Alex Massie

Aye Been? Up to a point...

Text settings

From today's edition of The Scotsman:

AS A town steeped in its common riding* traditions, the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Selkirk has tended to concentrate on reliving its past.

It proudly proclaims itself as being the venue where William Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland and on the second Friday** of June the streets reverberate with the sound of 500 horses inspecting the boundaries as part of the annual festival celebrations.

Change is not something readily accepted by the 6,000 inhabitants of the Borders town.

But as from today, Selkirk traders are looking to the future and creating their own piece of history by becoming Scotland's first plastic bag-free town.

I care not a whit about the plastic bag issue, but the assertion that "change is not something readily accepted" by Souters is a) unsupported and b) interesting. For sure there's an "aye been" tendency in the Borders but we're not necessarily a bunch of straw-chewing, stick-in-the-mud, hicks.***

Here, for instance, is what Jim Henderson, Provost of Selkirk, had to say at the annual Merchant Company dinner earlier this month:

"Some of us have been around long enough to remember when Selkirk was well and truly part of the old industrial age – when thousands were commanded by the sounds of hooters and the demands of time-clocks to make their daily penance to the needs of industrial society. Management was always based on hierarchies of power; command was always top-down.

"Mirroring the industrial model, Selkirk Town Council, with provost, baillies, magistrates and all, gave us another kind of top-down leadership – one which was never challenged in the industrial age and one which, though democratically elected, perpetuated the idea of a civic leadership which embodied power in individuals."

And, holding his chain of office, he said: "This chain is a symbol of hierarchy in leadership, though I would prefer it to be seen today as symbolic of the Common Riding Trust as a whole, rather than the person of the Provost."

And he rhetorically asked why this was so out of date and irrelevant to the needs of today's world.

"Because hierarchical leadership and the concept of a civic head are closely identified with the predominance of one particular personality," he said. "They are heavily encumbered with pride in office, and dependence on process and control. They are ranked and graded and redolent of ideas such as precedence, compulsion and deference. They often subordinate the creative power of individual talent. They can deny collaborative power, they tend to foster bureaucratic solutions, and, in particular, they threaten flexibility in decision-making, vital if we are to confront the complexities, the ambiguities and the rapid nature of change in this information age."

"Whilst it is easy to understand why we cling to the familiarities and comforts of what has aye been, the industrial age and all that went with it are long gone. The challenges of the past were faced with the ideas of the past – today we face different challenges and must come up with different ideas to confront them.

...“Why don’t we set aside that old and worn idea of personal civic leadership and embrace the 21st century with the new and progressive concepts of collaboration, networking and sharing in collegiate styles of leadership?”

That all sounds dangerously modern, I'd say.

*Should be capitalised: the Common Riding is an event, not a group activity.

**Actually, the second Friday after the first Monday in June. Not quite the same thing.

***OK, there is Galashiels. And Hawick.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietynewspapersscotland