Grieving through words that speak.

From today until December 8th the annual Grief Awareness Week is held. It is ’ a dedicated period for individuals, organisations, and communities to come together to acknowledge and address the various aspects of grief.’

As regular readers will know I have written a lot about grief and bereavement over the years. Lots of words, some with purpose and meaning, but I suspect others which are but searches for solace and an attempt to grasp substance out of something so hard to hold.

The older I get the more comfortable I become with being silent around grief and quiet around dying. It is not, I think, that I have run out of things to say but more that I appreciate that there is a tremendous strength and energy in being silent and not feeling that you have to fill the void of emptiness with sound, either for my own heart or the lives of others.

I suppose I especially appreciate silence in those aching gaps of time. Those times when I go to pick up the phone to make a call to someone who will never answer but for a moment love’s forgetfulness was lost to memory. Those times when a flashing image comes to mind or I see something which has a particular resonance and I simply want to share it. Those times when I daydream touch and presence only to wake into the cruelty of cold truth and the knowledge of absence. Those times when I see a figure walking in the distance and try to catch them but know every step is towards a stranger. Time aches.

I like to think that it is not accidental that December was chosen as Grief Awareness Week because this is such a hard month to grieve. A month of communal celebration, you simply cannot escape the invitation if not command to be joyous and happy, whether in our real or television worlds. And to top it all there are the highpoints of family togetherness when you sense inside yourself the empty seat and the absent face, when you smile through the inner tears of loneliness and grieving. When you sometimes feel that your very presence is a declaration of the missing.

At all such times I like to wear the cloak of silence to become invisible and to be allowed to grieve alone.

I suppose this desire to sit and cradle memory in grieving is why I feel words so often fail to speak my language of loss. It is I suspect why for me poetry is such a solace and help. Because in truth it is nigh to impossible for me to write a sentence which can describe grief, but I relish those whose poetry opens a door to understanding and offers some comfort.

Earlier this year I came across an article which tried to explore why it was for many of us that both reading poetry and for some writing it can help us in our grieving and in our journey of bereavement. The writer states:

“Poetry allows us to tap into a range of feelings – from sadness and despair to hope and resilience – and to do so in a way that feels authentic and true to our experience. Reading poetry can also be a cathartic experience, as it allows us to connect with the emotions of others and find comfort in the shared human experience of loss.”

There is nothing new in that truth – it has been known for centuries and there is a long long line of poets who have been companions for the grieving.

Poems for me are the truthtellers and promise keepers of hope when all around you seem to be full of words that simply don’t seem true or are so platitudinal that they are empty. ‘I will not get over it’ ‘It will not be alright soon’ ‘I will not learn to live without him’ ‘I will not adjust to a new way.’ And okay they may all be right and have truth inside their words, but right now, right here, in this moment, for this time, I want to sit and ‘rage against the dying of the light.’

Poetry allows me to mourn on my own time, in my own way, at my own pace, without having to be ‘well and whole’ for others or even for my self.

This desire for silence or for words of poetry that walk with my grief, is I suspect why I am comfortable with the Gaelic concept of the lament, of which I have written previously:

‘Lament is not a wallowing in the pain and distress of the past, but rather a gathering up of the threads of brokenness until they are woven into a rhythm of resonant recollecting. To lament is to mouth or sound out one’s pain, to seek to make sense and to simply be present in grief. Its insight is that the act of grieving and remembering are woven into our humanity. We cannot have hope unless we remember.’

So I am going to find my quiet place, my touching place, and sit and listen to the silence and when I want I will pick up a book of poems and go and visit some old teachers of life. One of them is usually Iain Crichton Smith, whose short poem When Day Is Done take me to the place where even silence cannot be heard.

‘Sorrow remembers us when day is done.
It sits in its old chair gently rocking
and singing tenderly in the evening.
It welcomes us home again after the day.
It is so old in its black silken dress,
its stick beside it carved with legends.
It tells its stories over and over again.
After a while we have to stop listening.

When Day Is Done by Iain Mac a’ GhobhainnIain Crichton Smith – Scottish Poetry Library

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Moving from Talk to Action on Bereavement – Online Event (23 January 2024)

 The Bereavement Charter Group and Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief  is organising an online event on ‘Moving from Talk to Action on Bereavement: Improving Signposting’.

Date: Tuesday 23 January 2024
Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Location: Online via Zoom

This will be first in a series of events to discuss how we in the bereavement sector in Scotland can work together to achieve positive change.

The event is for anyone who feels they can play a role in improving signposting to available bereavement support in Scotland.

Find out more about the event and sign up on: Moving from Talk to Action on Bereavement: Improving Signposting Tickets, Tue 23 Jan 2024 at 14:00 | Eventbrite

Belonging demands compassionate action.

Belonging and what it means not least for older people has been a common theme in my blogs and talks over the years and yet again it’s a subject that I’ve been reflecting upon over the last few days. For instance yesterday I took part in recording an interview with Amy Callaghan MP for the Channel Four programme ‘The Political Slot.’ The theme was the critical workforce shortages in social care and the extent to which Brexit has been a contributor to those and whether the immigration system has supported the sector. I’ve written enough on Brexit over the years for it to be no surprise that my personal and professional perspective is that the referendum decision has been an unmitigated disaster for social care in Scotland – for many reasons. Equally the current immigration system and its cumbersome barrier-approach to attracting new workers is damaging and unworkable. Not helped by the latest round of rhetoric calling for increased restrictions on social care and health visas. When will some politicians and commentators own up to the reality that for Scotland at least there are simply not enough people in our population to deliver essential services without significant inward migration?

The interview pushed me to think of what does it mean to belong to a community and a country. It’s probably a theme which will be uppermost in a few minds as we approach that annual celebration of national identity which is St Andrews Day on the 30th November.

National days can become parodies of stereotypes and serve to perpetuate tropes and I know for one that there is much more to a Scottish community or our nation as a whole than an annual celebration of tartan, bagpipes and shortbread. Not to do the day down I recognise that there is an attempt to celebrate what is best about Scotland. – hospitality, inventiveness and innovation, entrepreneurship and adventure. But national days should if they do anything force us to think about the nature of the community or nation we want to belong to and build.

What does it therefore mean to belong to Scotland?

For me as someone of Gaelic origin I am continually drawn to the notion and concept of dùthchas and not least its association with the land and what it means to belong to a particular place and space. It’s a complex phrase that is often used in many contexts but for me it’s one of the many words that suggest ‘belonging’ – that sense of being at one and at home amongst a community or in a particular location. For many Highlanders the physical land and local space over generations has a pull and appeal that makes you feel uniquely different in that place compared to anywhere else they may have been.

In an excellent article on dùthchas Col Gordon writes:

‘ Crofter and world-renowned knitwear designer Alice Starmore from Lewis described dùthchas as

“a feeling of belonging, of where everything is linked, completely linked. Where you belong to the land, and the land belongs to you – there is no distinction. It’s like a hand in a glove. Everything fits in, and your culture is part of that as well, and everything you know that’s around you; every part of life that’s around you is all interlinked and interdependent, and it’s all about ancestry, knowing where you’ve come from and that you are a continuation of all that.” ‘

But though this chimed with my own sense belonging, especially to Skye, it is not sufficient on its own to describe dùthchas – it also denotes as Gordon states – responsibility both to people and place. He summarises this when he writes:

‘Dùthchas is a critically important word within the Gaelic worldview but I believe it needs to be understood as more than simply a slightly woolly feeling of belonging and interconnectedness, but as a

“tangible conduct and action motivated by a sense of ethics, respect, and responsibility for said place and community to maintain ecological balance.”

Belonging demands and necessitates responsibility. It roots respect into moment and ethics into conduct and behaviour in and for a nation and people. So what are the responsibilities incumbent in belonging to Scotland. I’ll mention just one from my world view.

For me the overarching responsibility of any community or nation is how we treat those who need care and support. Intimately linked to this is how we value the unpaid and paid carers who enable compassion to come alive in our midst.

