Time to reverse 50 years of centralisation
The Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy
DEBATE ABOUT SCOTLAND’S FUTURE NEEDS RADICAL NEW LOCAL FOCUS, SAYS COMMISSION
Scotland would be fairer, wealthier and healthier if local communities had control over the issues that matter to them, Scotland’s first Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy has suggested. It has also found that local democracy in Scotland has been gradually dismantled over the last 50 years, and that Scotland is now one of the most centralised countries in the western world.
The independent Commission, set up to look at how communities could be given a stronger say over public services, has today published its interim findings. Commenting on the report, Chair of the Commission Cllr David O’Neill said:
“Scotland has a proud and important tradition of deciding on things locally. But local democracy is now under real pressure in this country”.
“Over the decades, we’ve seen a culture in which more and more services and decisions been taken away from local communities and put into the hands of distant bureaucracies. As a country, we have got so used to this approach that we’ve come to think of it as the only way to improve public services, even though that has meant that for most people decisions are now taken far away from where they live their lives.
“That kind of thinking won’t see us through for much longer. People are losing trust and confidence in democracy, and fewer and fewer are choosing to vote. Not only that, but this top down way of working hasn’t produced the results that Scotland needs or tackled the local challenges that people face.
“It needn’t be like that. Over the last few months we’ve heard from thousands of individuals and organisations about why local democracy matters. Today’s report is about them, and the evidence and ideas they’ve provided.
“That’s why the Commission has identified that it is time to think about a different ways of doing things in which local people are in charge of what happens in their communities. Across the world, many countries are reaping the rewards of doing just that. Whatever the result of the Referendum, we’ve therefore got a huge opportunity to think about the kind of country that we want to live in, and make sure that there is a lasting local legacy for local communities in Scotland.”
Councillor O’Neill concluded: “However, the Commission has also recognised that this won’t be achieved without a radical new way of thinking. Strong local democracy needs much more than a trickle down of powers from national government, to councils and only then to communities. Instead, we need to rethink local democracy from the bottom up. We need to recognise that variety is a healthy part of democracy, and make sure that communities themselves have the tools and the freedoms to make choices about services and about how to pay for these”.
“Local democracy can unlock the solutions to our nation’s most profound problems, but needs to be empowered to do so. Those changes might be daunting, but that is what we are calling for.”