Highlands and Islands Greens
The Greens will be hosting a morning of discussions about increasing local control over local affairs, including the management of the Common Good, at the Forres Tolbooth, from 10.30 to 12.30 this Saturday, 29 March. This free informal ‘drop-in’ event is open to everyone with an interest in the Common Good and the future of local democracy.
Participants can expect a warm welcome and free refreshments, as well as the opportunity to join small discussion groups to learn about and discuss different approaches to increase the say local people have over local issues.
“I am really looking forward to sharing the experience of how Green Councillors in Glasgow City Council have campaigned, and continue to campaign, for better management of the Common Good”, says special guest Martha Wardrop, Green Glasgow Councillor and vice convenor of the Scottish Greens. “Our focus on fuller registration of Common Good assets, including initiating development of a policy on the management of common good assets, has been a corner-stone of our campaign. I will be suggesting ways to help the people of Forres further develop their local campaign, but I also look forward to gaining new insight in to common good assets I can take back to Glasgow.”
"More local control over Common Good assets is just one aspect of renewing local democracy and giving power back to communities", stated local campaigner and Moray Greens Convenor, James MacKessack-Leitch. “The current position is that, despite the best efforts of some local authority officers and elected members, there is a democratic deficit at the heart of local government in Scotland. In Moray, a recent 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 any impact on the Council’s final decision in the current debate about development proposals affecting Forres Common Good land at Bogton. This event will help stimulate action for bringing local power back where it belongs: with local people.”
“The Greens have always stood for bringing power closer to the people and for a renewal of democracy at all levels” adds Highlands & Islands Greens convenor Fabio Villani. “For many of us this – together with the belief that the people of Scotland would elect governments with a greater sense of social and environmental justice than those elected by the UK as a whole – is one of the key reasons for intending to vote YES on 18 September.”
“The recent launch of the Greens’ briefing paper on local democracy, supported by Andy Wightman’s report on renewing local democracy in Scotland, was timed to contribute to the current debate on how to revive local democracy, not just through greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Holyrood, but through using the referendum debate to bring about a double-devolution of power – bringing far more power and money to communities”.
The Greens’ local democracy briefing and Andy Wightman’s report on renewing local democracy in Scotland are available in the publications area of the at Scottish Greens website
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.”