March 21, 2012
There shall be a rural parliament
Sitting at the bottom of page 38 in last year’s SNP election manifesto, is a commitment to establish a ‘rural parliament to enable rural communities to engage more effectively with government’. Not many people seem to be aware of this nor is there currently any clear idea of what Scotland’s rural parliament might look like. European experience suggests that it needs to be bottom up and based on a much wider movement of rural local interests. Some early work is underway.
The proposal to develop a Rural Parliament in Scotland was a commitment in the Scottish National Party 2011 election manifesto “to ensure the voice of rural Scotland is heard, we will take forward proposals for a rural parliament to enable rural communities to engage more effectively with government.”
What is a Rural Parliament?
A ‘Rural Parliament’ is not a formal part of government, but is a process for facilitating involvement and dialogue between the people of rural Scotland and policy makers to enable better understanding, policy and action to address rural issues. It is a process which takes place over a 2-year period, culminating in a special 2-3 day event, the Rural Parliament, which brings together all sectors of rural society and interests to provide a focus on rural issues and to discuss rural priorities with the Government.
The concept of a Rural Parliament was first developed in Sweden, and subsequently inspired similar initiatives in a number of other European countries. The Rural Parliaments normally function within the context of civil society organisations termed ‘rural’ or ‘village movements’, which provide the network of rural communities and stakeholders and enable the continuity needed to develop, promote and monitor the agenda and results.
A successful rural parliament fulfils several main functions:
• It is a celebration and shop window for the rural areas and their people, making the rich experience and work of the rural communities visible in the national context
• It is a gathering of the rural communities and stakeholders to focus on the issues of rural areas and to raise the rural profile and voice, putting important issues on the political agenda, influencing and speaking to government about the needs of rural areas
• It is a meeting place for the rural communities and organisations to exchange experience and to inspire and mobilise.
What is being done to develop a Rural Parliament in Scotland?
Work has now begun to develop the first Rural Parliament in Scotland.
In October 2011, the Scottish Government commissioned the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) to carry out a study of existing Rural Parliaments in Europe. The aim of the study was to ‘enhance understanding of how and why Rural Parliaments operate, and the outcomes they generate, through examining international examples’. The report has now been finalised and will soon be available to everyone.
In November 2011, representatives from the Scottish Government met with representatives of the European Rural Community Association (ERCA) at the Dutch Rural Parliament in The Hague. This enabled an initial introduction to the work of the Rural Movements and Parliaments in Europe. Following this, Rural Parliaments in six countries were identified for inclusion in the SAC study: Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia. ERCA also offered ongoing assistance to Scotland in developing a Rural Parliament.
Some early meetings are taking place with key rural networks to discuss the approach to be taken. An introductory seminar is planned on late May 2012 with stakeholders from the rural areas and interests in Scotland, at which representatives from three of the Rural Parliaments in Europe will present their experience. Following this the process for developing the Scottish Rural Parliament will be agreed, with the anticipated timing for the event in September 2013.