So, it is today as the GMB union organises a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament under the banner ‘fight for fifteen’ that together with other unions, provider groups like Care England and many others that I personally am proud to support ‘Fairness at Fifteen.’ This is about putting flesh on the bones of a Fair Work agenda which is about recognising and valuing frontline care work by paying those staff a salary and wage which is not minimum, not even about a living wage but about a flourishing and thriving amount to say loudly that you are what we should all be – carriers of compassion for those who are the best of us in community.

It is simply time that we pay our social care staff a decent wage! That for me means that this moment of belonging has to be to a nation that cares and that means in practical terms no less than £15 an hour for our care staff.

By extension that means that we properly resource the organisations that employ them – there is no point in saying to someone we are giving you £15 an hour but your employing organisation will probably go to the wall and you’ll be redundant soon!

If belonging means anything, if it is a true sense of dùthchas – then for me it has to be about a nation and community that values social care in all its rich glory. That’s something when it happens that will be worthy of a day of celebration and I will live then in a place worthy of belonging.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Petia Koleva on Unsplash

Care Home Awards 2023 – Winners

The National Care Home Awards 2023 by Scottish Care took place on the evening of Friday 17 November 2023, hosted at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. The event, hosted by Pop Idol Winner Michelle McManus and Scottish Care CEO Dr Donald Macaskill, was an eventful evening!

A big round of applause goes out to our well-deserving finalists and winners, and our heartfelt appreciation to all the Awards Sponsors. A special mention to The Nursing Partnership for generously sponsoring the Arrival Drinks and to the Hilton Glasgow for sponsoring the Hotel Stay Raffle Prize.

To discover more about our exceptional finalists, you can explore the details in our Awards Programme.

Still breathing: time for television to grow up.

I cannot be the only person who has had a life-long fascination with television. I can still remember the first time we got a colour television at home which like many was not bought but came under a rental arrangement with a well-known company which rented out televisions alongside many other electrical white goods. Part of my fascination with television was the result of an old neighbour who was very much a Glasgow granny to us. Katie came from Tiree but had lived in Glasgow for most of her life and had either known or worked with John Logie Baird but either way she had a small television which was enclosed in a beautiful mahogany box which sat in the corner of her room. It was signed by the great man himself. Katie effused about all things on the television – both good and bad!

In a few days’ time on the 21st November it will be World Television Day. I didn’t even know such a day existed but on reflection it makes complete and utter sense.

It states that the day is ‘a global observance that celebrates the impact and importance of television as a medium for communication, information, and entertainment. It acknowledges the role television plays in shaping public opinion, promoting cultural diversity, and fostering dialogue among nations.’

That description chimes with the famous quote of the first Director General of the BBC, the 6ft 6-inch irascible Scottish titan and pioneer of public broadcasting Lord (John) Reith who stated that the purpose of television was to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ which remains part of the mission statement of the BBC to this very day.

Television has a huge influence upon society and if anything, it is deepening and developing. What you see or perhaps what you do not see on television has a considerable impact on the attitudes, behaviours, perceptions and understanding that you develop as you grow into adulthood and citizenship.

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending a forum theatre event in Alloa as part of the University of Stirling’s ESRC Festival of Social Science which linked to the amazing work at that university on Reimagining the Future of Ageing.

One of the themes that came up a fair bit was the stereotypical images of ageing that often appear in our media and no more is that the case than in television. On the one hand we have the continual representation of older age as being all about decline and decay. The representation of older people as frail, feeble and with wrinkly hands.

Older age characters in popular television are so frequently typically negative stereotypes. We have the sad, vulnerable and depressed, the grumpy and bad-tempered, the nosy neighbour, the poor and destitute pensioner. Where are the designers, the thinkers, the planners, the workers? I don’t see the story of the contributors and creatives, of the dreamers and visionaries. Why is it all about the old being a cost and drain, being a burden and barrier? Why is it that the future only seems to belong to the young, when it is all of our tomorrows?

At the other extreme of negative stereotypes, we have the ultra-positive – the ‘supra old’ – the bungee jumper at 102, the marathon runner at 99, the concert pianist at 95 and so on. All laudable in their exemplary excellence but hardly descriptive of the breadth of ageing.

