles in the darkness and 'being the change you want to see in the world'. I hope that the stories I am able to share with you may generate some light and inspiration.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.