Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Scottish 'Common Weal' - what is it?

The weakness of commentators, such as Gerry Hassan, who reject the Scottish trait of social conservatism or the 'Common Weal' as hearsay or an 'urban myth' have to explain how, since the Scottish Reformation, this solid idea and deep seated sense of responsibility of 'being their brother's keeper' is so strong in Scotland.  An idea so strong it informs Scottish Socialism to a greater degree than Marx or Lenin.

Look at the laws passed in the Scottish Parliament prior to 1707 and their interconnectedness with instructions to Scotland's Parishes by the General Assemby about the requirement to provide services for the poor - from simple relief to a basic education. The poor of the parish were the responsibility of the parish. Folk in the parish falling on hard times / ill health were given support to help them through. All this social welfare happening within a formal structure over 400 years prior to Beveridge's 1942 report and the 1948 Health and Welfare Act.

Parishes which failed to meet their obligations would see themselves indicted at the Court of Session and elders held forfeit under bonds to ensure their duties to the poor were undertaken. The Elder's of the Parish of Tranent were twice pulled into the Court of Session to explain themselves in the late 1600's and sought to claim personal 'poverty' for their failings and the unwillingness of their congregation to raise funds for 'back sliders' and 'tinkers' who were claimed to 'infest their parish'. Yet it was a well respected parishioner who had fallen on 'hard times' who petitioned the Court of Session about the failure of Tranent Presbytry and Parish. 'Daily Mail' readers were clearly alive, well and equally prejudiced in 17th Century Scotland.

North of the Highland line the Clan's feudal equivalent of 'kinship and bondsman' also ensured the deserving poor were kept dry and fed in Clachan's across Gaeldom. Many Clan Chief's reputations were made and retained by the succouring of Clan members who fell on hard times. In more modern times the Govan Rent Strike of 1916 was driven by a similar sense of grievance that changes in rental conditions most effected the poorest and most vulnerable - much like today's 'bedroom tax' protests.

This fuzzy, almost intangible idea of the 'Common Weal' in Scotland is alive and well today in NGO's like 'Food Train' (which ensures the old and isolated get their weekly messages in rural Galloway), Church OAP lunch clubs or simply the folk that just go 'opposite' to see that 'old' Mrs or Mr 'Such and Such' is OK. These social actions have little to do with their politics or their religion and everything to do with how they see themselves and their community.

So is it that surprising Scots feel most comfortable with a style of Government which has policies that reflect these innate, but deeply imbedded social democratic traits?

The 'Common Weal'  exists and is action within Scotland on a daily basis. The 'Common Weal' is seen in action everytime some one trips and is helped up, helped onto a bus with their pram or tapped on their shoulder and told they have just dropped their wallet or a glove and it is in action routinely on a daily basis than the stuff that makes the daily headlines on BBC News Scotland or the Scottish press.

I would go further; the actions of the 'Common Weal' are the reasons that so many folk who move from other countries to live in Scotland quickly see and feel themselves as being 'Scottish'.

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