Fairer Scotland

The Need to Protect Shared Space

August 19, 2015 by No Comments | Category Governance and Culture

Angus Hardie (Director, Scottish Community Alliance).

To share: (Verb)
1. to participate in, to use, enjoy or experience jointly or in turns.

Why Sharing?

When something is shared, to my mind, something fundamentally important happens. Cooperation is required, people have to talk to one another, to consider the needs of others, to give as well as take. The idea of a shared space, somewhere that exists in common for everyone, requires there to be a certain level of trust and a degree of mutual understanding between everyone involved, as to how the space in question should be used, now and in the future.

I believe this notion of shared space is the very essence of community and it is this that has become such a focus of attention for today’s politicians and policy makers. The pool of social capital that lies within every community has been identified as a vast untapped national asset.

Empowerment!

What Can We Achieve?

If we can harness this resource efficiently, directly attaching it in some way to the state’s apparatus, then the crisis afflicting our public services, not to mention the state of our democracy, would be resolved at a stroke – or so the theory goes.

And it is this idea that has driven so much of the current debate surrounding local democracy and community empowerment – the relationship and tensions between representative and participative democracy – and the drive to establish standards of strong governance in the interests of transparency and public accountability.

But perhaps, in the rush to formalise, standardise and even institutionalise this shared space, there is a risk that we jeopardise the very thing that makes it so precious.

Before so much of modern life became subject to the ideology of the ‘market’, our relationship with the natural world and its resources must have been fundamentally different.

With no concept of ownership, private or otherwise, with none of the drivers that are currently so dominant and which seek to maximise personal advantage at the expense of those around them, our behaviour must have been determined by unspoken rules or a natural sense of ‘justice’ in terms how we made use of and shared the space around us and the resources within them.

Shared space in those dim and distant days must have been as natural as the air we breathed.

Participate!

But once market thinking entered these fields of human activity, the capacity to share began to be threatened.

Michael Sandel in his book What Money Cant Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market, describes this process by citing the example of an Israeli Day Care Centre. The Centre responded to a problem with parents turning up late to collect their children by introducing fines.

The result?

Late pick-ups increased. Parents turned up late, paid the fine, and thought no more of it; the fine had turned into a fee. The fear of disapproval and of doing the wrong thing was based on non-monetary values, and was a stronger force than mere cash. The daycare centre went back to the old system, but parents kept turning up late, because the introduction of market values had killed the old ideas of collective responsibility. Once the old “norm” of turning up on time had been marketised, it was impossible to change back.

What Next?

I believe that most people have a natural preference to live in a state of sharing rather than one which is dominated by market values and indeed the extent to which we lead happy and fulfilled lives is, in large part, determined by this.

This is not to deny the important contribution that market values have played in creating the modern world, just that there are many areas of life where it is simply better that market thinking plays no part, and that we as human beings should allow ourselves to follow our instincts, and make our contribution towards a common good – a shared space – just because we can.

And, if we did, perhaps Scotland might become that fairer country that we all want it to be.


Angus Hardie has worked in and around Scotland’s community sector for over 30 years. Most recently he helped to establish the national umbrella body for development trusts (DTA Scotland) before setting up the Scottish Community Alliance – a broad coalition of the country’s major community based networks – with the aim of promoting the interests of Scotland’s community sector more widely.

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