A RADICAL 'genuinely democratic" reform of local government in Scotland which puts the public in charge with new citizens assemblies being proposed to ministers by the Electoral Reform Society.

It has told ministers there should be constitutional reform of Scotland's 'top-down' local government giving local communities "real power over their futures".

It wants action over concerns that Scotland is the most centralised nation in Europe with local councils stripped of key powers by government and distant powerful authorities.

A report by Convention of Scottish Local Authorities four years ago warned that local democracy “has been gradually dismantled over the last 50 years” from over 400 elected local governments in 1946 to 32.

The society, which promotes electoral reform, claimed the 32 top-level local authorities are often "distant and out of touch" with local communities. And it is concerned that Scotland has now some of the lowest numbers of councillors per head of population in the whole of Europe.

The Herald:

It is telling ministers there should be a local government shake up with wider representation below local authority level, with empowered citizens at the centre of the decision making process.

It wants existing local authorities to remains as 'top tier' local government alongside the roll out of new, legally-empowered development councils beneath them with expanded revenue-raising powers, similar to the parish and town council system in England.

Existing councils would be given expanded revenue-raising powers to enable this to happen, said the group. The new, more-local development councils would be empowered to take action and improve local lives.

In responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on reforming local government, it says that strengthened community councils would establish a "standing, annual citizens assembly for that area" and would be picked in a similar way to the jury system.

The Herald:

This would design a community vision for the next three years, with the ‘development council’ accountable to the citizens assembly for putting that vision into practice.

The citizens assembly system would be overseen by a reformed Elections Management Board and the right to genuinely local, democratic governance should be enshrined constitutionally, the society said.

Willie Sullivan, director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, which has long campaigned for a proportional representation system of electing government, said: “Local government is in dire need of an overhaul if we are to reverse a decline in legitimacy. Too often people feel local governance is done to the people, rather than by them.

The Herald:

“Scottish local governance operates within a very different context from the last time it was reviewed and changed. In 1995 there was no Google, Facebook or smartphones, and John Major’s government was in power at Westminster.

“Today, there is a feeling that in such a networked world, ‘local’ government in Scotland is top-down and distant. It has become an oligarchy at a time people want a better democracy. The Scottish government should be commended for looking at options for reform. "

He said that the system of local councils and health boards were limited by their large scale and "distance" from people and communities so that there is "no local identification or ownership". "This can and must change," he said. “Communities should be trusted as far as possible to run their own places – and it is time we enshrined that principle in Scotland’s constitution.

“For the five years, the ERS has been looking in-depth at ways to revitalise local government in Scotland, hearing from thousands of people across the country. Our submission to the Scottish government draws directly on that process and the calls we’ve heard for change."

In 2016, research for Electoral Reform Society Scotland revealed 76 percent of Scots felt they had no or very little influence on council spending or services.

This led to the launch of an Our Democracy campaign which ran Act As If You Own the Place events across Scotland, helping communities imagine in practice what genuinely local democracy would look like.

The Herald:

The Herald:

In June over 500 gathered to discuss the development of an inclusive and engage public sphere when the ERS hosted the Democracy 21 conference in Glasgow supported by rapper and author Darren McGarvey (Loki).