Gurnites may have noticed that this week’s edition of the Leopold Street Thunderer featured the recent fact-finding visit to Alness by Michael Green and a handful of Comunity Councillors on the front page. A deeper analysis of what Nairn might or might not learn from the Alness experience featured on the editorial page however with the heading “Apples and Pears”. Iain Bain says a little into his missive:
“Early on in the decline of the oil industry Easter Ross and its villages like Alness were regarded as economic and social basket cases. What Nairn’s representatives observed on their tour was the result of years of sympathetic treatment by local government and agencies. Credit may be due to Cllr Wilson but it also has to be paid to her predecessors in Easter Ross who fought very hard to get resources flowing into their area and not into places like Nairn which have consistently regarded as basking in the economic glow of the Inverness area and much less deserving.”
Perhaps Iain is a little hard on the accomplishments of Carolyn Wilson, this observer would suggest that at least the continuing success of Alness High Street as a healthy economic retail trading block with a vastly improved appearance is down to the hard working group of locals that she has led for at least a decade. Anyway Iain is totally correct to say that Nairn is perceived as much less deserving. For example, Nairn’s apparent opulence and upmarket hotels, golf courses etc, mask the recently revealed fact that 24% of children in the town live in poverty. To return to Iain Bain's editorial:
“Cllr Green and his colleagues ought to look very hard at Easter Ross; not for the apparent improvement of Alness as an individual place, but for the way in which the area has fought its corner in Highland Council and the former Regional Council. They might consider how it is that a town like Dingwall is the base for some regional functions where Nairn, nearly twice its size, is regarded by planners as a suburb with an increasingly geriatric population. They might also consider that what they saw in Alness may be a transient state about to change as the recession bites.”
Have our elected representatives fought our corner over the last 20-30 years? Civic power has definitely been ebbing away in the direction of Inverness over that time. There has been the recent creation of the Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee which is meant to be the template for future reform and the restoration of the democratic deficit to our community. There are those however that criticise this area committee as a toothless talking shop for the launch of press releases about expenditure and initiatives that would have to be made anywhere.
It’s not only Nairn though, there can be no doubt that the whole of Scotland suffers from supersized councils and consequently disempowered communities. Lesly Riddoch writes in her book “Blossom:what Scotland needs to Flourish” :
“If self-determination is good enough for Scotland, it’s good enough for Scotland’s communities too. If power and responsibility can renew Scotland, then a democratic stimulus can also give a leg up to capable, active communities. Instead they are being micro-managed badly from on high while politicians bemoan punter apathy. Wrong-sized layers of governance allow power to be hovered upwards by the nearest quango or distant council not devolved downwards to the nearest competent community unit. Scotland needs smaller, more meaningful, democratically accountable units of organisation before the big policy gains will follow.”
This observer was speaking recently to one of the usual suspects who suggests that there will be opportunities for communities in the form of the Scottish Government’s forthcoming Community Renewal and Empowerment Bill which will have devices which will enable communities to do just that - “empower” themselves if they wish to. To do that though a community would have to get its act together. With that in mind let’s turn to the last paragraph of Iain Bain’s editorial:
“Nairn has become noted as a hotbed of contention and argument but that may be a reflection of the size of the place. We need to stop arguing amongst ourselves but that seems unlikely with the inability to achieve a single community council for the town and the developing rivalry between NICE and the Nairn Economic Initiative.
Despite the near universal acceptance locally that Nairn has received a bad deal from Invercentric Government for many years are we doomed to get more of the same simply because of the divisions between us?