The pandemic has given us a fresh insight into what we already knew about Scotland’s communities; people will sacrifice their time and resources to aid their neighbours. But that sense of community cannot be taken for granted. That is why now, more than ever, we need to revitalise and remake our local democracy.
If democracy is about anything it is about us running our own affairs. That’s why this Holyrood election, as part of the Our Democracy coalition, we are calling for parties to enshrine a principle of local community power. By signing up to the Declaration on Local Democracy you can send a message that we must move power from distant cities and dusty chambers and into our neighbourhoods.
Scotland has some of the largest, most distant councils in Europe and we want genuine local democracy to be on the agenda this election. Following recent calls from the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland to let people decide how they are governed locally, Our Democracy are calling for new powers for local communities to set up Citizens’ Assemblies, to regularly hold their councils to account – not just at election time.
ERS Scotland recently commissioned polling and it confirms that while our communities have the confidence and commitment to be fully involved in rebuilding coming out of the pandemic, they are currently being denied that ability by structures that get in the way of local initiative. Over two thirds of people surveyed feel they have little or no influence over decisions that affect their local community. But 80% of respondents think that citizens’ assemblies could be effective in deciding on local community priorities, and half that number would be willing to give up sizable amounts of time for free to help make decisions on issues that affect their local area.
This polling shows why we need to make sure communities are at the heart of a people-powered recovery. Communities coming together to make decisions for themselves not only makes for better decisions but these very acts strengthen the bonds of care and support. This is ‘strength training’ for Scotland’s democratic muscle. Strong, supportive, democratic communities are the only foundation on which to rebuild Scotland – A Future Built By Us And For Us.
Sign the Declaration on Local Democracy