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Topic of the week Democracy in peril Power to the people: keep politics local

The Jimmy Reid Foundation's report on fair access to political influence has found that many "ordinary" people are excluded from decision-making processes (Holyrood's middle-class bubble, News, February 3).

The report deals overwhelmingly with access to Holyrood, which is no surprise given the record of the Scottish Parliament and Government of centralising power to itself.

What began with the then Scottish Office grabbing responsibility for non-domestic local taxation, further education and water, has been continued with the Scottish Government centralising police and fire and rescue and capping council tax levels.

If in the past "politics" was synonymous with "Westminster", little has changed with devolution and both the former Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition and the current SNP administration have been equally at fault.

One effective way of increasing democratic accountability and the social range of those taking decisions is to devolve powers to local councils.

Under a system genuinely based on subsidiarity, Holyrood could be stripped down to its constitutional function plus a small number of truly national powers, for example distribution of block grants and revenues. Looking at some of our neighbours in Europe, there is no reason why the vast majority of other government functions could not be devolved to the local level.

There are nearly 10 times as many seats available at local authority level in comparison to Scottish Parliament elections. A councillor is also much more of a citizen-politician, being closer to the people, and – crucially – usually less obsessed with their own political career.

In my time as a local government officer, I met hundreds of councillors from many walks of life: surveyors, joiners, electricians, plumbers, shopworkers, bus workers, home helps, ministers of religion, trades union officials, businessmen, as well as retired people, housewives and a minority of academics, teachers and social workers.

This a far better mix of people and the simplest way to bring them to the heart of Scottish politics is to switch power to local government and away from the two-party nomenklatura which dominates Holyrood.

Peter A Russell


Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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