Sunday, June 14, 2015

A fast-track method of returning local democracy to Nairnshire?

There seems to be a universal acceptance now across the political spectrum that local government as it is presently set up in Scotland doesn’t work, it just doesn’t allow communities  to run their own affairs and improve their circumstances. It just isn’t any good to have people and officials that live and work in other towns and cities running your affairs – it holds communities back from realising their potential. Things have got so bad in recent years that Nairn folk have even taken to the streets to protest about the situation. Many, many times over the years of this blog we have recorded the struggles of many of this town's citizens to get a better deal for Nairn from the Highland council. Colin MacAulay refers to the present set-up as regional government rather than local government.
What can be done to quickly return democracy to communities then?  Recently there was a conference in Oban entitled “The People’s Council” which looked at practical ways of doing something about the democratic deficit that communities across Scotland face. There is a three hour video on youtube available for any serious students to browse.

Speaking at that gathering in his personal capacity as the local MSP for Argyll and Bute Mike Russell said on the need for change in local government:

“There is a legislative possibility for the next parliament which would change Scotland’s map of authorities, the way in which authorities operate in the way which Lesley has been suggesting. Power very much devolved down to the lowest possible level in Scotland – the power and budgetary control and exercised well and I’m very enthusiastic about that. But that is going to take a while: an election, consultation and the preparation of a bill; at least the work of a single parliament.

We could make a difference in Argyll and Bute tomorrow and we could do it within the existing legislation which is to take the five area committees which exist, each of them which are roughly the same order of numbers as which Lesley was talking about at 14,000 more or less. The Council could decide to devolve all its power to those area committees. Those area committees could be enhanced by the addition of members of community councils. again perfectly legitimate in terms of the existing legislation and you could create strong localised decision making in each of the five areas of Argyll and Bute within a matter of months. It could certainly be in place by the end of this year.”

Highland Council too has five committees, some of them would have to be broken down a bit further though; Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is criticised by many as an absurd shotgun marriage and should be split accordingly. So perfectly legitimately a way exists to quickly restore local democracy in Nairn. Incidently the Gurn understands that this area committee empowerment is also the way Michael Green would like to go by effectively using the existing structures to redress the balance in the interim. We had a chat with him recently and hope to follow that up this week with another wee blether to find out more about how he envisages returning power to Nairnshire.

*Mike Russell was referring to Lesley Riddoch who is  a proponent of the nordic style of local government where communities of around 14,000 people have control of their own affairs. 


Seumas said...

I suggest that we invite Leslie Riddoch to talk to us about the Scandinavian model. We must reform local/regional government, and then having a model we can begin to agitate

Anonymous said...

Lesley is part of the Book n Arts Festival prog this September.

Brian Turner said...

"What can be done to quickly return democracy to communities then?"

I'd like to see community councils communicate better. A couple in the area have websites, but none appear to be kept up to date - meaning we have no idea what they are looking to talk about, or do, without physically attending their meetings.

Whenever I object to that, someone always comments that it's my responsibility to do so - but I say that it's the responsibility of the community councils to reach out, as best they can, to the electorate they are supposed to represent.

Local government needs challenging at every level, not just within the Highland Council itself.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Brian Turner, I'll take the bait! When, if ever, have you attended any Community Council meetings in Nairn?

Anonymous said...

@brian turner

Even if minutes were published in an electronic form they would be retrospective. Most community council meetings allow an input from the floor for those that attend. You can't help shape democracy just by reading about meetings

Further to that CC's are run by volunteers and you'd require someone to take notes at meetings and then publish them, maybe as you're so keen to have this happen you should make an offer to do so Brian? :-)

Anonymous said...

We are a wee country and with the kind of scale of local government that Lesley Riddoch and increasingly others propose, I really don't see why we need "levels" at all. Bring back Nairnshire and bring back Councillors with a specific area of the Town/Country - just as we had before the Tories took revenge on Labour for the Strathclyde powerhouse.
Some things were better in the past - and local government is one of them.
The fact that the Scottish Government and COSLA are at least talking about out bodes well.
All strength to Lesley Riddoch and her various campaigns.

dem o'crat said...

@Brian Turner.... I'd like to take up your challenge, but it is hard to know where to start, as your comment is based on a misguided perception.

Marshall McLuhan was prescient, some decades ago and before the internet, in asserting that the medium was becoming the message: that the means by which people communicated (in the electronic and information age) was as important as the substance of what was being said. Now that we have Facebook and Twitter as well as the internet, this is even more true.

But it remains especially important, now that we all live in a world of spin, to distinguish between product and process - between politics and PR. A website is a means to an end. Like a Powerpoint presentation, it risks being a one-way street.

