SNP Conference: ERS Scotland’s packed fringe event rings out for strengthening local democracy

Jonathon Shafi, ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser

Posted on the 19th October 2023

A vibrant and powerful local democracy creates the basis for building strong communities. From the pandemic to the cost-of-living crisis people have shown they are willing to devote time and care to those in need.

When citizens come together to make decisions about the place they know best, Scotland’s towns, cities and villages can flourish. With the launch of the Democracy Matters consultation, Scots are being asked where power should reside, feeding into a local democracy bill which is expected to make its way through this parliament. But what are the best routes to making these communities truly powerful? And how do we create lasting change?

These were some of the issues discussed at a packed ERS Scotland fringe meeting at SNP conference on local democracy.

Addressing the event, Pauline Smith from the Development Trusts Association Scotland said:

“The local governance review can pave the way for community wealth building. We want to work with commuters to show the government how we can strengthen local democratic structure. I would like the Democracy Matters conversations to have lots of options to sit down with government. There is not a one size fits all solution.”  

Amanda Burgauer, of the advocacy group and think-tank, Common Weal reflected on the need for bespoke solutions:

“If there is no infrastructure to support communities. The ones which will thrive are those with the most capacity. Small villages and rural areas have different needs. Compared with the rest of Europe the size of our local authority areas just doesn’t work. Communities need to chose what the invest their time, energy and powers into.”    

We were also delighted to hear from the Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance, Tom Arthur MSP:

“We can’t solve this through some commission of great and the good. It has to come from the bottom up. If you don’t work to generate consent and tap into collective expertise, you can end up with a backlash. The approach that has to be taken is engagement with communities in partnership with local government. Yes, national leadership is important. But it’s ultimately about people having power in our communities.”  

Chairing the meeting, Willie Sullivan, ERS Senior Director, Campaigns and Scotland, concluded:

“We have a real opportunity to revamp local democracy in Scotland. Hearing the panel today has shown there is a breadth of experience and a real commitment to deliver change in this area. We are working to produce examples of what real local power might look like, using citizens assemblies and involving local community groups in discussion and decision making.”

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