Thursday, September 22, 2011

Building a new democracy for Nairn - Can we make it happen?

It is highly likely that a lot will change in the term of the present Scottish Government. There is a school of thought that the SNP may achieve a result indistinguishable from independence by the end of their term. Whatever the final result, at the end of this Holyrood administration Scotland will probably be a lot more than just a slightly different place than it is today and the landscape of local government too will probably undergo massive changes given the majority that the SNP have in parliament.

When we look to the future and Nairn’s potential role or place in the new Scotland, then we might consider, as Alisatair Noble suggests, how the initiative to integrate Health and Social services locally can be extended into other areas of our civic life as a further test bed as to how a local democratic deficit could be righted, thus providing a role model for elsewhere. It’d be a tough task because an essentially centralising machine of Highland Council local government would have to subscribe itself to a localism agenda and allow Nairn folk to use the limited cash available in the way they saw fit. Nothing short of a revolution necessary there.

Last night Sandy was making the right platitudes but just how much would happen beyond the next election, that is to say if Sandy and his colleagues are re-elected or once their replacements are in place? Well, if the Scottish government is serious about a localism agenda then there would be pressure from the top as well as from communities below to bring about improvements in Scotland’s parochial tiers of democracy. A chance to squeeze the Invercentric bone marrow out of the Glenurquahart Road apparatus? Can it be done and have we any other alternative but to try? Here’s what Alistair had to say in the Community Centre last night:

"I don’t know if any of you have noticed today but Mr Cameron has announced that planning is not just about development and employment but has to include things like environment and people which is a massive change in policy south of the border and we’ve all had Mr Swinney’s budget today so the financial reality is that we are broke for the next 10 or 20 years, maybe longer. All I’m about to say is based on my understanding of all the good things that have happened in Nairn over the last 40 years and the long-term relationships that I think we have in Nairn between the councillors, between all members of the Nairn community and try to explain what I mean by locality planning in the context of what I’m talking about tonight in my understanding of what we have been doing in Nairn for the last 40 years.

It started when Sandy Park and I used to meet in the butcher’s shop and decide what we would do next to sort out what was happening in Nairn. And there has been some great success, this building has been a fantastic success and that has been built on a large number of Nairn people putting in a lot of work and effort. We’ve got the hospital complex which is regarded as one of the gems in the Scottish Health Service and the model in that is the model I’ll be trying to talk about tonight. That was based on years and years of hard work and people working together to make sure we got it right. I think locality planning is our understanding of our community, to be aware of its strength and to be aware of its weaknesses but above all we need to involve local people in decisions that affect them, their families and the environment. And it’s where the conflicting wishes and needs and desires are clarified and corporate decisions are made with as much openness as possible. That all sounds kind of jargony but if you look at what’s happening now there are all sorts of pressures on the system on development, on planning. Some of you might have heard me going on about Loch Flemington but if you pollute the environment you take an awful lot of time to correct your mistakes.

So if this is for real, and we accept we are under real financial pressure then we have to make the best use of whatever money we get, then can we come up with a Nairn model that is based on these long-term relationships and trust. The better the information, the easier it is for the decisions to be made, to get it right and if we get it right then we’ll all be much more happier about what’s going on. I think we are being given the opportunity now in the context of the massive changes that are going to happen in Highland around Health and Social Work going together and Highland being a pilot for an integrated resource framework. Basically it’s about a fair allocation to each locality and that locality makes best use of that. I think we genuinely need to develop a Nairn way of working which allows genuine decisions to be made on our behalf by our democratically elected representatives.

We’re not here to debate the fact that it is the MSPs and the Councillors who are actually going to make the decisions. What I think we are here to do is to try and make sure that they have as much of the right information and the right knowledge and the right expertise to make that decision correctly and if we use that local knowledge we’re much more likely to get the right decisions. So it’s a kind of combination of using the fantastic opportunities we’ve got around technology to give us a fantastic amount of information but then we’ve got to intelligibly use that information. That’s where people at the present moment are struggling because people are swamped. If you look at what goes to the Council in piles of paper 10ft high, they are discussing thing they really don’t know a lot about. If you go to the MSPs, if you go to the MPs, if you go to Europe, the same thing is happening. So in no way are we trying to say this is anything other than making the present democratic model work better. And the only way to make it work is if the locals really take part in it and we have this trust and confidence that what we are saying, what we are doing is actually in the Common Good or Nairn and that’s a concept that, as you know I think, is very sensible and sane – and it’s where we balance the conflicting pressures, disputes and debates and arguments that we are all necessarily going to have. [...]

When you start to put health and the local authority together and all the stuff that is likely to come from the Scottish Government will be around integration and best value for money and minimising waste and I think this is where we have all got to take responsibility and all work together to try and make sure that happens. Thank you."

No comments: