21st Century Rural Development – learning from Scotland

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE’s Closing Keynote Speech at Scottish Rural Parliament 2016

The Scottish Hebrides

What does successful, community-led rural development look like in the globalised, networked world of the 21st Century? This question faces rural communities and governments I meet around the world and I often respond with the suggestion that they look to learn from Scotland.

In the 1960s, in the early days of the Highlands & Islands Development Board (HIDB), the model of growth centres was in vogue – an aluminium smelter here, a pulp mill or a nuclear power station there, all part of a plan devised and imposed top-down. The strategy failed, largely because control lay far away, with too little input from those who lived in and knew these areas. Later, as a reaction to such failures, this was superseded in many countries by a model of “bottom-up” rural development (development from within), based on local assets, local knowledge and local action. The EU LEADER programme was seen as emblematic of such an approach, and this was more successful. However there were a number of issues even with the “bottom-up” approach.

One issue was that it proved hard to find examples of truly bottom-up development: usually initiatives, even if locally led, relied on external funding or networks. LEADER areas and groups, for example, were selected and approved by governments and disbursed EU funding according to EU budgetary rules and strategies in Brussels-approved business plans. Moreover they learned from one another through national and transnational networks, sharing external ideas and know-how.

Another problem was that inequality was built in, and in two respects. Localities whose capacity to act was greater, or where capacity had been built through earlier interventions, were better able to mobilise and capture further funding leading to a very uneven geography of development. And within localities it tended to be those already with capital and power who captured the lion’s share of the available funding – especially when these were in the form of capital grants. Then, as the world moved into an era of neoliberalism and rolling back of the state, it was all too easy for bottom-up development models to become ‘self-help’ remedies which allowed the state to withdraw.

Taking these issues on board, and also reflecting the transition to the ‘network society’ of the 21st Century, a more helpful model is now that of “networked rural development.” In this approach, place-based strategies are led by local people but are acknowledged to involve external partners too. Moreover this approach draws not only on local assets and local knowledge but also makes use of external assets and knowledge to augment what is available locally. Most notably this recognises the necessary contribution of an enabling state (rather than an absent state leaving it to self-help), as well as the contributions of links with other rural communities, activists and researchers.

Scotland already exemplifies this approach. Take community land ownership, as one example, led and controlled by local communities of place, but helped and enabled by the state through land reform legislation, a community land fund and the community land unit, as well as activists and supporters with useful skills and contacts, and of course the mutual support and shared learning now offered through Community Land Scotland.


The Scottish Rural Parliament also exemplifies this approach. The idea came through learning from the experience of other countries (notably Sweden), facilitated by externally-funded studies and disseminated through various networks. Now the SRP functions at one level as a means for the people of rural Scotland to collectively articulate and present their manifesto to government and other authorities, calling for the state to play its part in enabling a better future for all parts of rural Scotland. At the same time, the SRP is a network for sharing and celebrating ideas and experience, which local people can then take back to their own communities to consider and to weave into their own strategies and actions.

Around the world many people in rural areas are interested in these ideas and Scottish experiences of networked rural development, and they draw strength and inspiration from them. But this is more than bottom-up rural development or self-help. A successful approach requires an enabling state, not an absent state leaving each community to sink or swim in a neoliberal world which would inevitably lead to widening inequalities and a two-speed countryside. Scotland is fortunate in having had successive governments which recognise that they must play their part. In addition this approach requires rural communities to think not only of the assets and knowledge within their locality and of building their capacity to mobilise for action; they must also consider their network resources, and how these can be used to draw in assets and knowledge from elsewhere and from one another as they seek to thrive in the networked world on the 21st Century.

These lessons are especially important during the turbulent times ahead. In fashioning future rural policies outside the EU, both farming interests and environmental interests have powerful and effective lobbying capabilities which could easily crowd out rural development and rural community interests – along with many of the elements of the rural manifesto just agreed by the Scottish Rural Parliament. It is vital that the rural communities’ voices are also heard and that post-Brexit policies are informed by these lessons from Scottish experiences of rural development.

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE is Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal. He was formerly Co-Director of the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research at Aberdeen University. The ideas in this blog are elaborated in his report for the Carnegie UK Trust, Future Directions in Rural Development. http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/future-directions-in-rural-development-full-report/

You can also watch a video recording of Mark’s speech at the Scottish Rural Parliament.

