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Catching up with me, catching up with myself!

by on 2015/06/04

May was a very busy month for us, perhaps especially me! Perhaps just as well, as it did not feel much like summer in either Norway or Denmark.

After all the excitement of the UK elections at the beginning of May, where the Scottish nationalists swept the board in Scotland, winning 95% of the seats, but the Conservatives gained enough of a majority in England to form a government with only 40% of the votes (yes blame our absurd and out of date electoral system, ‘first past the post’), it was time to travel. First to the US, where I was lucky enough to be able to spend a weekend with old friend Susan Sechler and her husband Lloyd Timberlake. For us oldies, Lloyd was the monocyclist appearing on covers of some early Rolling Stones LPs! But he was also one the scribes on the Brundtland Committee Report on Sustainable Development. Susan was first secretary economics in USDA during the Carter Administration where she worked with Jim Hightower, among many other things producing the critical book called ‘hard tomatoes, hard times’. Then she went to the Ford Foundation, and then the Aspen Institute, where she ran the rural policy programme. We collaborated on the joint EU-USA rural policy programme in the 1980’s with support from Ford and USDA among others. It was this programme that helped to found the OECD’s rural policy work in the 1990s because of the close involvement of Ken Deavers and Dick Long at ERS in USDA. It also helped to created the International Comparative Rural Policy Studies programme and summer institute.

Susan and Lloyd are now partly retired and living in an old farmhouse in southern Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Ptomac river, and close to Chesapeake bay, and it was great to see them in such good shape.

Then I flew to Memphis for the joint ICRPS-OECD seminar on the food-energy-water nexus, which was held on monday 18th, just before the annual OECD rural policy conference. For the  seminar, I gave the opening address on the value of long term comparative research for contemporary policy analysis, and it seemed to create some good discussion. Later I did a paper on the water-food-energy nexus in the Arab countries, something I drafted a chapter on at the beginning of the year. The seminar had a good range of interesting presentations, attendees, and discussion.

On tuesday, the annual OECD rural policy conference began, and it brought in many new faces this year thanks to the activities of Betty-Ann Bryce, who returned to work in USDA after her long spell at OECD. The secretary of Agriculture came, and gave a great (and moving) extemporary speech at the Civil Rights Museum. I think for the first time in my experience there was much much more (and very welcome) discussion of the issues around inequality, poor education etc especially in the rural ‘south’, as well as the need to be more accommodating to the interests of the new member states, especially in South and Central America. The Civil Rights Museum, which is in the motel where Martin Luther King was shot, is actually very fine – not at all pretentious or fancy, but with much photographic and written testimony and relevant artefacts. It is a terrible story, and we need to keep reminding ourselves of it! Later in the week I gave one of three presentations on making the bioeconomy work for rural development, and also managed a discussion group. I will be putting the presentations on the blog at some point, but meantime they will be on Research Gate.

It was also great to get to the BB King Blues Club in Memphis, and to see so many old friends and colleagues from Europe, S America, Canada and the USA.

I flew back to Scotland direct from JFK overnight on friday, and had a restful weekend with friends and family in the north, before getting back to edinburgh on monday 25th. On tuesday morning I met with Sam Pollock in the Scottish Parliament to discuss the Land Reform Bill soon to be published. In the evening, Jean Urquhart MSP had sponsored an event in the parliament around our new book on Norway and Scotland since 1800, attended by about 50 guests and 5 or 6 MSPs, as well as some officials. The aim was to debate what our long term study of economic, social and political change in the two countries means for contemporary policy issues. Apart from myself, fellow authors Lesley Riddoch, Bronwen Cohen, Karen Refsgaard, and Paddy Bort came to give short presentations, while Tom Devine (who wrote the Foreword to the book) came to wrap up the presentations with a discussion of the role of comparative history. We had an excellent discussion, and a fine evening.

On wednesday, I had a meeting with the Nordic Policy Group of Civil Servants in the Victoria Quay building to talk about local government reforms in Norway and Denmark, about which there was much interest. This was followed in the evening by a presentation on the same topic at the Nordic Horizons event in the beautiful City Chambers, again with a full house of interested and interesting people. The plot is to try to reform local government in scotland (back to smaller, more local authorities) as well as the financing thereof. This is something that many of us believe is essential for the future of democracy. We don’t like the pervasive and corrupting view that local government is mainly about serving people as ‘consumers’ of services. the average size of local governments in Scotland is 160,000 people. In Norway it is 11,600, and in Denmark after the fairly severe reforms of 2007 it is 56,000. Thanks to Lesley Riddoch and Chris Smith, You can see a pre-event interview as well as follow notes and the audio track for this event at

Again, it was great to see family, friends and old colleagues while in Scotland.

Back to Norway, and then a short weekend in Denmark and its the end of May already!

From → Rural policy

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