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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter III. The Civic Union


A CIVIC Union must not be confused with the ordinary Ratepayers' Association common to many towns. The latter is usually formed with the object of reducing municipal expenditure, and generally owes its being to real or imagined extravagance on the part of the local governing body. The Union now suggested would have a wider basis, and would be formed, not for rivalry with other bodies or institutions, but to promote their efficiency and to aid their work. But it would be founded to do much more than this. Local Councils work on certain definite lines, and are largely concerned with ordinary routine matters. Many questions are considered outside their province [Since this chapter was written I have received details of the formation in Dunfermline, as the result of recent events, of a Citizens' Welfare Union, which contains the elements of a Civic Union, and has great possibilities before it.] not frequently are they pioneers. The Councils, too, are not necessarily composed of the most suitable men. The expense of election, the necessity of belonging to a party, and many other obstacles often keep off the Councils the men most suitable for membership, and the best interests of the community suffer accordingly. The Civic Union, on the other hand, would be open to all, without favour or condition. It would be primarily intended to form a centre where all interested in the problems of the town—its government, its progress, the uplifting of its poorest classes, the lines of true advance— would be able to meet for the statement and discussion of these questions, and for their organised study. But the work of the Civic Union would by no means stop at academic discussion. Its members would unite for the purpose of carrying out schemes of enquiry and of practical work. It may be thought that whilst a Civic Union might be most successful in promoting discussion and arousing thought, the difficulties in the way of its undertaking practical work would, owing to the divergent schools of thought represented in the Union, be practically insurmountable. This objection, when the Society gets to work, will be found not to have much foundation. Difficulties in carrying out social and other schemes usually arise because men approach them wearing the label of party or sect, and feel themselves committed in advance to one side or the other. The basis of membership of our Civic Union would, however, naturally be the desire to co-operate in schemes for the common welfare without reference to political, sectarian, or other differences, and when men and women come together, as many will always be found eager to do, with a desire to share that spiritual impetus arising from the communion of sincere workers for good, those artificial difficulties largely created by a false system of public life are soon found to be capable of solution.

Further, in a Civic Union the group system would naturally be evolved. By this is meant that various sections would be formed, and members specially interested in certain questions would group themselves around the sections which would respectively deal with these. The system of specialisation which this would lead to would be one of the most valuable features of the Association, and would immensely increase its importance and influence. It would also be quite compatible with that general co-operation of all sections of the Union so necessary in a movement which must be synthetic.

It may, without undue presumption, be claimed that a Civic Union such as is now outlined would be able frequently to give a true lead alike to the Town Council and to the Carnegie Trust. Members of both bodies are frequently largely engrossed by their ordinary business and professional duties, and are only able to give to their public work moments snatched from these. Such men would frequently be only too grateful for the expert information, sympathetic cooperation and wise guidance which the Civic Union would lay itself out to give. Indeed, it is to be regretted that this point is not more generally realised in other departments of our public life. How often, for instance, the average member of Parliament is prevented by the mere stress of his life from devoting the necessary time to the investigation and adequate understanding of the innumerable questions and problems with which he is ever confronted, and how helpful to him, whether acknowledged or not, must be the guidance of the specialists, whose claim to be heard is based upon knowledge attained by laborious research and applied with wisdom and understanding.

It is perhaps hardly necessary to enter into minute details concerning the organisation and government of the Civic Union. Only necessary principles need be here mentioned. As already indicated, there should be no formal test for membership beyond the unexpressed one of the possession of what, for want of a better term, we may call the social spirit. The subscription should be fixed as low as possible, so that membership should never become a matter of class. Funds for special work and expenses might be raised by private donations, for help in gifts as in service would be alike welcome. The constitution and rules would of course rest finally with the members, who would naturally elect annually the officials of the Union, including a president, chairman, secretary, treasurer, and an executive committee. The success of the movement would obviously depend in a large measure upon the committee and its officers.

It would be idle to attempt to give an exhaustive list of the work which might fitly be undertaken by our Civic Union, for it has before it a field of labour—much of it virgin ground—so large that the difficulty would be where to stop. Nor is it desirable at such a stage to attempt to fix rigorously lines of activity and definite schemes for work. For the Association must naturally develop slowly, and extend its boundaries in the light of its own experience. Thus will the value and the permanence of its work be more surely attained.

