Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Will local democracy remain in the bin regardless of the YES or NO outcome?

We've put this post to the top again - interesting comments coming in, including one from prominent local YES campaigner Cllr Colin MacAulay.

One of our correspondents tells us that they are not very impressed with the quality of the Independence debate so far at local and national level. They are particularly unimpressed by lack of a mention of what either outcome might mean for local democracy – something that has been in serious decline in recent years. To this observer this democratic deficit was illustrated again (albeit in a very small way) up at the Cawdor Community Council meeting last week. There was a call for a litter bin at the football pitch. There followed mention of erratic collections and how this service had declined. One of the councillors said to Highland Councillor Roddy Balfour that they would accept any sort of bin that they council would offer as long as somebody was going to empty it. Roddy replied: “That’s the trouble - getting someone out here to empty them.”

One of the Cawdor community councillors is already emptying the bin at the church themselves and was reluctant to accept responsibility for another. There was a suggestion that it could be tied in with the school bins but it was said: “getting rid of rubbish at Cawdor School is quite complicated and not an option.” As the Chair Tim Smith said emptying the bins was “the difficult part of the equation.” 

Now rewind Gurnites to the days of the Nairn District Council. Characters of the calibre of Chrissie Ellen would have simply gone to see the official responsible and it would have been sorted. In the past Councillors had the power and the influence to sort such small things without such ridiculous carry-ons. We have several officials in Inverness earning salaries well in excess of a £100,000 each yet there appears to be no one that could empty an extra litter bin. Maybe there simply is no money left, after all Highland Council is on schedule to notch up a billion pounds of debt in the near future. Maybe the labyrinth of administration is far too complex. It makes you wonder what is the point of a veteran, councillor with the experience of Roddy Balfour even going to meetings if he can’t even get someone to come and empty a bin. It’s hardly asking for a new footbridge across the River Nairn or something like that is it? 

So let’s look at this democratic deficit again. And for this we steal directly from a blog post by Green Activist Andy Wightman in which he details why he thinks the recent Commission for Strengthening Local Democracy’s report believes the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill will only tinker with the symptoms of the problem. Here are quotes he has lifted from the report: 

"The case for much stronger local democracy is founded on the simple premise that it is fundamentally better for decisions about these aspirations to be made by those that are most affected by them…

.after decades of power ebbing away, for many people it has become increasingly inconceivable to think that local communities could be in charge of their own affairs.

In the end, all of our thinking has come down to seven fundamental principles that we believe must underpin Scotland’s democratic future.

We have also concluded that the evolution of Scotland’s democratic system across the past 50 years has more or less undermined or inverted all these principles, albeit often with good intentions.

The principle of sovereignty has been so inverted that it is now routine in public policy to talk about governments and local governments “empowering” communities rather than the other way round. The principle of subsidiarity has been undermined by the progressive scaling up of local governance, and central control of local resources and functions. The transition from over 200 local councils in 1974 to only 32 “local” councils in 1996 is one of the most radical programmes of delocalisation that we can identify anywhere in the world. Moreover, Scotland’s local democratic structures can be changed at will by any national government with a majority. That the Scottish Parliament is in exactly the same position with respect to Westminster illustrates how “top down” the whole framework of democracy is."

Andy Wightman’s blog post "Time to rebuild Local Democracy" is here and the Commissions’ final report can be downloaded here

We have a long way to go in getting acceptable local accountability back and it would be healthy to hear more from YES or NO activists on why they believe their particular outcome would lead us to a better democratic deal for local communities – because there are people out there that believe that places like Nairn and Cawdor are stuffed whatever happens at the ballot box on September 18th if centralised administrations continue to cling on to their powerbases without devolution down to communities.

In a newly Independent Scotland would new political parties spring up to campaign on these issues or would allegiances be with the existing structures such as the one at Glenurquhart Road and their preservation? This observer feels personally that it would be easier to campaign for a better local deal in an Independent Scotland but there are some out there not so easily convinced of that. It is a shame that the subject doesn't feature more to the forefront of the debate.


Yes it is said...

Post a Yes vote I would support the Scottish Greens, so much of what they have to say makes sense to me and that includes increasing the powers of local democracy.

Several groups have tried to attain a new level of support out of the referendum debate. The only successful group that I'm aware of is those representing some of the islands who've had promises from both the Yes and No camps, the Yes one being the most favourable

In general though the unionists through the no group are saying that we're better together, and that things are okay as they are. I doubt very much that they'll support many changes if any even if there's a no vote on the 18th

Another area that effects many issues in our society is how little some people seem to care. The government recently rushed through a bill that will allow them unparalleled access to information and data, but there were very few folk opposing this and yet our human rights are being stripped away

Good luck with getting the new bin by the way, but the only chance local democracy has of becoming more local is through change, and that will require a Yes vote

Anonymous said...