To argue that democracy depends on local groups having websites thus misses the point. Democracy means that people exercise power and make choices and decisions. They cannot do so sitting on their butts in their bedrooms passively looking at a screen and absorbing predigested information fed to them by whichever group is posting or blogging at the time. Politics is active, indeed interactive. Politics and communication needs debate and dialogue. It involves rulers and ruled - or those taking decisions and those for whom decisions are taken.

Above all, it requires those who are interested, or who wish to express views or exert influence, to engage. It is of course possible to do so - up to a point - via websites and online (as here on the Gurn). But we are not virtual beings living in a virtual world making virtual decisions. To make a real difference, it is still necessary - happily for civilisation and for those who fear an Orwellian future - to participate in person. Whether this is on a street corner, a picket line, or in a community council meeting may depend on circumstance and preference. But websites, newspaper articles, and fliers through the post, are all adjuncts to the core process of politics, which is real discussion between real people in real time about real problems. So Brian Turner, leave your screen for a moment and step into the real world.... come to a meeting. You will find democracy is more than just a website. Which is as it should be.

Brian Turner said...

"maybe as you're so keen to have this happen you should make an offer to do so Brian? :-)"

Graisg and myself have both previously offered to help get the local community councils online. You can see for yourself how successful that has been.

"To make a real difference, it is still necessary ... to participate in person."

Participate in what? How would anyone even know what is to be discussed at a community council meeting until turning up?

The big slide was recently removed from the links, and people complained that the Highland Council had not discussed their intention to do so with residents. By your argument, no one had a right to complain unless they had attended Highland Council meetings.

I know there are hard-working and well-meaning individuals within the community councils - I just don't understand why they don't want to be seen to properly communicate with the very people they are elected to represent.

Anonymous said...

@Brian Turner

Even if we get people to write up the minutes of each Community Council meeting and then you kindly publish them online it appear that you'd also like the agenda for each and every CC meeting made public in a similar way.

Further to that the agenda should in minutia so that instead of 'discussion of leisure facilities' it should drill down to include for example the big slide which as far as I know was a decision made at councillor level rather than at a Community Council meeting

So... we get detailed agendas made public and minutes of meetings but that still wouldn't satisfy you as discussion happens at community council meetings along with votes on some issues, none of which you'd get to hear about till the minutes were published.

As has been said voices from the floor are sometimes heard but that would mean you'd have to be there

Maybe you'll suggest live streaming of meetings next with some kind of interactive measure so that the public can vote?

I think you're missing the point Brian that we elect people to represent us and in doing so trust the decisions they make on our behalf. Some we won't all like but that's democracy for you

I hope at some stage you get the communication you want delivered to your armchair!

Caxton Imprimatur said...

@Brian Turner.... who said at 11:00am "How would anyone even know what is to be discussed at a community council meeting until turning up?".

Um, why not try this new-fangled thing called a newspaper, Brian? You will find on page 2 of the esteemed local weekly organ, the "Nairnshire Telegraph", a quaint system called Noticeboard, which includes among other announcements advance notices not only of the date, time and venue of each Community Council meeting, but also an indication of the main agenda items.

Not only that, but this very same weekly newspaper provides you and all its readers with a summary report of the main points discussed or debated at CC meetings.... and full minutes of each CC meeting are available to all at the next one.

And of course (since CCs do not dictate, or limit, what is on the agenda) if you were to turn up at a meeting you would have the opportunity to raise any other issue that you considered important or relevant. CCs are there to provide a platform for YOU. This is called local democracy. If you don't want to take advantage of that opportunity, then it is a bit churlish to sit at home and complain that democracy hasn't been delivered to you. Spoon-feeding is for babies.

21st Century boy said...

@Caxton Imprimatur

I'm afraid your excellent piece will fail as @Brian Turner might insist that The Nairnshire Telegraph is put on-line before he'll read it

Brian Turner said...

I guess I'm a lone voice in thinking that community councils could do more to try and communicate and engage directly with the electorate they say they represent. I can accept that.

Back to the normal Gurn reporting - how different local groups complain that other local groups are not adequately communicating or engaging them in the democratic process...

Anonymous said...

@Brian Turner

You've been told (more or less politely) as to how local democracy works, up to you if you embrace that or not

The friction between local CC's is nothing new. The root of this is not communication, it's about democracy and we have to respect the stance that our local CC's take

Anonymous said...

Aye Brian - that's about the size of it. Don't be ground down tho'
Some do find it curious that 2 or 3 loud voices at a meeting of 7 or 8 people can steer the town. Other countries do use technology to enhance democracy at all levels. We seem afraid that things like internet-based voting - as an example - will be open to abuse - as if the prehistoric form of postal voting isn't rigged ..........

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the other side of the coin is that many of the electorate don't give a damn about Community Councils or any form of local democracy until something directly affects them - then you'll hear all about it. They're only too happy to let other folk get on with it but will moan like hell, declare they can do better then disappear into the ether.

Another point, I never go to the Nairnshire for reporting on CC meetings, I always come to the Gurn who do a far better job.