Listening to the news this morning was heartbreaking, for two main reasons. First, this is world suicide prevention day, and suicide is a major public health issue affecting every constituency in the land. Second, the launch of the World Wildlife Fund report on the catastrophic loss of habitat and global decimation of wildlife populations. Both are issues of great importance to Scotland and should be of concern to everyone.
A good number of years ago I undertook a study of suicide in Northern Ireland. It was well after the Good Friday Agreement and a time of relative peace, but the problems of suicide, particularly amongst the young, were considerable. There were many reasons involved, but in very broad and simplistic terms many felt lost, with little stake in society and with no obvious purposeful future combined with a whole series of immediate problems. Sometimes, we found small clusters of suicides, there were also big differences between the sexes, for example males were much more likely to use violent methods of suicide than females.
As in Scotland, there were many excellent local initiatives and voluntary groups providing the type of local on the ground support that is crucial. But at times they could be overwhelmed by tragedies and hamstrung by lack of finance.
My worry is that the immediate future for the post pandemic economy is bleak and particularly for young people. Much more needs doing to ensure we support people, to give them a stake in society, to ensure that jobs, education and vocational training of a high quality are available, and that our local groups are fully supported. We can all do something, even if it is simply donating to local groups. Heading further into recession with a particularly large negative impact on young people, we will need significant action.
Reading about the 70% fall in the global wildlife population over the last 50 years due to human behaviour and the loss of habitat is a solemn reminder that we are not doing enough to tackle this issue. I found it sobering to read that the equivalent loss for the human species would have been the loss of an additional 5 billion lives over the same period.
The good news from WWF was that recent research suggests it is reversible over the next ten years if we take radical action now. We must have stronger action here in Scotland. Issues such as land use and ownership and incentives for purposeful action need to be more ambitiously addressed now. At the individual level I am also sure we all can and must do more in terms of our own choices and behaviours. I know I must do better in the future.
It may surprise readers to know that over thirty years ago during the leadership of Gordon Wilson I was asked to establish a group and produce an environment policy for an independent Scotland. Amongst the large group I assembled I hope others involved will forgive me if I say particularly inspiring were Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell. We would gather at my home in Kirkcaldy and debate the key issues before successfully moving a large resolution at SNP conference. Although times have changed, some of the thinking from back then remains relevant today.
I would particularly like to see the many experts we have in our ranks gathered again to help develop policies fit for the world and an independent Scotland. Ron and Derek still have much to contribute too!
Very recently, Professor Dieter Helm, an economist at Oxford University reminded us that
“Scotland has outstanding natural capital on its balance sheet, measure it and manage it sustainably”.
How very true. A real call to action.