SCOTTISH GREENS LAUNCH LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORT
The Scottish Greens have today published a set of ideas for revitalising local government and local democracy.
The party, which has councillors in Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Midlothian and Stirling, is calling for a move towards much smaller units of government that would be able to raise the majority of their funding locally. The aim is to emulate the kind of stronger democracy other European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands take for granted.
The Greens' ideas, launched at an event in Nairn and backed by a new report from land and governance expert Andy Wightman, are aimed at contributing to a growing debate around local democracy. COSLA has a Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy, Scottish Labour has a Devolution Commission and a Scottish Parliament Committee has just launched a new enquiry into the future of local government.
Scottish Greens see the independence debate as an opportunity to promote wider ideas of decentralising power within Scotland and protecting the status of local government in a written constitution. The party's Green Yes campaign has published a new briefing.
Key ideas include:
- Current councils broken down into municipalities serving around 20,000 people each. European municipalities average 5600 people.
- A set of larger regions to coordinate issues such as health, economic development, colleges and transport
- A flexible 'Lego brick' model for coordinating other services between smaller units.
- Municipalities should raise at least 50% of their own revenue, up from 20% today.
- Local government should get a statutory share of national income tax
- The status of local government should be enshrined in a written constitution for the first time.
The discussion comes at a crucial time for Scotland's communities:
- Local services are being cut because of reduced central funding and the economic downturn
- Council tax has been frozen, disempowering councils from raising revenue
- Community councils have little power or funding and coverage is patchy
- Local authorities are considering leaving umbrella body COSLA
- Participation in local government elections is extremely low (recent by-election turnouts include Govan 20%, Black Isle 28%, Hamilton South 24%)
Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:
"As Scotland debates whether powers should shift from London to Edinburgh we should also consider how we shift control from Edinburgh to local communities. The current system is unfair and unsustainable.
"Our ideas address the clear need for change but in a measured way that is flexible and involves people rather than imposes from the centre."
Party vice-convener Martha Wardrop, one of Glasgow's five Green councillors, said:
"We are determined to push the issue of local democracy up the agenda and we welcome contributions from others interested in bringing power closer to the people."
Andy Wightman, author of Renewing Local Democracy in Scotland, said:
"Everywhere should have a local democratic body to take decisions on local matters. This is what our friends across the rest of Europe take for granted.
"Scotland could have regional bodies focusing on strategic functions such as transport and economic development, while communities could have meaningful democratic institutions instead of councils like Highland trying to cover an area the size of Belgium."