Critiquing the extremes of managerial rewards

In the Newcastle University public lecture on New Voices in Social Renewal, Dr Michael Price presented his work on big bonuses and managerial rewards, connecting them to inequality and social immobility. In this blog post, Dr Price and his colleague Dr Ewan Mackenzie, both from the Strategy, Organisations and Society research group in Newcastle University Business School, argue that it’s time to intervene to stop spiralling inequalities in our country.

London skyline

The gap between UK average pay and the pay of top executives is rising[1]. Despite government rhetoric about the British population “all being in this together”[2] the pay growth for those at the top of British society has dwarfed that of the rest of the population. Globally the issue is so pronounced that the World Economic Forum noted, in its 2015 outlook briefing, that income disparity is the most important risk to economic and political security[3] for the world today.

Source: Institute for fiscal studies (2014)

Research from the London School of Economics suggests the UK has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the world[4]. Despite this there is a commonly held belief that paying for performance based on ‘merit’ is perfectly acceptable, after all, if people work hard and produce rewards for others as a result of their talents, why shouldn’t they share proportionally in the fruits of that labour? Such a position is deeply rooted in the philosophical notions of justice and desert[5]. In modern ‘liberal’ societies a conventional assumption is that a person should be rewarded in proportion to the discretionary effort involved. Associated notions of ‘social mobility’ have also been central to social and economic discourses since the early 1980s. In the UK, it is not hard to find well-trodden examples of people that have come from relatively modest backgrounds and elevated themselves, through supposed hard work, ingenuity and intelligence. Alan Sugar and his apprentices are broadcast onto TV screens every week, reinforcing the narrative of the “bootstrap boys”[6]. What is commonly perceived as worthy of merit is derived from the impartiality of the idea that one’s capabilities plus effort equals merit[7]. The propagation of this mode of reasoning has come to govern popular thought in 21st-century Britain.

Michael Young’s 1958 dystopia, The Rise of the Meritocracy, warned that pursuing a meritocratic agenda would perpetuate social inequality. Mike Savage recently confirmed this prediction in his Great British Class Survey, which suggested increasing social polarisation in British society. Savage characterises the ‘invisible’ bottom 15% of the British population as ‘the precariat’. Yet perhaps what is of equal alarm is the spiralling remuneration of ‘the elite’. Savage’s classifies the ‘elite’ as representing 6% of the population. He suggests they possess economic capital in property, savings and incomes which sets them apart from other classes[8]. Research has also indicated that managerial salaries are a significant driver of these trends, therefore highlighting the contribution of excessive reward towards spiralling inequality[9].

French academic Thomas Piketty suggests the “stratospheric pay of super managers” has come about because of a form of “meritocratic extremism”[10] prevalent in ‘liberal’ societies. This denotes the belief that ‘winners’ should be disproportionately rewarded to encourage a condition of envy, thus creating standards for others to strive towards. In a speech to the Centre for Policy studies, Boris Johnson claims inequality is essential for “the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses, that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity”[11]. Therefore it seems that notions of business ‘meritocracy’ are in vogue. Apparent equality of opportunity, has developed into a strong justification for increasing levels of remuneration and spiralling inequality.

Research being conducted here at Newcastle University has examined the genesis of these changes. One strand has investigated the influential 1995 Greenbury Committee[12]. This committee and their recommendations are important because they played a central role in constructing the current framework for remuneration policy in UK organisations. The stated position of the committee, with 20 years’ hindsight, is that the consequences of their reforms contributed to, rather than limited, the growth in top executive pay. The observation that many of the committee were likely to be affected by its findings, due to their positions as executives of large companies, is a rather obvious criticism. For instance, the refusal of John Monks, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, to participate, perhaps amplifies those criticisms.

The recommendations of the Greenbury committee facilitated the increasing use of performance-related pay schemes which often generate excessive and disproportionate rewards. Research investigating top executive pay and performance points towards a weak correlation with labour, yet these studies receive very little exposure outside of academic circles. Is it time for politicians to take heed of the warning signs, and substantively intervene on these issues, in order to take responsibility for the spiralling inequalities of our present?

Michael Price and Ewan Mackenzie

[1] Manifest/MM&K Executive Director Total Remuneration Survey 2013.

[2] David Cameron famously introduced this slogan in his 2009 speech to the Tory party conference http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=154

[3]See: http://reports.weforum.org/outlook-global-agenda-2015/top-10-trends-of-2015/1-deepening-income-inequality/

[4] See: http://cee.lse.ac.uk/cee%20dps/ceedp111.pdf

[5] See John Rawls 1970 work – A theory of justice.