Yet there is one scheme of social service so necessary and urgent in its character, so fraught with possibilities for good, and so suitable for a Civic Union to undertake, that I venture to submit it first for consideration. This is a survey of the social condition of Dunfermline. By this is meant an investigation of the actual conditions under which the bulk of the poor in the town live. Such investigations have taken place in York, London, and one or two Scottish towns, and have provided accurate data upon which to base schemes of reform. An investigation like this depending for its accuracy and success upon the tact and sympathy shown by those conducting it, could best be carried out by a band of voluntary workers whose interest in the social cause would enable them to overcome the not inconsiderable difficulties which would attend such a scheme.

It would not perhaps be possible or indeed necessary to survey the whole of the town, so long as a sufficiently representative portion was done as would afford a trustworthy guide to the condition of the town as a whole. Thus, for instance, one of the chief elementary schools in the town might be selected, the addresses of all the scholars obtained, and investigation made at all of these by the committee of enquirers. Each member of the latter/would be given a certain number of houses to visit, and would have printed schedules on which he would himself fill in the information he gathered from his enquiries. This information should cover the following points :—

Name and age of parents.
Husband's occupation and earnings.
Wife's occupation and earnings (if any).
Number, sex, and ages of children.
Occupations and earnings of any at work.
Rent of dwelling-house.
Number of rooms, showing separately the number used as bedrooms.
Details of sanitary arrangements.

Number of hours worked daily, and the period of same in the case of the husband and any other members of the family at work.

The investigator would also add the details he would be able to see for himself as to the hygienic conditions of the house, and his impressions generally.

It will no doubt be urged that such a system of enquiry would be keenly resented by the poor themselves, and that it would be almost impossible to get the information sought in an accurate form. The reply is that all would depend upon the investigator, for if those he visited became instinctively aware of his (or her) genuine sympathy and absolute sincerity, there would be no reluctance to give information which would be justly refused if demanded like a census return. In a word, the success or failure of the plan rests upon the tact and wisdom with which it is organised and carried through. That success is attainable is seen by the accomplishment of similar enquiries in other towns.

The importance of the information resulting, when properly sifted and tabulated, hardly needs to be emphasised here. There is no better way of showing what the condition and needs of the town really are, and of giving at once justification and inspiration for the measures of reform thus shown to be necessary.

Though, as already indicated, it is not proposed to sketch in comprehensive detail the activities to be undertaken by the Civic Union, it may be pointed out that many of the social schemes put forth in this book can hardly be realised by the unaided work of the Carnegie Trustees, even if the latter were willing to undertake them. The Civic Union, therefore, will not only by its expert investigations into the problems of the town, and the methods of solving them, influence action by the Carnegie Trustees, as also by the Town Council and School Board, but will itself give practical assistance in carrying out such action. In the slum problem, the development and proper use of Pittencrieff Park, the foundation of educational and recreative clubs, the development of the public library, the work of the social settlement, will be found work to occupy all sections of the most progressive of Civic Unions. Yet the writer would add one other suggestion relating to a matter at once urgent and vital. It is the cultivation of a sound public feeling on the subject of hygiene and the laws of health. So far as the young people of the town are concerned, it is to be hoped that the schools will have an increasing influence. For the other sections of the community the Civic Union may do much, both by lectures and the publication of information in leaflets, etc. Great numbers of the people live unhealthy lives at present only for the lack of knowledge, particularly on such subjects as ventilation, exercise, and personal habits, clothing, and similar questions. Ignorance and thoughtlessness are also probably responsible in a large measure for the extraordinary prevalence of the dangerous habit of expectoration. Not only is this practised in the streets, on the railway stations, in the carriages, but also in concert room and theatre. If reform in this direction were to be the first work undertaken by the Civic Union, it would place the community of Dunfermline under no inconsiderable obligation.

Finally, perhaps the Civic Union may prove to be the best agency for leading a movement of licensing reform, and of gathering together such a body of public opinion as shall ensure not only that the evil shall not be made greater through the unseen workings of powerful vested interests, but that the present over-licensed condition of the town shall be genuinely remedied, and the opportunity given for other agencies to have fair scope for their beneficent activities.


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