Your concluding paragraphs are very perceptive. After all the verbiage from both sides we are left with a very real question - "with anything actually change?". Will we end up with just another administration that promises us a better tomorrow - but can't deliver? I despair that neither side has really taken the issues seriously.
Yes talk about a better, fairer, Scotland. But the people in charge will be the same old spiteful and duplicitous politicians, hardly well-placed to lead a moral crusade or change anything that will benefit anyone other than themselves.
No have sat back and rather hope this whole thing will just fade away. There is no vision for a better, more just or proud Scotland within the Union.
For us in the Highlands all we get with a Yes vote is that we replace the Westminster bogeyman with an Edinburgh one. Local democracy and empowerment won't change. We'll still have stubborn, self-serving councillors who think they know better than the people. With a NO vote it will be back to the same old yaboo politics. Where are the people with moral courage and vision when you really need them - from either side?

Anonymous said...

I'm hopeful that a Yes vote will bring about several changes and that includes the political parties that we have here in Scotland. The likes of Labour, Liberal Democrats and even the Conservatives will no-longer be tied to Westminster.

There is scope for a new political world rather than the same tired faces, or should I say the same faces we're tired of seeing

The referendum has recharged political interest in Scotland, and no matter how we vote on the 18th I don't see that going away

Will a Yes vote make a difference to local democracy, I don't know (maybe someone does) but it has to give a better than than that the current Westminster system offers

I for one am tired of the revolving door politics of Westminster between Labour and Conservative parties. I would like to be governed by a party that the majority of us in Scotland have voted for

At the moment we have a Conservative led government but only one Tory MP in Scotland

Despite the dire warnings from the No camp I believe a Yes vote has to be worth the chance, and that's how I'll be voting on the 18th. I'd rather deal with Edinburgh bogeymen that Westminster ones!

Anonymous said...

I have lobbied and written a number of times to Scottish Government Ministers and to COSLA over the past few years - encouraging and exhorting those with responsibility to give serious consideration to Local Government reform in the years ahead.
Finally there are very real glimmers of hope - in part down to our 3 Island Communities who want more control of their destinies; in part down to folk like Andy Wightman, Kenneth Roy and particularly Lesley Riddoch who have presented a strong evidence base; and most recently down to COSLA's 'Strengthening Local Democracy'report.
On the back of that I emailed Derek MacKay (Local Government Minister) who replied last week -
“The First Minister’s Lerwick Declaration confirmed our support for subsidiarity and local decision making, and our Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus demonstrates the opportunities to empower local communities that independence would bring. We believe that local government will be an integral and essential element of an independent Scotland, and independence offers the opportunity to guarantee the status of local government in a written constitution, and to renew democracy at all levels of government. In setting up the Commission, COSLA confirmed the appetite that exists within Scotland for democratic renewal and increased local decision making, as we move towards the referendum. We welcome the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy report, and look forward to engaging with the Commission to consider its findings.”

So folks, whenever you can, convince folk that communities like Nairnshire as just as viable as our Island Authorities to forge better local futures in the years ahead.
Westminster has messed up local government in Scotland. Holyrood cannot possibly do worse. The old District Council Boundaries make sense to me as the best level to reinstate local government.
The door is open for the first time in decades - keep kicking it!
Let's make that one of the first tasks of a newly independent Scotland.

people power said...

Colin's comment is seductive but misguided.

There is no obvious link between Scotland going independent and getting greater local democracy. Local devolution does not follow automatically from voting Yes to Scottish independence.

Local empowerment as in the departements of France and the lander of Germany does not require that Brittany, or Bavaria, become independent from Berlin or Paris.

Indeed all the evidence suggests that those in power in Holyrood are no more inclined to devolve to local level than the Westminster lot. Else why haven't they done so during the past decade?

It is a counsel of despair to say "anything is better than what we have at the moment". Colin's prescription risks leaving Scotland with the worst of all outcomes: a loss of the strategic, economic, financial commercial and other advantages that being part of the UK delivers in this globalised world, without any gains in terms of real devolved local democracy .... and with a thumping hangover in terms of the additional cost "overhead" involved in establishing all the apparatus of a new independent state and taking on all the obligations that go with that.

In the words of the well-known saying: "Be careful what you wish for....."

Anonymous said...

People Power
Seductive? Moi?
Nothing in life is a certainty - it comes down to a judgement at the end of the day - or on the 18th of September.
A simple choice about whether you believe that the people who live in Scotland are likely to be the ones who know most about and care most about Scotland's future; Or whether you believe that the good and benevolent people of Westminster and the City of London somehow know what is best for Scotland.
Just our children grow up and move on in the world as independent young adults, take risks and make a future for themselves, so Scotland. Self-determination is a normal and very desirable state of affairs. Are there any countries that have gained their independence - that now wish to lose it again?