[6] A bootstrap boy is representative of a generation of business leaders who ‘pulled themselves up by their bootstraps’ to lofty status in British business. See Kerr & Robinson (2010).

[7] Antony Sampson proposed this equation in his 1965 work, “Anatomy of Britain Today”

[8] Mike Savage is Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Along with Niall Cunningham, Fiona Devine, Sam Friedman, Danial Laurison, Lisa McKenzie, Andrew Miles, Helen Snee and Paul Wakeling, they’ve recently published a ground breaking study of social class entitled, “Social Class in the 21st Century”.

[9] Lemieux, T., Macleod, W. B., and Parent, D. (2009). ‘Performance related pay and wage inequality’. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 124(1).

[10] See Piketty (2014) page 416.

[11] See: http://www.cps.org.uk/events/q/date/2013/11/27/the-2013-margaret-thatcher-lecture-boris-johnson/

[12] The Full report can be found here: http://www.ecgi.org/codes/documents/greenbury.pdf


National Hate Crime Awareness Week

A one-day conference to the highlight the impact of hate crime and explore how the North East can work together to tackle has been hosted by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird and the North East Racial Equality Forum (NEREF), as part of a week-long programme of events to mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week.

A crime is considered to be a hate crime if someone has been targeted because of a protected characteristic, these include: race, faith, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, age or sexual orientation.

The conference which was held yesterday was attended by an invited list of delegates and featured a line-up of prominent national and regional academic, practice-based and community speakers who will focus on ways to combat hate crime.

Also taking place at the conference were a range of participative workshops run by key local organisations on topics such as addressing hate crime in the community.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, said: “Putting victims first and tackling hate crime are important priorities for me and that’s why I was very keen to help fund a conference for people in the region to come together – to share best practice and ways to advance it.

“We are delighted to have a line-up of leading academics and practitioners on board from a range of organisations, who can provide valuable insight on the latest developments in challenging hate crime.

“I am committed to ensuring that Northumbria Police listen to all our communities and meet regularly with a range of advisory groups to hear the thoughts of members of communities including LGBT, Disability and Belief, BME and Faith.

“I will continue to work with the Chief Constable to ensure Northumbria Police addresses all concerns and offers the best possible help and support to victims so they feel assured that they will be protected by the Criminal Justice System.”

Detective Chief Inspector Deborah Alderson from Northumbria Police, who will be speaking with Caroline Airs from the CPS on prosecutions in relation to hate crimes, said:

“This event is a great opportunity to get people who can have a real impact on the way that hate crimes are dealt with together in one place and share information and ideas on how to do it better.

“I think the victims that have volunteered to come along and share their experiences with those at the conference are incredibly brave and they are really helping improve the way that police and partners deal and respond to hate crimes.”

Throughout the week police will be running the ‘Being you is not a crime. Targeting you is’ campaign encouraging people to come forward and speak to police and partners about hate crime.

Further information on Hate Crime is available on the Northumbria Police force website.

Reducing inequality…in national wealth

The next in the blog series from Newcastle University Societal Challenge Theme Institutes giving recommendations for targets and indicators of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, is from Dr Andrew Walton, Lecturer in Political Philosophy in School of Geography, Politics and Sociology.

In the current proposal for the Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 10 states the aim to ‘reduce inequality within and among countries’.  For many (good) reasons, much articulation of this goal has focused on its first component – reducing inequality between co-citizens within countries.  But it is important also to consider what should be the appropriate target for the second component.  What should be our aim and measure in reducing inequality amongst countries? My suggestion is to lessen the gap in per capita national wealth – the value of each country’s financial and physical assets.

Measures of (in)equality

The basic idea of measuring (in)equality involves comparing the circumstances of certain actors.  Thus, any conceptualisation of equality must specify an answer to two questions:

  1. Which actor should be compared?
  2. What aspect(s) of their circumstances should be compared?

There are different ways to conceptualise and measure (in)equality historically [1]:

Model Actor Aspect(s)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Countries Final value of goods & services produced within nations’ borders
GDP/capita ‘Average’ citizen (country ÷ population) Final value of goods & services produced within nations’ borders
Income Persons or households Disposable income / expenditure
Wealth Persons or households Assets, including financial holdings and physical goods, such as real estate

Perhaps obviously, these models ask us to think about (in)equality in rather different ways.  For example, on current figures using GDP suggests that China is better-off than Switzerland, whereas GDP/capita suggests the opposite [2].  Similarly, both GDP and GDP/capita suggest that Brazil is a relatively well-off country, but measuring income and wealth highlight that it is home to individuals who are worse-off than almost the entire populations of similarly well-off countries [3].

