what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Closer Admiration

Lists of people one admires, of course, say as much about the person making the list as those on the list – about the qualities in people we respect and look for in others if not in ourselves. Authenticity, generosity, curiousity, passion and integrity are key values for me - choosing one’s own path; and being open to others.

I admire 83-year old Viciu, my neighbour, for his resilience (tending to the livestock so cheerily); his carpenter skills; and his warm acceptance of me as an eccentric outsider.

I admire my friend Stefan in Slovakia for the way he has led the renaissance of an old Hungarian Palace which serves a mixture of a training centre, hotel and art gallery; given life to the village in which it is located; and for his passion for cultural travel and collecting artefacts.

I admire my friend Vihra in Sofia for her passionate encouragement of Bulgarian contemporary artists through the special exhibitions and vernissajs she arranges in her small gallery – and the beautiful bookmarks which accompany each exhibition.

I can think of quite a lot of “local heroes” I knew in the West of Scotland (not least my father).
Most belonged to the “old school” who had experienced poverty and the war. It is, I think, difficult for the materialistic and narcissistic post-war generation to develop real values.

I spent my formative years (26-50) as a reforming Regional politician (with an academic base) – so had an unusually wide range of contacts (political, professional, community). I consorted with senior people of all sorts – civil servants, politicians, journalists, policemen, social workers…. and felt that most were operating beyond their level of competence…..
Most people expected me to move on to national politics – but I had looked into the eyes of so many national politicians and seen so much emptiness. Tam Dalyell was a maverick Labour politician I admired – you can sense his integrity from the detailed obituary he wrote here for John Smith, the Scottish politician whose death in 1993 (?) robbed us of a better Labour PM in 1997  

Amongst the 103 councillors elected to the powerful new Strathclyde Region in 1974 with me, there were many of the time-servers you would expect to find.  But the powers of the new Region had attracted a good calibre of politician - the experienced leadership of the old counties and a good mix of younger, qualified people (despite the obvious full-time nature of the job, we were expected to do it for a daily allowance of about 15 euros. Clearly the only people who could contemplate that were the retired, the self-employed or those coming from occupations traditionally supportive of civic service - eg railwaymen or, like myself, educationalists)
With a strong sense of heading into the unknown, a dual leadership was created - with the public persona (the President and Policy Leader) being someone fairly new to politics, a Presbyterian Minister (without a church) who had made his name in "urban ministry" working with the poor. Geoff Shaw inspired great respect - particularly in the world outside normal politics - and brought a new approach. He was determined to have more open and less complacent policy-making: particularly with respect to social inequalities.
Appointed as the Leader of the Majority Group (and therefore holding the patronage powers) was an older and politically much more experienced man - an ex-miner. Dick Stewart may not have had the formal education and eloquence of Geoff but he commanded respect (and fear!) amongst both politicians and officials of the Council for his ability to get to the heart of any matter and for his honesty. He readily grasped the key elements in any issue: and would not easily deviate from policy. To persuade him to change, you had to have very strong arguments or forces on your side - and a great deal of patience. This made for policy stability: occasionally frustrating but so much more acceptable than the vacillation and fudge which passes for so much policy-making! Geoff stood for moral direction: Dick for order.
Both had a deep sense of justice: and utter integrity to their principles. And the new political structures unusually adopted for this most unusual of local authorities gave them both an equal share in policy leadership.
The difference in perspectives and styles occasionally caused problems: but both approaches were very much needed in the early years. Sadly, when 4 years later, the Convener died, the tensions led to a rethink of the concept: and all power concentrated in the hands of the Leader. 

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