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