Act as if we own the place. Local democracy workshop.

Scotland is one of the least democratic countries in Europe.
— Andy Wightman, MSP
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This statement from Green local democracy spokesperson, Andy Wightman, set the tone for a forthright and illuminating Our Democracy workshop in Edinburgh. The session, attended by Phil, had the brilliantly evocative title, "Act As If We Own The Place". And the event was imbued with a suitable sense of urgency and a palpable collective frustration, but also with a desire to channel these emotions into constructive principles and policies.

Our Democracy is a coalition between the Electoral Reform Society, Common Weal, the Scottish Rural Parliament and the Scottish Community Alliance. And this event, one of several, set out to generate a series of proposals for radical reform to be included in the Scottish Government's forthcoming Local Democracy Bill.

The event consisted of scene-setting addresses from a distinguished panel, a Q&A session with the audience, and a workshop session in which attendees and facilitators co-created a series of local democracy principles around the themes of scale, process and structure.

The output from the panel session is summarised in the graphic below. It is fitting that, at its heart, is the idea of a more 'intimate economy'. Much of the discussion was about the means by which the scale of local democracy in Scotland can be reduced to levels that are more consistent with those across Europe, thereby increasing participation, relevance and empowerment.

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And here are a selection of observations from the panel members, all of whom gave good quote. Apologies if any of these are paraphrased rather than verbatim quotes. Every attempt was made to ensure the latter, and the intended meaning has definitely been preserved in each case.

Andy Wightman, MSP

The state of local democracy in Scotland? Short story - not good.

We have a history of rampant municipal corruption.

It is difficult to talk about issues such as structure, process and the allocation of political power at election time, when politicians are more concerned with offering 'tasty apples'.

Local democracy should not be confused with community empowerment. 

We need hard-wired, statutory, universal powers for communities without the funds or motivations to make things happen.

 

Lesley Riddoch - Journalist, broadcaster, PhD student.

The collapse of democracy in Scotland is the collapse of small town democracy.

I love watching people change when they can have ideas and see them realised in their lifetime.

We need to flush the system through with real democracy.

The formal and informal systems operate in parallel universes. The formal system is large, funded, anonymous and unlovely.

 

Mette Gundersen - Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities

Citizen participation in political decision making is essential to the functioning of the democratic process.

We have three values for local democracy. Free and open elections. Citizen involvement and debate, both person to person and via critical media. Trustful and transparent decision making.

 

Neil McInroy - Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)

The economy is a social construct, but we are detached from it.

We need to democratise wealth, and not just through the process of getting a job. 

We need a 'new municipalism', participative as well as representative, relational as well as transactional.

This is an age of experiments, and the form of our structures should follow their function.