Highlands and Islands Greens
Martha Wardrop, SGP Glasgow Councillor; Fabio Villani, Highlands & Islands branch convenor; Patrick Harvie MSP, Andy Wightman, author of the Renewing Local Democracy in Scotland report; James MacKessack-Leitch, Moray Greens Convenor
Scottish Greens have recently published a set of ideas for revitalising local government and local democracy.1
The party, which has councillors in Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Midlothian and Stirling, is calling for a move towards much smaller units of government that would be able to raise the majority of their funding locally. The aim is to emulate the kind of stronger democracy other European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands take for granted.
The Greens' ideas, launched at an event in Nairn and backed by a new report from land and governance expert Andy Wightman, are aimed at contributing to a growing debate around local democracy.2
Scottish Greens see the independence debate as an opportunity to promote wider ideas of decentralising power within Scotland and protecting the status of local government.
Key ideas include:
- Current councils broken down into municipalities serving around 20,000 people each. European municipalities average 5600 people.
- A set of larger regions to coordinate issues such as health, economic development, colleges and transport.
- A flexible 'Lego brick' model for coordinating other services between smaller units.
- Municipalities should raise at least 50% of their own revenue, up from 20% today.
- Local government should get a statutory share of national income tax.
- The status of local government should be enshrined in a written constitution for the first time.
The discussion comes at a crucial time for Scotland's communities:
- Local services are being cut because of reduced central funding and the economic downturn
- Council tax has been frozen, disempowering councils from raising revenue
- Community councils have little power or funding and coverage is patchy
- Local authorities are considering leaving umbrella body COSLA 3
- Participation in local government elections is extremely low 4
Fabio Villani, convenor of the Highlands & Islands branch of the Scottish Greens stated:
“Despite the best effort of local authority officers and elected members, there is a democratic deficit at the heart of local government in Scotland.”
“The recent Moray Council by-election saw three out of every four voters staying at home and taking no part in the election of a new councillor to represent Buckie. Many Forres people fear that their views will not have an impact on the final decision in the current debate about Redco Milne’s proposals affecting Forres Common Good land at Bogton.”
“The Greens have always stood for bringing power closer to the people and ensuring a renewal of democracy at all levels. Re-localising local democracy through giving more power to smaller councils would help do just that, and Andy Wightman’s report provides a great starting point for a long overdue national debate with potentially momentous local impact.”
James MacKessack-Leitch, Moray Greens Convenor added:
"As Scotland debates whether powers should shift from London to Edinburgh we should also consider how we shift control from Edinburgh to local communities. The current system is unfair and unsustainable.
"Our ideas address the clear need for change but in a measured way that is flexible and involves people rather than imposes from the centre."
"We are determined to push the issue of local democracy up the agenda and we welcome contributions from others interested in bringing power closer to the people."
Andy Wightman, author of Renewing Local Democracy in Scotland, said:
"Everywhere should have a local democratic body to take decisions on local matters. This is what our friends across the rest of Europe take for granted.
"Scotland could have regional bodies focusing on strategic functions such as transport and economic development, while communities could have meaningful democratic institutions instead of councils like Highland trying to cover an area the size of Belgium."
1. The Scottish Greens' ideas can be viewed online at www.scottishgreens.org.uk/publications
2. COSLA has a Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy, Scottish Labour has a Devolution Commission and a Scottish Parliament Committee has just launched a new enquiry into the future of local government.
4. Recent by-elections and turnouts include:
Govan 20 per cent
Black Isle 28 per cent
Hamilton South 24 per cent
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen … thank you very much for inviting me here tonight.
It’s great to see so many of you willing to come out on a this bright but chilly February night to discuss the future of Scotland.
I am very heartened by the fact that the people of Scotland – and, while obviously not a Scot, I am proud to count myself as one of the many and wonderfully diverse people of Scotland – I am very heartened by the fact that the people of Scotland are engaging in democratic debate about the future of Scotland.
Tonight I would like to share with you just three of my reasons for planning to vote YES in September.
But I would like to start by sharing with you some of my thoughts about our collective responsibility to ensure that we have a constructive debate, an exciting debate that, over the next seven months, engages people in discussions about the future of Scotland, a respectful debate to turn people on rather than a confrontational debate that just “turns people off”.
I have heard sterile debates with opposing sides quoting conflicting statistics at each other.