What these differences highlight is that asking which model we should use to measure (in)equality pushes us to explore deeper philosophical questions about our underlying reasons for being concerned with (in)equality, and to find a measure that is tailored to these concerns.  My suggestion here is that some of our underlying concerns point in the direction of exploring how countries compare in per capita wealth [4].

Why compare countries and why compare them per capita?

For many people it will seem obvious that there is something important about whether their country is well-off.  It is sometimes thought important for ensuring that their country is respected by others and very commonly because it has a significant impact on whether its citizens have comfortable lives.

Some argue that comparing national circumstances is a mistake. They suggest that, ultimately, it is only the welfare of people that matters and, as noted above, cross-country comparisons can hide that some individuals within countries are badly-off.  Advocates of this view might argue that Goal 10 should be collapsed into one goal: measuring (in)equality amongst individuals worldwide.

We should reject the conclusions of this argument.  Because the SDGs also consider (in)equality within countries and have other goals targeting aspects of individual welfare, they will not overlook the worry mentioned above.  Meanwhile, because one thing that benefits people’s welfare is to participate in the collective decisions and development of their nation, even this individual-centred view can acknowledge the importance of a world involving country groupings and, thus, the additional relevance of cross-country comparisons.

However, we should accept the point that countries are, in essence, valuable only insofar as they benefit their populations and our comparisons between them should reflect this concern.  It is for this reason that our cross-country comparison should focus on a per capita measure, which looks at how some aspect of a country’s circumstance relates to its people.

Why compare wealth?

Some possible ways we could make per capita inter-country comparisons would be the following:

Model Actor Aspect(s)
GDP/capita ‘Average’ citizen Final value of goods & services produced within nation’s borders
Wealth/capita ‘Average’ citizen Assets, including currency, stock, bond holdings and physical goods, such as land, natural resources, and rights to global commons
Capabilities ‘Average’ citizen Human development indicators, such as life expectancy, education, income

A reasonable case could be made that reducing inequality between countries in any of these respects would be a worthwhile target.  Nevertheless, I proposed at the beginning of this post that the goal should be to focus on wealth/capita.  Two related points support this view.

First, neither GDP/capita nor capabilities takes full account of the aspects of a country’s circumstance that affects the welfare of its population.  To take two clear examples, currency reserves and natural resources, which are considered in wealth/capita, but not these other measures, both allow a country to provide its population with economic security and future consumption [5].

Second, many of the assets that countries hold are a matter of luck.  For example, no country did anything to entitle it to the oil or gold that lies within its borders and, indeed, much of their economic wealth arises from the fortunes of the market.

In cases where there is a good that many actors desire and which no actor is entitled automatically to own, it seems sensible to distribute that good equally.  If Isaac and I are sat beneath a tree feeling hungry when an apple falls on his head, it seems reasonable for us to share it.  Similarly, insofar as it is valuable for countries to hold financial and physical assets and their current holdings have arisen from good fortune, there is a reason to aim for equalising their shares.

Moving towards international equality

A more fully fledged case for measuring inter-country (in)equality in terms of per capita national wealth is that achieving parity in this regard can, under certain conditions, represent a truly idealistic aim.  There is a moral argument that a distribution of assets is fair if it mirrors what each relevant actor would have bought with equal purchasing power in the context of all goods being priced at a market-clearing equilibrium [6]. Such a distribution, in the international context, would entail equality in per capita national wealth and it is fair because it reflects the equality of all parties in their access to these goods and allows them to shape their holdings according to what they believe is worth having.

Realising this aim is perhaps a more long-term project than for the framework of the SDGs.  Nevertheless, it helps show the value of building our understanding of (in)equality in national wealth and beginning to reduce it, whilst casting light on some important steps for moving towards this goal:

Pursue (the second component of) Goal 10 by:

  • Establishing a national wealth index and collect data on countries’ standings.
  • Setting a target of reducing inequality in per capita holdings.

Connect these targets and their longer-term aim to:

  • Adding impetus to Goal 16.7 of ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making, in order for countries’ choices about asset holdings to reflect the collective interests of their people.
  • Helping articulate Goals 17.10-17.12 on shaping international trade towards an equal and equilibrated market.

Dr Andrew Walton is lecturer in political philosophy at Newcastle University. His main research interests are in global justice, liberal-egalitarian and socialist thought and questions of justice in public policy.