You mention:
"a loss of the strategic" - err Trident and Illegal Warfare?
"economic" - err £1.4 Trillion debt and rising?
"financial commercial" - err burst banks and millionaire bankers, spivs and speculators and the largest unelected Chamber of Government aka the House of Lords - outside China?
"and other advantages that being part of the UK delivers" - err - sorry, as Nelson might have said - I see no advantages.
Back to Local Government Reform - the door is open. There is a growing body of opinion that we need to reinvent the old District Council boundaries. It will not happen overnight - so we need to be pragmatic and work creatively with the structures we do have currently. However, keep making the case - and get involved in COSLA's proposals. The major "lay" non-party political advocates for local government reform - such as Lesley Riddoch - are firmly on the "YES" side of the current debate.
Scotland can be a better place :-)

people power said...


If the supporters of a united UK are indulging in the politics of fear, then the independence campaign is equally guilty of the politics of fantasy.

It's right and desirable to be optimistic. We all have hopes for the future, whatever our political position. But wishful thinking isn't enough: pragmatic judgment is also necessary.

Look carefully at that Scottish Government quote. They intend to ".... consider the most appropriate responsibilities for local government and communities". Yes, and what will Holyrood consider "appropriate"? More powers, or less? No prizes for guessing which is the more likely.

It's also true that a public spending freeze, job losses, and austerity will be "... the reality for a government that doesn't have full control of its budget.".

Exactly so. But will a Yes vote and independence change that? If sterling is still used, the Bank of England still sets interest rates, Scotland has no lender of last resort to underpin its financial sector, and relies heavily on the revenue of a dwindling oil resource whose price is set by volatile global markets, then Scotland won't have "full control of its budget". It will be at the mercy of decisions made by others, elsewhere; and as an independent statelet will no longer have the same access to the resources, the markets, the capital and the capacity that it currently has as part of the UK.

Doesn't look much like a recipe for autonomous economic and budgetary management, or a scenario for future growth and prosperity.

We need to be hopeful rather than fearful. But we need also to be realists, not fantasists.

The UK setup is not perfect. But Scotland would do better to work within it for positive change, reform, and more devolution, rather than running away from it.

Anonymous said...

As long as we line the pockets of Europe, we will never have independence. Even Cornwall is trying to get independence, so what next ...independence for the Highlands..that wouldn't make us get local rule, because the SNP just like Westminster are out to line their pockets, all greedy I'm all right jack numpties.
So vote what you like and don't get exited,nothing will change, just the overlords.

Yes please said...

@people power

Scotland has been in the union for over 300 years, where has it got us?

In recent years a Tory Westminster government has metered the likes of the poll tax, the bedroom tax and driven some folk to need food banks to eat. And yet you are asking us to remain part of that, to quote

'But Scotland would do better to work within it for positive change, reform, and more devolution'

Why have we not seen any of that up until now then? The reason is simple. The main three Westminster parties are giving out this rhetoric as they are scared that we will leave the union. They're not worried about the Scots, but they are concerned that we'll no longer be handing over all our taxes and revenues. Why should we not want to run away from such an unfair system given the chance we have on the 18th September?

More devolved powers are nothing more than a Trojan horse for Scotland. Witness the recent comments by Boris Johnson who'll probably be the future leader of the Tories

I'm not taken in by any promises by any Westminster politician and anyone that does just needs to look at their track history.

It's much the same for monitory union as we're told 'no you can't have it'. Nothing more than posturing by all those making the claim, and maybe we won't take it up nor honour the trillions of debt

'We need to be hopeful rather than fearful' Yes we do, and that's why we need to vote Yes. It's the only way we'll get change in our society

Reasons to vote Yes said...

So many reasons to vote Yes

Anonymous said...

Not sure about local democracy but we certainly don't get the governments we vote for in Scotland. We have a Tory led government in Westminster and yet Scotland voted in just one Tory MP, and this is by no means the first time this has happened to us

I'm fed up with Westminster. Our greatest hope is to get a Labour government once in a while but even they are getting more right wing

At least we have a more up to date democracy and parliament in Scotland with PR so we get a range of folk as MSPs

I suspect that post a Yes vote we'll get many more Scottish political parties and that will help to give us greater democracy in all areas

All that the current union parties can offer is to try and scare us

When I was young I thought the world would change and that there would be more equality. I was wrong and in old age have become quite cynical, but the prospect of Scotland being it's own country has reengaged me in politics and I once again have hope

See through the mist that Westminster politicians try and fog us with and vote Yes. Just think in a few weeks we could have the prospect of never ever being ruled by a Tory government. Now that is exciting and millions of future Scots will thank us for that. It'll be a legacy to be proud of

Graisg said...

@ YES, YES, YES - if those were Jim Murphy's expenses figures then please provide source and we will then post the link - allegedly not good enough.

In the meantime you are perhaps going off topic but we are prepared to publish the following extract of the comment from you:

"Jim Murphy came to speak in Nairn. Was he protecting the union or his job?
Do we want to keep paying people like him? We had the Westminster expenses scandal, who do we trust

Let's just have our own parliament"

Sunny Jim said...

Jim Murphy? This is his cost to us the taxpayer

Jim costs 2013

I'd be happy to stand on an Irn Bru crate on the High Street for that kind of money

He's been in hot water over his expenses as well
Such a nice man