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Scope of Community-Led Action in Scotland

The Scottish Community Alliance (SCA), officially constituted in 2010, connects 20 national and regional networks of community-based initiatives and projects under a shared vision of reinvigorating local democracy in order to create a more sustainable and inclusive society by empowering communities to take action on local issues. According to its website, its members represent organisations with well over 100,000 individual members, which employ 5,500 paid staff and 20,000 volunteers, own or manage 250,000 hectares of land and hundreds of buildings and generate a combined annual income of over £600 million.[1]

The Alliance is made up of the following networks of community-led initiatives:

The SCA has developed a collective vision underpinned by four key principles:

  • Subsidiarity
  • Self-Determination
  • Local by Default
  • Equality and Fairness[2]

A 2016 report by the SCA defined community groups as those that, whatever their size or formal structure, are associated with defined geographical areas (villages, towns, neighbourhoods) and led by and accountable to people who live and work there. The report identified over 30,000 such groups, making the community sector the largest part of Scotland's Third Sector (alongside 5,200 social enterprises and 23,000 regulated voluntary organisations).[2]

The Scottish Communities Climate Action Network (SCCAN), a member of both SCA and ECOLISE formed out of a consultation process on barriers to community action on climate change, supported by the Scottish Climate Challenge Fund during 2010 and 2012.[3] Formed in 2012, SCCAN's purpose is to inspire, promote and support community-led climate action across Scotland. Its members include well over 115 low-carbon community initiatives of diverse kinds, from community allotments to tool libraries, along with over 50 associate members working in support of these kind of community groups and organisations.

In autumn 2018, SCCAN opened up its membership offer to individuals who are supportive of community-led climate action and/or who would like to become part of or create new initiatives. As of February 2019, over 20 individuals have joined SCCAN.[4]

SCCAN's guiding vision is based on sharing of experiences and ideas by members organisations conducted in 2014. The resulting Climate Change Vision emphasises the following key principles:[5]

  • Empowered Democratic Communities
  • Vibrant Local Food Culture
  • Effective Local Energy
  • Living Locally
  • Waste Not
  • Happy Healthiness
  • Practical Training and Education

Transition in Scotland

Scotland has operated its own national coordination structure or hub since 2010, when funding from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund supported operation of Transition Scotland Support. This ceased operation as a legal entity following cessation of funding in 2013-14, but maintained an active web presence and in 2018 became the national Transition hub for Scotland.[6] Transition Scotland and many Scottish Transition initiatives are also members of the broader Scottish Communities and Climate Action Network (SCCAN), which was among the ECOLISE founder members.[7]

Transition Scotland's website categorises Transition initiatives in its network via a forest metaphor. Seeds are places where people are considering forming a Transition group, saplings are active but young groups in the early stages of their work that have either not decided to operate as Transition initiatives or not yet registered with the network, and trees are established and active initiatives. People active at network level are considered bees, who might live in one tree but cross-pollinate with ideas when they visit other places and work with different initiatives. The website also lists seven 'fallen trees', initiatives that were once active but have ceased to operate, and which might continue to nourish the soil with their knowledge and experience.[8]

In September 2018 the website listed 13 active and mature initiatives:

Permaculture in Scotland

Permaculture Scotland is a working group within the Permaculture Association (Britain) building a network of systems thinkers with the power to create healthy cultures and ecosystems. It holds regular meetings and gatherings and coordinates Scottish activity within the LAND network of permaculture demonstration sites across Britain[9]

ScotLAND is a network of permaculture learning and demonstration sites across Scotland.[10]

The permaculture Scotland website lists ten established ScotLAND centres:[11]

along with eleven LAND learners, projects in the early stages of adopting permaculture intending to progress to meeting the criteria for becoming land centres.

Community Food Production and Land Management in Scotland

A 2016 Report by the SCA reports that there are over 200 allotment sites in Scotland, on which over 6,000 plots produce enough food for 20,000 people. It also reports over 200,000 hectares of land, home to 25,000 people, under community ownership, with an additional 100,000 hectares of woodlands owned or managed by community woodlands groups, over 200 in number.[2]


The Scottish Land Reform Movement

Isle of Eigg

In a historic community buyout, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust set up by Highland Council, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and local residents bought the Isle of Eigg to ensure sustainable development of the island in 1997. Since then the population has increased and the local community is "now involved in all the major decisions that affect the island".[12]

Community Energy in Scotland

According to the 2016 SCA report, Scotland has 23 Megawatts of installed renewables capacity in community ownership, which along with further projects under development will generate annual revenues of £15 million for community funds.[2] In 2018, the Local Energy Scotland listed more than 600 projects in Scotland.[13]

Community Energy Ownership has been actively supported since 2003[14] and the sector has seen a huge growth since 2008. Originally a subsidiary of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency for large part of Scotland) from 2004 onwards, "Community Energy Scotland was incorporated on 9th November 2007 as a Company Limited by Guarantee with no share capital (Company No. SC333698) and a registered Scottish Charity (No. SC039673) (... that) provides practical help for communities on green energy development and energy conservation" and has 400 members. [15]

