Blog: Land and Govan: Imagining What is Possible

My first Galgael event was last winter,  at Samhain, for the COP26 declaration of the Govan Free State.  I was very struck then by the creative act of imagining what is possible– by declaring ourselves welcome, and free.  It was my favourite part of COP26.  The declaration was a way to hold space for alternative ways of being, for alternative futures, creating new beginnings.    

New beginnings can be bourne out of the creative act of a declaration, by the occupation of a building, or even a boring meeting on a wet Wednesday evening.  

As the disappointing COP26 outcomes remind us, there is a challenge of connecting these creative acts to decision making, and to power.

I’m here today representing Community Land Scotland, the membership organisation for Scotland’s Community landowners.  Our vision is for ownership of land and buildings to be a straightforward option for communities.  Scotland suffers from the most unequal pattern of land ownership in the Global North, and addressing this through land reform, and the diversification of ownership specifically, is Community Land Scotland’s aim.  

We are members of the International Land Coalition,  and some of our Directors and Staff will be travelling to the ILC conference in May to share Scotland’s land struggles with those of other people globally,  such as we’ve heard today from the Munduruku of the Amazon. 

This week I had the pleasure of attending one of the first community receptions at the Scottish Parliament since the Covid19 restrictions were lifted.   The reception  was actually on a topic not far from the work of Galgael — it reported on a  project we ran using artistic approaches to work with Community Land Owners to envision alternative futures,  called “Owning Our Futures.”

At the reception two of our members,  Lucy from the Isle of Eigg and Crick from Peebles, discussed their work.  Lucy gave a perspective on 25 years of community land ownership on Eigg,  describing her family and friends who have been able to stay and make their lives on the Island since the community purchased it.  She explained that the community land buyout was not actually for the current residents,  but for future generations, for the children as yet unborn. 

One of them – I don’t remember if it was Lucy or Crick–  described their decision to take land into community ownership as an act of creatively bringing the possible into being.  This statement reminded me immediately of the declaration of the Govan Free State.  These are acts of local democratic power, establishing a space of common good, for a different future.

There is inspiration, and power, in creatively bringing the possible into being.

And then there is the long slog of volunteer hours, paperwork, and meetings– what I call the Boring Revolution– to bring these spaces into community ownership, turning it into land held in the public interest.   And this is what I specialise in at Community Land Scotland–  the boring details– so if you have questions about a community land buy out please get in touch.

The  Scottish system of community land ownership is one with the potential to scale up and establish new ways of being on the land which come out of older shared land practices,  like commons and sheilings.  These are all local democratic, collective, ways of being on, and owning, our land. 

We’re here for the Beltane festival– spring– and all these new beginnings are buds on the trees,  which we wait to burst into a full canopy of leaves.

Carey Doyle

Galgael, Govan,  2022

This talk was given as part of the knowledge exchange project “(Un)earthing new pathways for a justice transition: cultivating hope and food on contested terrains in Scotland, Amazon and the Arctic”