GENUINE question. Where does most pioneering change begin in Scotland?

Obviously the Scottish Parliament and political parties have kick-started big ideas – from free personal care for the elderly to the end of university tuition fees.

The Scottish Government is now finding ways to shield the vulnerable from Westminster’s punitive welfare policies.

Councils have also been big players – improving the lives of millions with mains water and council housing at the start of the last century and delivering everything from electric car charging points to free sanitary products today.

But in my lifetime, another set of powerful players have emerged – folk who rarely get acknowledgement in the pages of any newspaper because they work in that most under-rated domain.

Local communities. This wee column aims to change that.

Across Scotland, communities have made history, protected neighbours and fixed problems that seem insoluble or insignificant to larger authorities.

But ‘news’ prefers one big change somewhere to lots of small change everywhere – even though the latter can achieve far greater transformation.

After all, we live in real, organic, living places – even if our so-called “local” government structure absolutely denies that reality.

Few folk realise how wildly out of step with European norms our local democracy has become. The average council here in Scotland has a population of 170,000. That figure for the average council in the EU is 7000. The average council in Germany also has a population of just 7000 and is 15 square kilometres in size. The average Scottish council is 990 square kilometres in size.

It is truly shocking. The absence of town, island and big village councils across Scotland makes us the odd one out in the developed world and stops us harnessing the energy of our ain folk in the places that matter most – the places they live, grow up, have bairns and find work.

So thank goodness for development trusts, social enterprises and community groups. In the absence of genuinely local democracy, in the absence of affordable and available land for new houses and wee businesses, in the absence of a truly comprehensive and caring welfare state – groups of local volunteers have often quietly saved the day.

Almost everyone will have heard of community land buyouts in places such as Assynt, Gigha, Knoydart, Storas Uist and Eigg. But fewer know what has happened as a consequence.

On Eigg, eight years of effort resulted in a community buyout in 1997 after the 65 islanders managed to raise £1.56 million from the public with just £20,000 contributed by the public purse.

They became the first islanders in Scottish history to buy their island back from a laird and immediately issued local tenants with leases – thus triggering eligibility for housing improvement grants for the first time in decades.

They formed the Eigg Building Collective, so local men worked with the sole builder on the island to upskill, create island-friendly designs and upgrade all the housing stock themselves.

They created an award-winning renewable energy system called Eiggtricity, using a blend of wind, hydro and solar power to replace the dirty, polluting and expensive diesel that had powered individual homes for generations.

But their biggest achievement has been giving land free to young folk including their own children, who work together to build two-bedroom homes for £40,000 using local wood, skills and labour.

Problems of land ownership and local government structure need legislative change at Holyrood. But meantime, community action is transforming pockets of Scotland. Shouldn’t we all know about that?

Hopefully thanks to backing from the Sunday National, from now on we all will. Here are a few wee examples of what’s happening right now.

- Kirkcudbright Development Trust took over a local caravan park from D&G council and is now set to make a surplus after two years of community management. It’s also taking over a former school after raising £1.5m.

- Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust took over the Falls of Shin visitor centre after it was burnt out and abandoned by the previous owner Dodi Al Fayid – it’s now an award-winning visitor attraction and restaurant lNewcastleton Community Trust, with no petrol pump within 30 miles of the village, installed a community pump in March that has sold 125,000 litres. 1p per litre goes to community projects.

If you have a good news story of community achievement in towns, cities, country or islands please contact me at