Scottish Parliament turned twenty this month – young enough still to be described as finding its feet but old enough to have acquired a few unhealthy habits. From the outset, the question of how our new Scottish Parliament would co-exist alongside our (also relatively new) Scottish Councils was repeatedly asked but never answered. And it really needs to be. The lofty aspiration for ‘parity of esteem’ remains just that as councils have become systematically and ever more subordinate. Even on matters where local knowledge and connections would seem a very obvious advantage, councils are now routinely bypassed. As an example, whenever Scottish Government announces a new funding scheme for communities, responsibility for its design and delivery is either takennational charity. While the sceptics might scoff at the prospect of devolving these functions to local councils, would anyone seriously contend that a decision taken in Edinburgh to allocate funds to a community in Orkney will be better informed, more democratically accountable and transparent than if it was taken in Orkney? We talk the talk of subsidiarity – of taking decisions as close to communities as possible – but all too often we walk the walk in the opposite direction.or to some
In the most recent briefing…
When the Local Governance Review was launched in 2017, the timetable (assuming the outcome of the Review confirmed an appetite for significant change) suggested that draft legislation might be introduced this summer. While the feedback from the 4000+ respondents was very positive, it also highlighted the complexity of the challenge and the importance of taking sufficient time to consider what happens next. This next phase will allow for that further reflection to happen and for some of the ideas from the earlier phase to be developed. Scottish Community Alliance submitted this idea as part of its overall contribution.
When the question of how the Scottish Parliament would function was being considered, the prospect of a second chamber – a House of Lords without the Lords – was spoken about at length. Eventually it was felt that a system of robust, cross-party Parliamentary committees with powers to hold the Scottish Government to account was the best way forward. Some still argue that a more participatory form of deliberative democracy, running in parallel with the Parliament, is worth pursuing. The First Minister’s recent announcement of a Citizen’s Assembly feels significant in terms of how Scotland’s democracy could evolve in the future.
It is no coincidence that those who use the courts to pursue people for defamation are extremely wealthy. They have to be because win or lose, defend or pursue, the legal costs involved in these cases are staggeringly high. And this is the position that one of our MSPs, Andy Wightman, finds himself in. Over the years, Andy has been instrumental in advancing the cause of progressive and radical land reform in Scotland. He now faces financial ruin because he must defend himself in court against an action for defamation. He’s put the call out for some support.
As the ever-growing list of runners and riders shuffle into line for the race to become our next Prime Minister, I listened to one of the favourites putting his particular spin on the many ‘good things’ that have been happening while the country has been distracted by Brexit – buoyant economy, more people in jobs than ever before etc. While listening to that, I was reading the findings of the UN’s special rapporteur Professor Philip Alston, who has just published his final report into poverty in the UK. One of them is either delusional or telling bare-faced lies.
It’s not unusual to read that the many problems we face in society today are linked to a chronic underinvestment in the institutions of civil society. What is unusual is when the person delivering that critique is the Chief Economist of the Bank of England. In a wide ranging speech on the impact of the current technology revolution, Andy Haldane argues we need to completely rethink the concept of work in terms of it always being paid (even admitting he’s intrigued by the Universal Basic Income) and argues the voluntary sector must finally grasp the benefits of digital.
While the official language on the climate emergency has been stepped up, it’s not being reflected in recent actions by Scottish Government concerning the role that we as citizens, and collectively as communities, have to play in delivering the necessary changes on the ground. If anything, it looks like we’re in reverse. Scotland’s community led national body on climate action (SCCAN) has just had its funding completely withdrawn and the Climate Challenge Fund, the only public investment in community-led climate action has had funding for new projects cut by 50%. What on earth is going on?
How can housing need be assessed in a remote rural location? The official line is that an absence of people reflects an absence of housing demand. The idea that the absence of housing might just be the principle reason for the absence of people doesn’t come into it. There’s a growing conviction that if houses were just built in more remote locations, people would be queuing up to move in. A coalition of community sector interests have come together to press for change in the official policy that results in so many houses being built in all the wrong places.
Earlier this month, Planning Democracy convened its annual gathering which was inspiring and therapeutic in equal measure. Inspiring because of the many tales being told of the unstinting efforts by communities to engage with a planning system that appears so stacked against them. And therapeutic because of all the support and advice that was being shared so freely between participants. Much talk at the conference of how (or if) the Scottish Government could salvage this much amended piece of legislation. The Planning Minister has now published what will be debated next month. PD’s Clare Symonds proposes some next steps.