In a room of a hundred older people there are a hundred stories to tell about growing old and older age, some good, some sad, some brilliant, some full of mundanity. Television and the arts in general fail to be authentic if all they do is speak to the extremities and edge of the human condition and the human person.

And why is it important that we should have a truthful and broad representation of older age – well put simply it is because it matters. What appears on television matters, and we are light years away from a mature, broad and truthful representation of ageing in all its colour, variety and diversity.

It also matters because we are people who require to hear our story and see our lives portrayed in the popular culture and the visual landscapes of our eyes and heart. There is not a little evidence to show that not being able to see our own narrative in the culture of the time has a negative impact on our mental health. Regardless of who I am, if I am living with dementia or living through the days of my loving to the end, I need to be able to recognise myself in television. Yet most of what is produced is but a shadow of the truthfulness, real and raw, broken, and glorious, of older age.

When challenged, as I have done in the past, playwrights and producers I spoke to made the statement that is often made namely that an audience does not always want to see itself and that it is not what the public wants. I would contest that assumption and would re-iterate the words of Lord Reith: ‘He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for low standards which he will then satisfy.’

There is a particular necessity for those of is who work in older age services and social care supports not to swallow the stereotype of older age but to challenge the societal presumption about those who receive social care at any age but especially at older age.

I make no apologies for finishing with one of my favourite Maya Angelou poems “On Aging” which asks younger people to treat older people with understanding and respect. She wrote it when she was 50 and it started a whole canon of some of her best work. It challenges the stereotypes of older people as ‘lonely, pitiable, and helpless.’ I hope we will see much more rounded representations of older age on television and in the creative media in general in the months and years to come.

On Aging

When you see me sitting quietly,

Like a sack left on the shelf,

Don’t think I need your chattering.

I’m listening to myself.

Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!

Hold! Stop your sympathy!

Understanding if you got it,

Otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are stiff and aching,

And my feet won’t climb the stair,

I will only ask one favor:

Don’t bring me no rocking chair.

When you see me walking, stumbling,

Don’t study and get it wrong.

‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy

And every goodbye ain’t gone.

I’m the same person I was back then,

A little less hair, a little less chin,

A lot less lungs and much less wind.

But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Maya Angelou

On Aging poem – Maya Angelou (

Dr Donald Macaskill

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash


Five Nations Care Forum Communiqué 16 November 2023

Eight steps to a sustainable social care workforce

In this rapidly changing world, the demands on the social care workforce are also evolving. Our workforce is the backbone of the care and support sector, and investing in its capabilities and well-being is key to achieving our shared goals. Demographic and societal changes require a creative and innovative approach to how we deliver care and support in a sustainable way, which enables the person-led care and support we all deserve.

We recognize the need to support a workforce that is adaptable, innovative, and equipped with the necessary skills to address the complex needs experienced by individuals and communities. But this will require bravery across the whole social care system to address the implementation gap experienced to date and reinforced by bureaucracy and systemic barriers. The Five Nations Care Forum is calling for urgent attention on the following seven recommendations for a sustainable social care workforce.

  1. A valued workforce

A collaborative pledge to value social care as a career that is actively promoted and supported by the sector, civil servants and politicians.

  1. Continuous Training and Professional Development

Enable a system for knowledge exchange and co-creation across training and development.

Encourage and create the conditions for lifelong learning opportunities for all social care professionals.

Establish an interdisciplinary career pathway across health and social care.

  1. Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Implement initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion with the healthcare workforce, ensuring that our staff is reflective of the diverse populations we serve.

Foster a culture of respect and inclusion, providing training to address unconscious biases and create a supportive working environment.

Engage in a global conversation about the impact of economic migration.

  1. Mental Health and Well-being support

Develop comprehensive mental health support programmes for social care workers recognising the unique stressors they face in their roles.

Establish peer support networks and counselling services to address burnout and promote healthy work life balance.

  1. Technology integration

Invest in technology solutions that enhance the efficiency of social care and support delivery, reducing administrative burdens and allowing more time for direct patient care.

