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Farewell to peace centre

An interview with Liz Law, driving force behind the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence, which closed recently.

The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence in Dunblane has closed after ten years of existence. Scotland and the peace movement have lost a unique resource for nonviolent education and networking. Camouflaged by woodland trees, the Centre was situated in a prefabricated building, tucked behind Scottish Churches House, the Scottish Churches Ecumenical Conference Centreat Dunblane Cathedral.

During my time as a local peace activist, I will remember it as a special space, with a powerful atmosphere that embodied hope, co-operation and calm. It was a hub of creativity and humanity, where meetings were productive, ideas flowed and tasks such as banner-making progressed speedily. But the Centre was much more than this.

Liz Law was the driving force behind the Centre for the last five years and stood as a Peace Party candidate in the recent Scottish Parliament elections. Liz organised a reflective, but happy farewell party for the Centre. Soon after, I asked her about the Centre's achievements and what she was now focussing on.

What was the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence?

The Centre was a place, an idea and a hope. The place was where diverse groups could meet to work together, though we did go out to meet groups. The idea was to promote and develop the concept of nonviolence through education and networking.

The hope was that people from many different places wanted to believe that another culture was possible. In a sense, the work we did, by making nonviolent education available on the internet, and through the people that went out and trained others, has partially realised this hope.

What were the other main functions and achievements of the centre?

It brought nonviolence into the mainstream and connected people who knew about nonviolence. It started naming nonviolence as an alternative.

In my time, the biggest contribution we made was our presence around all the meetings in the build-up to the G8 at Gleneagles in 2005, influencing people to consider nonviolence. This showed that by our very presence we can influence something.

People are now using alternatives to unhealthy conflicts and are using nonviolent tactics. Nonviolence has lost the image of passivity in Scotland. As Scotland changes, nonviolence is much more in the everyday language of protest.

One of the excellent things that came out of the Centre was the development of community-level nonviolence educational materials, as well as a nonviolence MSc module in the Centre for Human Ecology (created by Helen Steven and accredited by the Open University). We have also helped to create the precedents for sharing resources, by making these freely available. They will now be on www.scotland4peace.org the Scotland's for Peace website.

Why did the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence have to close?

Over the last three years, we became aware of our funders' frustrations around the duplication of effort, including volunteer resources and premises.

For example, this is leading to lots of events being organised by similar groups and being poorly attended.

The Centre worked to bring twelve groups together to look at ways in which there could be more common working, without specifying a model, but there was no real will to do this. Organisations were so over-stretched they had no capacity to change. After these meetings, it also became clear that the new generation of activists organise differently. They have short-term, campaign-centred commitments and usually organise and communicate via the internet. They aren't interested in becoming members.

The new generation of activists aren't drawn to the model of working that was embedded in the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence.

One of the reasons that the Centre closed was so that the people engaged in it could be freed up to go and work elsewhere. We are now focussing on less in order to give more.

Why must nonviolence be central to a movement for change?

What about your Gandhi! Basically, we want a decent society that is nonviolent, so we need to model the behaviour that we want to create in that society.

Where do you see the focus for nonviolent change being in the next few years?

In the Scottish context, I think in two places - in politics and in education. The foundations are now already present in education, with statutory requirements now in place in Scotland for additional learning needs, as well as peace education and peer mediation in schools.

In politics, I think that the Scottish Parliament has been given a clear message from the electorate that anti-social politics has its own political ASBO. [The Labour Party were marginalised in the May 2007 elections - SY.]

The Scottish Parliament is designed for collaborative politics.

What are you doing now?

I am now a self-employed workplace and employment mediator (www.lizlawmediation.co.uk). I have mediated for educational establishments, peace and justice organisations and faith groups, amongst others.

For the next five years, I am now fully committed to working towards a large-scale Civil Peace Service (CPS, see www.encps.org) as a volunteer. This is an element of SCNV's work that isn't covered by other organisations - at least on the large-scale model I am thinking of.

In my view, the Civil Peace Service is a form of alternative defence and at present I don't know of a more credible form of defence. There are other organisations that are requested by civil society to intervene in areas of potential conflict or post conflict. But the CPS is characterised by large-scale intervention on request, is highly-trained and experienced, with checks and balances in place.

The archives of the Centre will be made available at the National Archives of Scotland (reference ACC/2007/2/130). All the remaining assets have been passed on to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre (www.pjrc-edinburgh.org.uk), a long-standing resource centre and point of exchange for people in Scotland working to transform conflict.

Sarah Young is the temporary Scotland editor for PN and is active in Scotland.