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 Later, as a reaction to such failures, this was superseded in many countries by a model of “bottom-up” rural development (development from within), based on local assets, local knowledge and local action.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