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31 July 2008

Great time to be in Scotland

Jonathan Dawson talks about the Climate Challenge Fund and the gust of political fresh air sweeping

By Jonathan Dawson

It is a great time just now to be in Scotland. There is a tangible sense of freshness, excitement and opportunity in the air. Most surprisingly in this age of disenchantment and cynicism with all things political, a significant source of this new energy is developments in the sphere of mainstream, party politics.

In short, we have a new, fresh SNP administration in Holyrood that almost overnight seems to have propelled politics in Scotland out of the tired, grey sleepwalk of the semi-conscious sound-bite into new and fresh approaches that seek to truly address themselves to the challenges of the new world we are transitioning into.

This is not to say that the Green dawn has arrived – there are far too many cases where given the need to choose between ‘sustainable’ and ‘development’, the administration has plumped squarely for the latter.

Nonetheless, the gust of political fresh air, fresh thinking and truly radical approaches that is sweeping the country stands in stark contrast to what is happening south of the border. Given this context, the Glasgow East by-election result seems almost predictable.

One of the most interesting and exciting new innovations is the Climate Challenge Fund, a 3-year, £18.8 million programme (that was launched at the Positive Energy conference we hosted here in Findhorn at Easter) to provide financial and technical support to Scottish communities undertaking initiatives to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

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This last weekend at the Big Tent eco-gathering in Fife, a senior member of the Scottish Sustainable Development Commission (that is one of the partners responsible for the administration of the Fund) came to explain in detail how the fund will be implemented.

(Already, the Fund has committed itself to providing grants to Transition Support – an organisation set up to help Transition initiatives get off the ground – and the Going Carbon Neutral Stirling programme.)

We have had festivals like this for years. Motley gatherings of permaculturists, ecovillagers, peaceniks and representatives of assorted causes talking, apparently, primarily to each other. Now, all at once it seems, we are being joined by local government officials, parliamentarians and even cabinet ministers!

In a blog earlier this year, I mentioned that I had been to two events around Easter organized by green activists – Positive Energy in Scotland and the Ecocities, Ecovillages and Transition Towns conference in Dublin, both of which were addressed by their respective Ministers of the Environment, both dialoguing comfortably with the eco-literate audiences present in a language that all were comfortable with.

The Big Tent gathering was preceded by a one-day meeting of folk interested or already involved in Transition initiatives across Scotland. A good number of the 90 or so folk participating – far more than we had anticipated – were local government officers, some there in a private capacity, some representing their authorities. All were exploring in how local government could best support the emerging transition initiatives.

The speed with which the doors of power – and of official financing – have flown open still comes as something of a shock. The team manning the Findhorn exhibition stand at Big Tent and events like it now need to be able to respond not just to enquiries of spiritual seekers and would-be eco-house builders but also, increasingly, to politicos, professionals and planners wanting to explore how our models can contribute to societal transformation.

This enriches us all. It forces us to think more deeply than we sometimes have in the past about our strategy for contributing meaningfully to the emergence of a just, equitable and contented low-carbon society.

Specifically, since applications to the Carbon Challenge Fund can come only from communities, it invites us to create conscious and rooted alliances with our neighbouring towns and villages in a great sharing of dreams, expertise and perspectives.

This is all for the good.

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