Provide training and resource to ensure all social care professionals can effectively utilize new technologies.

  1. Collaboration and interdisciplinary teams

Promote collaboration among different social care disciplines to create a more integrated and holistic approach to patient care.

Develop interdisciplinary training programmes to encourage effective communication and collaboration.

  1. Flexible work arrangements

Implement flexible work arrangements such as remote work options and flexible scheduling to accommodate the diverse needs of social care professionals.

Recognise and address the unique challenge faced by caregivers, providing tailored solutions to support their work-life balance.

  1. Recognition and Rewards

Establish a system for recognizing and rewarding outstanding contributions by social care professionals.

Develop incentive programmes to attract and retain top talent in the care sector.

These recommendations are intended to serve as a foundation for our collaborative efforts to strengthen the social care workforce across our nations. By prioritizing these initiatives, we can build a resilient and empowered workforce who are not only capable to providing the high-quality care and support that our communities deserve but experience the joy that working in this valuable sector can bring.

The 5 Nations Care Forum is an alliance of the professional associations representing the care sector across the UK and Ireland


This statement has been issued by Scottish Care on behalf of the Five Nations Care Forum, of which Scottish Care is a member.

About the Five Nations Care Forum

 The 5 Nations Care Forum is an alliance of the professional associations representing the care sector across the UK and Ireland. Through a collective commitment to information sharing, joint lobbying, shared learning and support, the aim of the 5 Nations Care Forum is to add value to members’ activity by promoting the interests of service recipients, staff and service providers. The Forum seeks to encourage the development of a joined-up approach to matters which have a UK-wide or European dimension.

For more information including membership:

Service at the heart of remembrance: a reflection.

Today is Remembrance Day and with current global events there is an added poignancy and relevance to a day which focuses on remembering those who sacrificed their lives for others and to renewing our focus and efforts on the struggle for peace.

This year the Royal British Region has designated the theme of this years’ Remembrance as ‘service.’ They state:

‘Physical, mental or emotional injury or trauma; the absence of time with loved ones; or the pressures that come from serving, highlight why the Remembrance of service is so important. This year we mark significant anniversaries united by the theme of ‘Service’.

The concept of ‘service’ has been much in my mind in recent times. A few weeks ago, when I was in the family home in Skye, I looked out an old box which contained ‘war medals.’ I knew they were there and in truth when younger they were objects, we used to play with. This was probably the first time, however, that I looked at them seriously and was surprised by what I discovered. They belonged to my paternal grandfather who I knew had fought in the First World War but who never spoke about his experiences. He was even at his best a gruff, strict disciplinarian who to a child who met him infrequently seemed to be quite a source of fear.

What caught me by surprise was the discovery that he had been awarded two First World War medals and it was only when I explored more and chatted to family that I discovered that as a young man he had joined the Royal Navy and had fought in the First World War before then joining the Army and specifically the Lovat Scots where he ended up as a decorated soldier. He ‘’saw service in two services.’ To offer yourself in one service is remarkable in itself but to then transfer to another theatre of war which was even more dangerous struck me as remarkable. Like so many young islanders he left his community to go to distant places with a concept of ‘service’ which was one which sadly led many of his peers to their deaths as the local memorials attest only too clearly. Service to your nation and community which cost many their futures and which rightly those who will have had loved ones in any war or conflict will remember today and tomorrow.

There are numerous meanings to the word service and each of them conveys something about the depth of relationship to and for others. It could be service which once was the act of religious worship or the dedication of a life as part of a religious community; it could be used to suggest the work of an employee in a household (as my late granny who spent years ‘in service’) or more contemporaneously it could be the service you receive from an artisan or the service you receive in a restaurant;  So many meanings for the one word. It is therefore maybe not surprising that the etymology of the word is complex with some scholars suggesting that it is rooted in the Proto-Italic word serwo meaning “shepherd,” and others saying it has the connotation of ‘guarding and looking after’. Both convey a sense of protective care and support. Whatever the origins of the word there is an undoubted sense of a dedicated and focused giving of your ‘self’ to another which lies resonant within service.

