There’s already lots of talk about who is best placed to make tough decisions and to get the best from finite resources. We believe the solution is about bringing government closer to people, and making representative and participatory democracy complementary rather than competitive drivers for change.
The debate has come a long way, and around the country and across the political spectrum, the power of a more local approach is becoming clear. With the case for change now inarguable, it’s time to make it happen.
We know that success won’t happen overnight, but the first 100 days of the next Scottish Parliament can set the scene for real success.
With so much at stake, we also know that it can be easy to lose sight of a principled approach in the hunt for proposals that are quick to implement, easily understood, and which grab headlines. Our aspiration is about much more than that. Doing the right things can start to close the inequalities gap, and improve outcomes for everyone in Scotland. But the wrong approach will cause this gap to grow and lead to services that are ineffective and unaffordable.
That’s why we have to guard against centralism and instead deliver real accountability into the hands of local people. Strong local democracy doesn’t mean simply passing down a few powers from above, or taking shortcuts and sidestepping local democratic representation. Yet neither does it mean shutting out new forms of participation and empowerment, or being disconnected from national priorities.
Instead we must keep our eye on the prize — better outcomes for local people. By working together, we can create the conditions to reignite local empowerment and participation, and give people back a real local voice. Easy sounding fixes may therefore look appealing, but tinkering around the edges has already led to uneven thinking about democracy and is likely to do little or nothing to fundamentally improve it in the future.
Instead, we’re asking anyone with an interest in improving outcomes in Scotland to commit to five key pledges. They are grounded in the real life issues that councils and their communities are facing, and we will rally around them in the negotiations that COSLA and councils engage in every day.
Take these bold steps forward, and we can start to transform our democracy, and improve outcomes for everyone in Scotland. What’s more, we can help make sure that a modern local government is part of the governance of a modern Scotland.
That is an exciting challenge, and the real winners will be our communities. We are determined to succeed, and we want to work with anyone who is similarly interested in improving lives in Scotland.
We look forward to the debate that lies ahead; because one thing is for sure - together we have a duty to get this right.