Local Energy Scotland, a consortium made up of the Energy Saving Trust, Changeworks, The Energy Agency, SCARF and The Wise Group manages the Scottish Government's Community and Renewable Energy Scheme, which is the main funding programme for community energy in Scotland. It also provides advice and funding in all aspects of local and renewable energy, case studies and the CARES Toolkit which guides through the process of developing a renewable energy project.[16]

The national support for community energy was increased in 2011, when "the Scottish Government introduced additional measures to help communities to benefit from developments in renewables and set a target of 500 MW from community and locally-owned renewable energy schemes by 2020.[17] This target was met in 2016.[18] It has since been followed by a target of 1GW of community and local energy by 2020.[19]

The Scottish Energy Strategy of 2017 names community energy as one of its six main priorities to achieve the Scottish Government’s vision for the future energy system in Scotland: “We will empower our communities, supporting the development of innovative and integrated local energy systems and networks.” While the Scottish government continues its support of local energy economies and regards them as “a central part of our response to the challenges presented by the transformation of Scotland’s energy system,”[20] the rate of community energy development in Scotland has slowed considerably since 2015 due to “reduced UK incentive levels and the difficulty of securing grid connections for electricity generating projects.”[18]

The next steps in the development of community energy in Scotland will be to expand into more densely-populated and urban areas, and to identify sustainable, replicable commercial models in order to allow strategic, larger scale project.[20]

Barriers Faced by Community-Led Initiatives in Scotland

Interviews with a range of key stakeholders conducted during the TESS project in 2015 and 2016 revealed that, despite relatively high levels of government support, community-led initiatives in Scotland experience a strong sense of disempowerment and lack of agency resulting from highly concentrated patterns of private land ownership and very weak local government representation.[21] According to a 2014 report by the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy in Scotland is reported to have fewer elected representatives per capita than any country in Europe, and local authorities have very low levels of fiscal or decision-making authority.[22] In response to the effects of the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe and neglect or obstruction on the part of absentee landlords, increasing numbers of local communities have taken advantage of the Land Reform Act of 2003 to bring land under community control and, in many cases, out of the restrictions of capitalist logic.[23]

The 2016 report by the Scottish Community Alliance highlighted significant barriers to effective community action resulting from systematic disempowerment in various areas, inclduding decision-making processes, allocation of budgetary responsibilities, and the failure of centralised and top-down models of service and economic and social regeneration. The report recommends actions in three key areas: local democracy, public services, and the community sector itself:[2]

  • Local Democracy
    • New units of political representative that better reflect social geography and genuinely empower communities to contribute to decisions that affect them
    • Central involvement of affected communities in planning processes
  • Public Services
    • 'Local by default' commissioning of public services
    • Bespoke support for community and cooperative enterprises in order to develop local capacity to deliver public services
    • Transfer of public assets into community ownership and/or management
  • Capacity building in the community sector via:
    • Sustained investment in community anchors: organisations that provide a focal point for action within their community and support to other, less well-organised groups.
    • A national programme of support, encouragement and training for community leaders
    • Support for self-organsing community networks, enabling them both to serve member communities better and provide a link between the community sector and national government
    • Establishment of a national infrastructure for community development.

SCCAN consultations: [1]


  1. Accessed October 25th 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Scottish Community Alliance, 2016. Local People Leading. A Vision for a Stronger Community Sector. Scottish Community Alliance, Edinburgh.
  3. Accessed October 25th 2018.
  4. Accessed October 25th 2018.
  5. Scottish Communities Climate Action Network, 2014. Vision for Scotland in 2024. Accessed March 6th 2019.
  6. Accessed May 22nd 2018.
  7. Accessed May 22nd 2018.
  8. Accessed October 26th 2018.
  9. Accessed October 26th 2018.
  10. Accessed October 26th 2018
  11. Accessed October 26th 2018.
  12. Accessed on June 10th 2018
  13. Accessed on June 19th 2018
  14. O’Hara, E. (Ed.), 2013. Europe in transition. Local communities leading the way to a low-carbon society. AEIDL
  15. Accessed on June 15th 2018
  16. Accessed on June 19th 2018
  17. Accessed on June 19th 2018
  18. 18.0 18.1 Community Energy England, 2017. COMMUNITY ENERGY STATE OF THE SECTOR - A study of community energy in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  19. Accessed on June 19th 2018
  20. 20.0 20.1 The Scottish Government, 2017. Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland
  21. Revell, P., Dinnie, E., 2018. Community resilience and narratives of community empowerment in Scotland. Community Development Journal.
  22. Commission On Strengthening Local Democracy, 2014, Effective Democracy: Reconnecting with Communities. Edinburgh: Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy.
  23. Shucksmith, M., 2010. Disintegrated Rural Development? Neo-endogenous Rural Development, Planning and Place-Shaping in Diffused Power Contexts: Disintegrated rural development? Sociologia Ruralis 50, 1–14.