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.”
*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.