I know many people who give and offer service to others. There are few who nowadays are required or who choose to offer service militarily like my grandfather, but there are countless thousands who offer service in smaller ways in their communities and to others.

There are so many unsung volunteers who continually give of their time and talents to support others in a wide range of activities and charities; there are thousands of individuals who every day offer service to a neighbour through simply being there to have a conversation and spend time with them, or for those who are unable to do so, to do their shopping or to take them out. There are hundreds who volunteer in charity shops and foodbanks, and who work for community groups, youth organisations and support groups.

Service seems intrinsic to the best aspects our humanity – the regard for others before a focus on self.

Today I will find a place to sit and be quiet, to think of the service to others which led so many millions to pay the ultimate sacrifice of their life not for a political cause or even a national interest but so that those they loved more than anything could be free, and safe and healthy and what they considered to be true evil would be vanquished.

I will find a place to think of those I knew personally who are no longer here but whose heroism was hidden by their hurt and yet shone forth through their concern and compassion for others.

I will find a place to remember all who across the years gave and still give to others, because for them to be human is to be connected in care in a chord unbreakable, even as they fail to recognise their actions as true human service.

I hope you too can find such a place to remember the service given yesterday, the service still offered, and the service still to come.

I hope to also read afresh the words of the American 19th century poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox whose poem ‘The Two Kinds of People’ still I think rings true with its challenge today:

‘There are two kinds of people on earth to-day;

Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.


Not the sinner and saint, for it’s well understood,

The good are half bad and the bad are half good.


Not the rich and the poor, for to rate a man’s wealth,

You must first know the state of his conscience and health.


Not the humble and proud, for in life’s little span,

Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.


Not the happy and sad, for the swift flying years

Bring each man his laughter and each man his tears.


No; the two kinds of people on earth I mean,

Are the people who lift and the people who lean.


Wherever you go, you will find the earth’s masses

Are always divided in just these two classes.


And, oddly enough, you will find, too, I ween,

There’s only one lifter to twenty who lean.


In which class are you? Are you easing the load

Of overtaxed lifters, who toil down the road?


Or are you a leaner, who lets others share

Your portion of labor, and worry and care?’


Two Kinds of People – An Ella Wheeler Wilcox Poem

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem from Unsplash.


Donald Macaskill



It’s time to imagine better: making a new social care reality happen.

I have been through in Edinburgh a fair bit this week and on one day found that I had a lunchtime hour to spare on Princes Street – I then remembered that the new Scottish Galleries had just opened in the refurbished National Galleries. I popped in and I wish I had had the whole afternoon free. This is a must see if you are in Edinburgh and definitely a reason for us west coasters to travel through!

Personally, I think the designers and curators have done an amazing job in making the new space accessible and intriguing. But of course, what matters most are the art works. There is something for everyone on display, though still admittedly but a small percentage of the treasures of the National collection. Personal loves were the seascapes of William McTaggart, the breathtaking spirituality of Margaret MacDonald Macintosh, the display of the Celtic revival and most of all the vibrant beauty of the works of Phoebe Traquair. I’ve see her works in situ in Edinburgh over the years but this was the most coherent museum exposition I’d come across.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) has pride of place in one part of the new galleries. She was an Irish born artist who was a major contributor within the Arts and Crafts movement not least in her adopted Edinburgh where her skills as an embroiderer, painter and jewellery maker flourished.

I find artistic imagination both inspiring and thought provoking. The success of this new gallery is that it allows you to find your own interpretation and sit comfortably with it. It doesn’t treat the viewer as in need of introduction and education but as capable of their own mature personal insight. One of the problems of some modern gallery refits (and I think especially here of my beloved Glasgow Kelvingrove which I visited almost weekly as I grew up) is that sometimes they are so earnest in their desire to inform that they crowd out personal perspective and treat you like a child. But I am sorry – I do not want my imagination to be curated by somebody else’s interpretation. The National Gallery in Edinburgh brilliantly granted me space to be inspired and to imagine.

Imagination is an intriguing phenomenon. It possesses an astonishingly powerful capacity. It is the energy that sources through the veins of inventors, it is the spirit that turns an impossible ask into an achievable task, it is the fire which burns away the sameness of the known and lets the human mind and collective society dare to be and do differently.

Our neurological ability to imagine is controlled by the neocortex and thalamus alongside the brain’s other functions such as consciousness and abstract thought. The developing discipline of neuroscience is leading us to discover fascinating insights into the power of imagination for human individuals. It recognises that the food and fuel of our imagination is our experience and memory – the new and innovative is birthed from our openness and awareness to the world around and within us, but is not constrained by any sense of traditional ‘knowledge.’

Albert Einstein famously said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

As such imagination is an art and science which I strongly believe should not be left to be the preserve of artists and creatives alone. It desperately needs to become a key skill and attribute of the many not the few and most especially of our political leadership. The recent writings of Geoff Mulgan have sought to argue for the critical importance of our politicians being schooled in the science and art of imagination.

I thought of the necessity of political imagination, of leaders going beyond the predictable safety of the known to adventure into imagination, as I sat giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday as its Health and Social Care Committee explored the plans for a National Care Service and considered the current state of social care. Away from the technicalities and mechanics of a parliamentary bill and all potential amendments to that, away from engagement of all stakeholders and political parties and the centrality of the voice of those who use support and care services, what struck me during the whole session was the singular lack of exciting vision and imagination.

We have a unique opportunity to dream bigger and build a social care community in Scotland, one which advances the human rights and dignity of individuals. We have an opportunity to imagine bigger and better and yet what I see and hear around me is a limiting of vision and a boundarying of possibility.

I also thought of imagination but in a much more positive vein when I had the pleasure of taking part in a design workshop run by the RSA and Scottish Care on Wednesday in Glasgow Caledonian University. A room full of designers, social care creatives and frontline staff who together dared to dream about a better social care world in Scotland. It was not a diet of pie in the sky but rather was rooted reality trying to re-shape possibility. I’m looking forward to the work of this ‘Social Care Emergency’ project over the next few months because it has an honest energy and optimism about it.

But back to my Edinburgh hour – the Phoebe Traquair painting that drew me in most of all and had me gazing for a long time was ‘The Awakening.’ Painted in 1904 the museum card states:

‘This mysterious image represents the awakening of the human spirit. An angel points, with an arrow, to several figures sleeping in a meadow. They are partially bathed in the light of a rainbow, signifying better times to come…’

Scotland’s social care sector badly needs the illumination of imagination that can bathe our current reality in rainbow hope of better times to come. That will only be achieved not through the predictable mundanity of closed room discussions like the Verity House Agreement between COSLA and the Scottish Government but by an adventurous collective re-imagination of possibility. I don’t think given the reality of these challenging times that we have any alternative but to get around an inclusive table and do the work of imagining a better social care system and I’m convinced that that work should start afresh now.

In a week where the challenges and promises of AI has been much in the news, one of the few things I suspect that distinguishes us from ‘the machine’ is our art of imagination, the science of dreaming differently and creating afresh; the bringing together of spirits and hearts to re-shape reality. Whether it is social care or any other issue we are, I believe, best served by fostering our imagination rather than a sole reliance on ‘knowledge’ and I for one want to spend more time in places and spaces that feed my imagination.

Donald Macaskill


Bereavement Charter Webinar “The Space Between: Understanding Anticipatory Grief” – Resources

“The Space Between: Understanding Anticipatory Grief” was a recent webinar hosted by Scotland’s National Bereavement Charter for Adults and Children Working Group. This session took place on 1 November 2023, and marked the fourth in a series of enlightening webinars exploring diverse aspects of death and bereavement.

The webinar delved into the topic of anticipatory grief, shedding light on this complex emotional experience faced by many. We were privileged to have speakers and experts who shared their valuable insights.

For those who missed the live session or wish to revisit the discussions, we are pleased to announce that the recording of the webinar is now available on: Additionally, the presentation slides shared by our speakers can be accessed below:

The knowledge shared during this webinar promises to be a valuable resource for both professionals and individuals navigating the complexities of bereavement.