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June 13, 2018

Where should the power lie?

Something is fermenting in Edinburgh and it’s not the ghost of breweries past. In very different parts of the city, communities are organising campaigns to oppose Council decisions they perceive as being made without their involvement and against their best interests. Whose interests are paramount? A cash strapped Council that needs to sell its assets to pay the bills or the communities that have to live with the consequences? These are the questions that sit at the heart of a national debate launched last week by Scottish Government. If Democracy Matters at all, where should the power to make these decisions lie?


Scottish Government



government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.



a situation, state, affair, or business something of consequence.

Somebody somewhere is making decisions on your behalf. They could be an MP,MSP, local councillor or public service worker. This involves public sector organisations like the NHS, police, councils, the Scottish Government, and a whole range of public bodies responsible for services like local enterprise, housing and transport. This is important work that affects our lives in all sorts of ways, such as helping us to stay safe and healthy, and access fair work and social care.

In recent years, something has begun to change. There is a growing recognition that it is often better for decisions about the issues that affect different communities in Scotland to be taken with more active involvement of those communities. Whether that is communities in different places organising at a very local level, or communities with a shared interest organising at a more regional level. This enables public services to work in ways which meet local circumstances and reflect the priorities of different communities.

Citizens are also getting involved in many different ways to decide what will most help their community, neighbourhood, or town to thrive. For example, Scotland has a vibrant Community Development Trust movement, community based Housing Associations deliver much more than affordable housing, and early interest in Participatory Budgeting shows people want a direct say over how public money is used in their area.

All of this is a matter of democracy, and democracy matters. But for many people, decision-making can feel like something that happens far away. And for some groups, like disabled people, ethnic minorities or those living with poverty, there are barriers to getting equally involved.

In modern Scotland power must work in a way that involves and benefits everyone. To get this right, we will review how responsibilities and resources can be shared across national and local government in a way that delivers the greatest benefit to Scotland’s different places. However, the starting point must be with our citizens and the power and potential within our communities themselves.

We want to hear your voice and the voices of your friends and neighbours in a discussion about local communities deciding their own future.

We think communities being more in control will create exciting opportunities. If you agree, does this mean communities having a stronger voice when decisions about them are taken? Is it about having the powers and resources to use as they think best?

How could any of this be made to work in your local area or community? And how can we ensure that any changes promote equality and reflect Scotland’s rich diversity?

The questions below are designed to help begin a conversation in communities about the kind of changes they want to see happen. We want to hear as many voices as possible, and in particular those who are all too often under represented. Visit our webpage to find information about how decisions about Scotland’s public services are currently taken, and the different ways you can join the conversation:

or email us at:

As the conversation builds, we’ll share all that we hear so you can see for yourself the kind of changes people most want. As we understand how all of this could be made to work we will share different ideas at a series of events later in 2018. All who have contributed to the discussion will be invited to attend, and to tell us what makes most sense for their community.

We’ll also be working with councils and a wide range of public services to understand what would make a positive difference to how they work locally. A public consultation on any new laws that are required will follow – probably next year. Please do get involved: you will be helping to strengthen democracy and make Scotland a better place for all.

Join the conversation: