ERS Scotland makes the case for local democracy innovation at Scottish Greens’ Conference

Alice Kinghorn-Gray, ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser

Posted on the 1st November 2023

When citizens come together to make plans about the place they know best, Scotland’s towns, cities and villages can flourish. But what democratic systems would allow this to happen? And is Dunfermline the right place to test drive them?

This was a fitting meeting, organised with Fife Greens, for the party of localism and we had a full room eager to discuss these questions. ‘We need to see what localism means in practice’, Ryan Blackadder, Dunfermline native and Fife council candidate declared. He spoke in support of running a local citizens’ assembly for the new city as Fife, like many other local authorities in Scotland, covers such a large and diverse area that many local issues and voices get lost.

Ariane Burgess MSP and convener of the Local Government Committee concurred that in her constituency of the Highlands and Islands, she has 13 distinct community councils. The panel and audience, many having served as community councillors themselves, agreed that Scotland’s lowest tier of democracy is not always the firm foundation it could or should be for a flourishing democracy.

Lisa and Lorna from Touch Community Garden shared how amidst the cracks of local democracy, they’ve grown community connection through a project aimed at bringing people from Touch together; ‘people have lost trust in communities, but people are becoming proud of their area now. We reach people that politicians and officials can’t reach’.

Gillian Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Carnegie Dunfermline echoed this sentiment that ‘tangible projects are a great way to engage people,’ and raised the important point that grassroot groups can be hard to sustain over decades if in an environment that doesn’t support them.

There was much enthusiasm in the room for trying out deliberative and participatory methods, like citizens’ assemblies, to build and strengthen community power. There is opportunity to turn innovative experiences and ideas into legislation, and Ariane Burgess MSP reminded everyone to keep an eye out for the local democracy Bill due this parliament.

If you live in Scotland you, too, can get involved in shaping local governance legislation through the Democracy Matters consultation.

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