I have heard members of the audience at such debates heckling the speakers they didn’t agree with, and I have seen many debates descend to the level of empty arguments about whether the people of Scotland would have more or less money in their pockets after independence.
I believe we can, and we must do much better than that.
Let’s start with what all sides of the debate agree with:
There is absolutely no doubt that an independent Scotland would have enough resources to be a prosperous country.
There is absolutely no doubt that an independent Scotland would be a member of the European Union.
There is absolutely no doubt that an independent Scotland would retain close ties with England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
So let’s move the focus of the debate from whether or not Scotland could be independent to whether or not Scotland should be independent.
Let’s hear the different visions of what the future of Scotland should be like, either as an independent country or as a continuing member of the United Kingdom.
Most importantly, let’s listen to those different visions with respect and due consideration, even if we disagree with them.
Let’s remember that, from the 19th of September, we will all have to work together, whatever we voted for, whatever the result, to make the future Scotland the successful country we all want it to be.
Now, let me tell you just three of my reasons for planning to vote YES in September.
One of my key reasons for supporting independence is that I believe in democracy. I may be naïve, but:
I believe that, one day, democracy will really mean “democracy” … power by the people, for the people
I believe that, one day, decisions will be made for the benefit of people and the planet, rather than for the profit of big business
I believe that, one day, decisions will be taken not by a small elite on the basis of their own narrow self-interest, but by communities working together for the common good
I will vote for independence because a vote for independence is a vote for a further step in the right direction, continuing the process of bringing power closer to the people which started with devolution.
A second reason for voting for independence is that I believe in the values of justice and fairness.
I hear some people saying that the Union has served us well.
I beg to differ.
The Union may have worked well for some, but, in the thirty years I have lived here, I have seen a very prosperous society pander to every wish of a small, powerful and increasingly rich elite, while everyone else has seen:
- the buying power of their wages going down,
- funding for essential public services cut,
- welfare benefits cut, and
- such an unequal distribution of money and resources that increasing numbers of people have to rely on the charity of foodbanks to feed their families.
I believe that the people of Scotland would not allow their elected politicians to unravel the very fabric of society so that the very rich can pay lower taxes.
I believe that the people of Scotland would agree with playwright Dennis Potter in his controversial play “Son of Man”.
In this alternative take on the life of Jesus, Jesus himself says: “some people eat from a golden dish, while others don’t have enough to eat – how can that be right?!”
I believe that the people of Scotland would never allow their elected politicians to support a system where some people eat from a golden dish, while others don’t have enough to eat!
A third reason for voting for independence is that I believe Scotland would be a force for global peace.
I believe Scotland would not be tempted to chase dreams of global influence based on a long gone empire.
I believe Scotland would not be so easily drawn into illegal wars.
I believe Scotland would find better uses for 90 to 100 billion pounds than spending it on obscene weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, those are just three of my reasons for planning to vote YES in September.
I will vote yes, because an independent Scotland will give us, the people of Scotland, more power over the decisions which have an impact on us.
I will vote yes, because an independent Scotland will enable us, the people of Scotland, to build a fairer, more caring and more just society.
I will vote yes, because an independent Scotland will help us, the people of Scotland, get rid of nuclear weapons and be a force for peace on this troubled planet.
FV – 7 February 2014
Yesterday, 21/01/14, members of the Moray Council Policy and Resources Committee voted to continue to explore further the risks associated with the proposal for a retail development on Common Good land in Forres, and to hold further discussions with Redco Milne. The committee also stated its commitment to consult with the people of Forres before any final decisions are taken.
Moray Greens have opposed the retail development from the outset, along with a large majority of Forres residents. Outline planning permission was granted for the proposals last year, although this in theory has no impact on whether Common Good land should be either sold or leased to developers.
“We are thoroughly disappointed with the decision made by the members of the Policy and Resources Committee today”, stated Moray Greens Convenor, James MacKessack-Leitch. “The report put in front of Councillors today had two very clear options: to give no further consideration to the proposals and halt the development once and for all; or to commission further reports, and leave the axe hanging over the heads of residents, local businesses, and Mosset Park. It is a crying shame that Councillors unanimously decided to opt for the latter.”
“To rub further salt into the wound the Committee also stated its commitment to consult with the people of Forres before any final decisions are taken, despite several consultations over the past months and years clearly showing the majority of people of Forres neither want nor need this development. Yet again Councillors are demonstrating just how in thrall they are to developers and other vested interests, and how little they appear to care for the wishes of those they represent.”
“We look forward to the meeting on this issue being held in Forres Town Hall next Thursday, 30th January, 7.30pm, and will continue to support the people of Forres in the Battle for Bogton.”
Director of Planning and Development
The Highland Council
INNER MORAY FIRTH PROPOSED LOCAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS GREEN PARTY RESPONSE
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the report.
On behalf of my Branch, may I to congratulate all those involved in the preparation of this complex and detailed draft Plan and associated Action Plan, and also for the objective summary of responses to the previous consultation round. The following comprises our comments on the draft Plan report, which we invite you to consider (and which we have also entered onto the on-line response facility).
Focus on existing centres
First and foremost, we very much welcome the Council’s clear theme and focus of the draft Plan on supporting and enabling the development of existing centres of population. This is something we have previously encouraged the Council to adopt, and we are delighted our endeavours have borne fruit.
But we remain deeply concerned about the Council’s continued determination to develop East Inverness and Tornagrain – indeed we find the Council’s attitude on this intention incongruous.
As we have previously said ( and as the Council accepts by saying in para 3.10 of the draft Plan “Countering the pull of Inverness...”) the inevitable consequence will be that population and jobs will haemorrhage from across the Highland into the Corridor, so negating otherwise more welcome provisions of the Plan for developing existing communities. Furthermore, there is no case now, nor in the foreseeable future, for new developments at East Inverness and Tornagrain – even on a ‘scaled-back’ basis – when Inverness itself is crying out for investment, and when impending cuts in defence spending are likely to have severe economic effects for Moray and Nairnshire. It is extremely likely that a substantial number of people will travel to work in Inverness from West Moray and Nairn, negating the need for more housing East of Inverness, and these developments could compete with much-needed reinvestment there.
Rather, it is vital to retain the ‘green lung’ space between the complexes of Beechwood and those at Westhill, Stratton and Culloden. Once designated for ‘concrete’ development, there will be no going back. The whole area should designated as open space, of which the district park should take up the majority of land.
District Park: We welcome the provision for a district park in East Inverness (though we note this was also a provision of the 2006 Inverness local plan!). We (therefore) particularly welcome the Council’s intention to prepare supplementary guidance on this and other Ashton Farm-related issues, and by Summer 2014.
Inverness bus and rail stations: We are particularly disappointed with (p 33 of the Transport Appraisal) the designation of relocating the bus station nearer to the rail station as a ‘long-term aspiration’. The Council makes much of its plans to revitalise the city-centre. Arguably, the bus and rail stations relocation issue needs to be addressed first and as a priority, so that other redevelopment plans can be drawn up around that plan. Putting off this key issue makes a nonsense of further discussion about city-centre redevelopment.
West and East Links: The Council makes much of its proposals for West and East Links, but as the Council knows, the business case for the West Link is very weak, and no business case at all has been made by the Council for an East Link. If the Council is so set on a West Link, it should comprise a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists only, which would give ready access to the Bught Park/Whin Island facilities for those staying to the East of the canal and river. The East Link proposal should be dropped entirely – there is little or no traffic demand for it, and its imposition would decimate the Beechwood and planned Aston District Park.
Rail: We would welcome a specific provision for a Beechwood/Inverness Light-Rail Shuttle and Halt to be included in the Plan. The case for this facility is strong, and growing stronger, particularly with the recent planning application for student accommodation at Rose St. (NB The halt would be ‘off’ the main-line, in a siding. We would not expect main-line trains to stop at the halt). We anticipate that the shuttle would run approx every twenty minutes. Such provision would tie-in well with the Council’s proposals for a Park-and-Ride facility
Energy-from-waste plant provision: We very much welcome the proposals in the draft Plan to make more use of the Longman area for industrial purposes. However, we object in the strongest possible terms – and indeed we see no reason to include – any proposal to designate any part of this area, here or elsewhere in Inverness, for an energy-from-waste facility. There has been no prior public consultation specific to this proposal on this, a well-known controversial issue, with potential wide ranging impacts, and no business case is provided in the draft Plan. The current text goes on to state that the Council will produce a masterplan/development brief for the area; we welcome that intention, which would comprise a useful starting point for any debate on the detailed future use of the site.
While we welcome some of transport provisions included in the draft Plan and the Transport Appraisal, but we are disappointed that – for the areas for which the Council has sole or lead responsibility – there is such strong focus on road schemes and comparatively little in the way of specific green/active travel measures.
Cycling: We welcome the Council’s proposals for an Inverness-Fort William Cycle Route, and the Inverness-East Inverness walking/cycling route, we are disappointed that these appear to be the only two specific cycling projects proposed. This is extremely disappointing , particularly given the Council’s green pronouncements, not least at its recent ‘Carbon Clever’ conference. We recommend that The Council prepare a dedicated cycle/footpath network programme, at least for the main population centres in the short term, and allocate funding for this programme.
(Inverness) Park and Ride: We are very enthusiastic about the concept, and we urge the Council to introduce the scheme as soon as possible.
Scottish Green Party – Highlands and Islands
The Coalition is very keen to claim that the recession is over and that the economy is recovering. Why is it that most people do not feel better off? Perhaps it’s because they are not better off. Wages have hardly risen at all. Many people have had to take lower paid jobs or work less hours.
What have risen are:
- House prices; terrible if you are a first time buyer, positive only if you are a property trader.
- Energy prices; great if you’re an energy company or have shares in one – miserable for most other people. High energy prices make virtually everything else more expensive.
- Food prices – the supermarkets mainly gain from this. Farmers, particularly tenant farmers are having their margins further squeezed. Demands on food banks have risen to epic proportions.
- The National Debt; the Coalition are very keen on the idea that they have cut the deficit but that is not at all the same thing as cutting debt. In fact this is still continuing to rise to levels fairly similar to Greece.
The government suggests that the only way to improve the economy is to improve productivity. There are three ways of doing this; work people harder, give them less wages or produce the same thing with fewer resources. Most economists and politicians look only at the first two. How would it be if we focused on the third? We could re-use paper 20 times. In fact it barely gets recycled once. We could use sewage in a digester to make biogas. We could cut the expensive energy used by our homes and businesses in half. We could buy local food and support the local economy rather than most of the cost of our food going into transporting it round the world and virtually none going to the impoverished people who grow it. Focusing on exports to improve an economy makes no sense. Cutting carbon also benefits the real economy and makes it more likely that our children will still have a world worth living in.
The World Trade Organisation has just announced a deal which will reduce red tape. You can be sure this ‘red tape’ will include such things as environmental and health protection so that multinationals can have easy access to markets.
There is a peak in production and availability of resources such as oil and fresh water yet demand continues to increase. Only the Greens are pointing out that with this in mind the only way our economy can improve in a socially just way is to be more resource efficient.
It has been shown recently that if you give energy companies the responsibility of cutting energy use they will quickly realise that they are also cutting their future profits and try to wriggle out of it just as they have just done. Universal insulation and energy efficiency programmes are far more effective. That’s what the Greens have been campaigning for.
The Greens want an economy which benefits all, not just the wealthy.
Further information on peak resources here: www.peakresources.org
Greens Invite Office of Fair Trading to Investigate Ofgem Requirement for Inclusion of Standing Charges in Domestic Energy Tariffs
Highlands and Islands Greens have called upon the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to investigate Ofgem’s statutory requirement, announced earlier this year  for energy supply companies to include standing charges in their new domestic tariff structure.
“OFT’s remit is to make markets work well for consumers, by promoting and protecting consumer interests throughout the UK,” said Anne Thomas, Secretary of the Scottish Green Party – Highlands and Islands.
“Ofgem’s statutory requirement for energy supply companies to include standing charges in their new domestic tariff structure, with its consequent discriminatory impact on smaller lower-usage gas and electricity consumer , is therefore a highly appropriate investigation for OFT to undertake.
- See para 2.13 of Ofgem’s Retail Market Review (27 August 2013 https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/sites/default/files/docs/decisions/the_retail_market_review_-_implementation_of_simpler_tariff_choices_and_clearer_information.pdf )
- Our approach to the OFT is part of our campaign for Ofgem to withdraw its standing charge requirement.
- Our concerns are that while we broadly welcome the principle of simplifying tariff structures, the standing charge measure will have a discriminatory and adverse impact on millions of small-use and/or energy efficient domestic consumers, who will – in effect - be paying a higher overall unit-price for their gas and electricity than will larger-users, because any standing charge will form a larger proportion of their overall energy bill. This means that those domestic customers who consume the most energy will have their gas and electricity costs subsidised by smaller-users – the more you consume, the more you’re subsidised by others. The standing charge requirement is also liable to perpetuate fuel poverty and act as a potential barrier to the benefits of smart metering.