[1] The essential ideas used to construct this table are taken from Milanovic, B., Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005)

[2] These figures can be found via UN, ‘National Accounts Main Aggregates Database’, available at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/snaama/selbasicFast.asp [Accessed 17th June 2015].

[3] See, for example, Credit Suisse, ‘Global Wealth Report 2014’, available at https://publications.credit-suisse.com/tasks/render/file/?fileID=60931FDE-A2D2-F568-B041B58C5EA591A4 [Accessed 17th June 2015].

[4] This suggestion is elaborated in more detail in Walton, A., ‘On the Currency of International Equality’, forthcoming.

[5] It is worth noting that Capabilities also seems to point towards important aspects of human welfare.  However, many other SDGs will pursue these kinds of concerns anyway, leaving space for the second part of Goal 10 to speak to the concerns I mention here.

[6] This view is most commonly associated with Dworkin, R., Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).


Can we plan for Wellbeing?

Dr Karen Scott
Dr Karen Scott, Lord Percy Fellow, Centre for Rural Economy, is NISR’s Wellbeing and Resilience Theme Champion. Karen writes this blog following attending the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics at the House of Commons on Monday 12th May 2014.

I have just returned from attending a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics in the House of Commons. This was the last of a series of four special meetings which explored how to improve wellbeing without putting more pressure on the public purse. The meetings have focussed in turn on culture, the labour market, mindfulness and this last meeting looked at planning policy. Evidence was presented by representatives from new economics foundation, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), The Design Council (formerly CABE), Campaign for Better Transport and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on three aspects of planning policy and wellbeing: green space, transport and designing for social connections.

Continue reading

Transforming Youth Custody: will secure Colleges secure social justice for children who offend?

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth

The Ministry of Justice has recently published its proposals to reform the system of youth custody in England and Wales through the introduction of secure colleges.  In this blog Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth sets out what we know about children currently detained in the juvenile secure estate and considers whether the secure colleges will help to achieve a more rights-consistent and socially-just system of child imprisonment. The blog is based on a Current Legal Problems lecture delivered at UCL on 23rd January 2014 entitled ‘Assuming Responsibility for Incarcerated Children’.

A key issue in relation to social justice for children is how we respond when they break the law.  We know that children who offend are likely to have experienced multiple prior disadvantages and those who end up in custody are an especially vulnerable group.  Research by Jacobsen et al in 2010, for example, found that 78% of imprisoned children had absent fathers and 33% an absent mother; 51% had lived in a deprived household/unsuitable accommodation; 48% had been excluded from school; 39% were on the child protection register and/or experienced abuse or neglect; 28% had witnessed domestic violence; 27% had experienced local authority care; 20% self-harmed; 11% had attempted suicide; 17% had a diagnosed mental disorder and 13% had experienced the bereavement of their father, mother or sibling. 

Continue reading

Feminist Activism as a Location of Social Renewal

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth is a member of Newcastle Law School and is our Social Justice and Injustice Theme Champion. Kathryn writes this blog on the increased visibility of feminist activity in the UK and why it’s a significant aid to social renewal with a contribution from Dr Elizabeth Sharp, Texas Tech University. Follow Kathryn on twitter @KathrynHollsNCL.

During periods of rapid social change we are presented with opportunities to alter the status quo: to move towards a more equal society, to address the oppressive conditions experienced by those lacking economic, social, political, and cultural power and to engender social renewal.  However, times of change also generate new contexts for the power structures of the past to be perpetuated and further entrenched, creating more – not less – oppression.  This we can see when we consider the position of women in the UK, in 2013. 

Continue reading

What is Justice? Unachievable – without Social Justice


Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth is a member of Newcastle Law School and is our Social Justice and Injustice Theme Champion. This blog from Kathryn follows her participation at the Howard League for Penal Reform Conference 1-2nd October 2013. Follow her on twitter @KathrynHollsNCL

What is Justice? Well, where do we start?  Perhaps, as Professor Matt Matravers noted at the Howard League for Penal Reform conference (‘What is Justice? Reimaging Penal Policy’), it is easier for us to identify and agree on what is injustice rather than what is justice (a stance that Steve Crossley will be arguing when he gives a paper to the Human Rights and Social Justice Forum as part of the NISR series ‘Social Justice and Social Renewal’ on December 4th).  Despite the difficulty of answering a question that has long vexed philosophers, the gauntlet was thrown down to academics and practitioners of criminology/criminal justice at the international conference held last week at Keble College, Oxford University.

Continue reading