The Silent Crisis
Scotland has the worst local democracy of any country in Europe by every measure. Just think about that for a second. We’re the worst.
Our foundation report looked at local democracy in Scotland comparing our structure to those in Europe.
It is probably little surprise we voted against running our own country. We simply had no experience of running anything locally.
When people are not trusted to make decisions about what is best for their local area; they lack connection, decision making skills, confidence and creativity.
In Scotland we are so used to decisions being made for us by bureaucrats hundreds of miles away – government from London seems perfectly normal. But, it is not normal. By European standards we are very abnormal indeed.
Population size of municipality
EU Average – 5,630
Scotland – 163,200
Geographical Size of municipality (Km2)
EU Average – 49
Scotland – 2,461
Ratio elected councillors to citizens represented
Denmark – 1 to 2000
France – 1 to 125
Spain – 1 to 700
Germany -1 to 400
Scotland – 1 to 4,270
Participation – Proportion of population standing
Finland – 140
Sweden – 145
Norway – 81
Scotland – 2,071
Another way is possible
An alternative way of doing local democracy is urgently needed to give power, choice and real representation to local communities who are currently disengaged and powerless. Our Scotland, our local bit of Scotland could be re-imagined by us, for us.
What can be done?
“There is no justification for any major restructuring of the administrative bureaucracy of existing local authorities; what is needed is not an extra layer of bureaucracy but an extra layer of democratic decision-making to guide and instruct that bureaucracy.
There are some core principles that must be adhered to in devising that layer of democracy, central among which is that democracy must be universal and not ‘voluntarist.’
The proposals should be bold in following the principle of subsidiarity – we should trust communities to make as many as possible of the decisions which impact on them themselves, which means making sure they have the maximum possible power.
National government does still have an important role in establishing national policy frameworks and in ensuring national minimum standards.
This is not a low-priority issue: the current structure which sees politics and decision- making take place distant from and with little reference to the people the decisions affect lies at the very heart of many of the major problems of disillusionment with democracy that are regularly identified in Scotland and the UK as a whole.”
Changing how we do local democracy will offer us the chance to change Scotland and through that we will change ourselves. People will become more confident in decision making, a more diverse range of people will engage with politics, regions will have more regional diversity, creativity will soar and needs will be met.
If you would like to read the full report by Eberhart Bort, Robin McAlpine and Gordon Morgan
It includes a case study of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, which offers insight into what a different model might look like.