Naysayers of the Jimmy Reid foundation’s Common Weal ideas fear that they will drain the lifeblood out of Scotland. But that’s not why Reid’s Director Robin McAlpine is a zombie. It’s the annual Gala day in Robin’s home town of Biggar and this is a family day out. It’s the day in which town dresses up in the curtains and bedclothes, hitches decorated trailers behind tractors and processes through the streets in a boisterous, good humoured spectacle which normally ends up with a running battle involving water pistols and buckets of water.
The McAlpine clan is infamous for their floats which give current issues a political twist. Last year they donned horse head masks to highlight the horsemeat scandal. This year they’re zombies representing the brain dead attitude of South Lanarkshire Council to listening to communities’ views.
The specific cause the outrage is the recent decision by South Lanarkshire’s planning committee to rubber stamp its own application to demolish the historic primary school building in the town and replace it with a car park. Although the sturdy Victorian building was removed from the Listed Building register by the council some years ago, it’s a much loved piece of local heritage, which is in reasonable condition structurally and could be used for a number of other purposes. A Facebook campaign to save the building attracted hundreds of supporters from around the world in a matter of days, and there were ninety five objections to the plans to demolish the building. In a move which smacks of secrecy and decisions already made only three of these objectors where notified of the planning committee meeting to determine the application and none were permitted to put their case. The process has been opaque and left the local community feeling ignored and powerless.
But the wider point that team McAlpine are making is the lack of meaningful engagement between local government which neither listens to or serves communities. Instead it governs by faceless dictat from offices located miles away, with decisions made by people who neither know nor care what matters to communities, but are more concerned with meeting performances targets, hitting deadlines and assuring the quality of deliverables.
Rural areas like Clydesdale are fortunate that they have managed to maintain a real sense of community, where people join together for events like galas, look out of each other and work together to make things happen for everyone’s benefit. In some ways this is the Common Weal in action, but there is a feeling that this is happening despite government structures rather than because of them. That by trying to make one size fits all, off the shelf solutions applicable to all communities whatever their aspirations remote government is sucking the life out of communities. This what Robin McAlpine has become a zombie to protest about. This is what the Common Weal wants to change.
It’s time that the powers that be realised that the best people to decide what their communities need are the people who live there, and stopped regarding communities who want to do things differently as nuisances who have to be managed or handled carefully if the bureaucrats are to do what they have already decided to do. Its time that the people who care most should be the people who make the decisions. It’s about time that there was some love and understanding in decision making processes. It’s about time to put the local back in Local Authority. It’s about time to get rid of the grey and bring back local colour. That’s why Robin McAlpine is a zombie!