Scottish civil society launches ‘Declaration on Local Democracy’ to tackle ‘over-centralised’ gov’t

Posted on the 23rd June 2018

Hundreds gather in Glasgow to discuss the future of Scottish democracy, with new vision for ‘taking power back’ for communities.

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and the ‘Our Democracy’ coalition, for immediate release
  • Spokespeople are available for interview.
  • Willie Sullivan: “We are here to build an unstoppable challenge to the centralised status quo – and to build a democracy fit for the 21st century.”
  • A coalition of civil society figures and campaigners will launch a new vision for local democracy in Scotland today, amid growing concerns that power is over-centralised in Holyrood.

Our Democracy’s #Democracy21 conference brings together hundreds of activists and organisations from the Scottish Rural Parliament to Common Weal and Nesta to tackle a growing ‘democratic crisis’.

The event offers the most powerful contribution yet to the Scottish government’s local governance bill – with a call for it to go as far as possible in devolving power to local communities.

Scotland would be considered the least democratic country in the European Union based on local representation: there is just one ‘local’ representative for every 4,270 people – compared to one in 200 in Austria, one in 400 in Germany, and one in 2,860 in England.

The ‘Our Democracy’ coalition leading the conference will launch a ‘Declaration on Local Democracy’ at 3:45pm at the Mariott Hotel, Glasgow – to set out key principles for democratic government.

The coalition are calling for often-distant councils to be brought closer to communities, with an expanded and enshrined role for citizen involvement in decision-making – including community planning, participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies on key issues.

Around 500 campaigners, civil society thinkers and community activists have paid to attend this weekend’s conference.

Keys speakers today Doreen Grove, Head of the Open Government Partnership; Paul Mason, journalist; Linda Somerville, NUS Scotland; Lesley Riddoch, Broadcaster; Kyle Taylor, Fair Vote; Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey; and many more.

The conference will cover how to ‘take power back’ for local communities, online campaigning in the 21st century in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a ‘crisis of representation’ in Scotland and more.

The Declaration on Local Democracy in full:

“Democracy is the right for people to decide how the place where they live is run. For a hundred years this right has built our communities, our society and our sense of justice. But too few people now believe that this right is being honoured, too few believe that they decide and too many believe they are powerless and voiceless. So we call for a new democracy which is ready to help us build for a hundred years to come.

“First, decisions must be made for each place, in that place by the people who live there. Our towns and villages must decide for themselves just as our nation must decide for itself. Power must exist at the scale of the community which is affected. We need our democracy much closer.

“Second, the right to decide should not disappear each time the brief flicker of an election is over. Delegating our right to decide is not, in itself, enough. We must create a democracy that involves us all the time, where citizens do not just choose rulers but shape the rules.

“Third, democracy must be powerful. The right to choose must be matched by the power to do – and the power to do must be matched with the resource to do it. Democracy is not gifted from above but from below, so power and resource must rest in the places where people live.

“This is our simple vision for our future; a truly local democracy, a truly participatory democracy and a truly powerful democracy.

“We have learned the lesson of our last hundred years; it is not enough that the future is built, it must be built for us. We must now learn a lesson for our next hundred years; it is not enough that the future is built for us, it must be built by us.”

The Our Democracy coalition

Full backers of the coalition here:

Opening the conference, Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland which powers the coalition, says:

“Scotland is a great teacher about modern politics. The politics here is more open and inclusive than it is in Westminster and we think that is partly to do with better electoral systems. We also know that being better at democracy than Westminster is not getting over a particularly high bar.

“Scotland does not escape the inequality, confusion and precariousness that is fuelling volatility across the globe, which forms the backdrop to the discussions that we will have today. This makes it clear to us that democracy is not only about elections.

“If democracy is about anything it should be about making sure that all communities in Scotland have real power – not just to stop bad things to make good things happen too.

“That democracy is suffering a range of morbid symptoms is beyond question. Today, we want to understand the causes and the cures.

“Democracy develops and is remade in different places for different times. It feels like democracy has gone through a cold period, the depth of that winter is open to debate but there are things happening here and elsewhere that let us plan for better times. The government is consulting on a bill for Scottish local governance and that is a source of optimism.

“We are here to build an unstoppable challenge to the centralised status quo – and to build a democracy fit for the 21st century.”

Amanda Burgauer, Chair of Scottish Rural Action, said:

“It’s so important to have a voice for rural communities across Scotland. At both of the last Rural Parliaments, democracy came up top.

“Scottish government is recognising that reform is needed, and it’s encouraging to see the Community Empowerment Bill starting in the right direction.

“Communities are looking for new ways to have their say.”

Interviews/further comment available.


Notes to Editors

See op ed in the Scotsman on Friday for more information:


Democracy 21 has been organised by ERS Scotland and the Our Democracy campaign, which was launched in 2016 after it was revealed 76 percent of Scots felt they had no or very little influence on council spending or services.

Since then, it has brought together thousands of local people – with the aim of taking power into our own hands.

In October, examples of Scottish communities already getting organised for change were celebrated at ‘Amplify’ – the first of a three-part series of events.

And at the start of this year Our Democracy campaigners, in conjunction with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, facilitated six deliberative events in small communities where citizens were encouraged to ‘Act As If’ they own the place, and to decide on their local priorities.

A second event in the series, ‘Impact’ showcased some of the best work already being done in community organising, and saw campaigners discuss how communities can take the power they need to make decisions locally. [2]

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