Scotland's First Rural Parliament
After spending considerable time investigating Rural Parliaments in other European countries, consulting with stakeholders and contemplating exactly how it would work in Scotland, we are finally just a few days away from it actually happening. Scotland's first Rural Parliament is here, opening not surprisingly with a burst of sound from some good old bagpipes and the sound of whisky glasses clinking in the background. At least they will be if I've remembered to order the glasses!
There is something invigorating about just being in the same room with a few hundred people, all of whom are dealing with the same challenges you are and all of whom are passionate about solving them. It creates a sense of camaraderie, shared purpose and belonging which warms the soul. We've all felt it at some point when attending an event or a conference, and we return to our normal day-to-day lives with a renewed sense of purpose and inspiration which lasts... well, a month or two maybe?
So whilst we have no doubt that people will leave our event feeling exactly this way - we certainly hope they do - it's not why we are organising Scotland's first Rural Parliament this year. Nor is it simply an excuse for whisky and bagpipes. Instead we want to create something lasting, which tackles real issues creatively and collectively.
Our Rural Innovators Awards have demonstrated the sheer persistence and creativity with which individual communities have tackled their issues. Their success is often because a community or a group of people within that community have worked together that they have had such a significant impact. In all of history there may be a name which we remember as being the one who made a difference, but they were never working alone. We work better as people when we work together.
That sense of camaraderie we feel at events or at times like this is powerful; it makes us feel as though anything is possible and any challenge can be overcome. So instead of leaving that at the door when the event is over, we see the potential for creating a lasting sense of belonging, of shared purpose and shared ideals for rural Scotland which lasts beyond a month or two. That's what we mean by the Rural Movement.
Rural Parliaments are about finding solutions to the challenges facing rural communities and communicating these collectively to those people who can effect that change. When challenges are tackled using participative methods - where anyone who identifies as rural can take part and does so on an equal basis to other people taking part, with no-one expected to represent anyone or thing other than their own views - we can achieve something unexpected. When we work in these circumstances, we are working collectively and a voice of that volume and intensity must be heard.
After all, if a problem shared is a problem halved, is a problem shared with not just one or two people, but with a few hundred people, a problem solved? And when that problem is shared with people who make decisions which impact on our lives all the time we may even solve those bigger, more entrenched issues. Not immediately, but over time as that sense of collectiveness and our voice develops.
Mired as I currently am in the details of I and catering, and with just a few days left until people from all over rural Scotland flock to Oban, I remind myself that all I and my colleagues can really do is facilitate this opportunity. It is down to those people who turn up to make the real difference, to grasp this opportunity and to collectively create a powerful voice for rural Scotland. I am confident that people can do that and that we are ready for this opportunity - with or without the whisky.