This report seeks to assist efforts to address barriers to participation in Scottish rural policy and decision-making. It presents findings from qualitative research which consisted of six stakeholder interviews. This research aimed to:
a) Understand the rural experiences of four communities of interest in Scotland;
b) Understand the barriers to participation these communities face in relation to rural policy and decision-making; and
c) Understand how these barriers to participation may be addressed.
The four communities of interest this research focussed on were: LGBTI people, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and carers. While the latter are not a protected community under the Equality Act 2010, they are nonetheless protected by the Act from discrimination by association (see Section 2.4 for definition) (Government of the United Kingdom, 2010). It should be noted from the outset that each of these communities are heterogeneous in composition. Further, communities of interest can intersect, and an individual may hypothetically belong to all four. While the research presented here sought to highlight common themes, this heterogeneity and intersectionality should be kept in mind.
The basis for this research extends from the 2019-20 Programme for Government (Scottish Government, 2019c). Here the Scottish Government outlines their commitment to support a Rural Movement. This will be achieved through working with, amongst other organisations, Scottish Rural Action. This report intends to support a Rural Movement to ‘include a more diverse range of voices, including those in disadvantaged groups’ (Scottish Rural Action, 2020a).
Scottish Rural Action outline the objectives of the Rural Movement as being:
1. “To connect rural communities of place and of interest, enabling them to share their expertise and best practice on matters relating to rural resilience, redesign and renewal.”
2. “To advance two-way dialogue between rural communities and decision-makers, ensuring that policy and legislation at all levels of government is enacted in response to expert input from those living and working in rural Scotland.”
A key forum for the Rural Movement’s engagement is the Scottish Rural Parliament. The Scottish Rural Parliament is a biennial event organised by Scottish Rural Action. It represents a large gathering of Scottish rural representatives, individuals, and organisations, and brings together rural communities and decision makers (Scottish Rural Action, 2020b). The inspiration for such a rural parliament originates from established rural parliaments in other European countries and was initially proposed for Scotland in the 2011 manifesto of the Scottish National Party (Scottish National Party, 2011).
The Rural Movement can be understood as part of broader efforts to enhance local decision-making in Scotland, which also includes the development of participatory budgeting since 2014. In an evaluation of participatory budgeting, published in 2019, it was noted that overcoming barriers to participation in this process remained an important objective for the participatory budget process (O’Hagan et al., 2019). This indicates the cross-cutting relevance of the work presented here.
Three sections follow in this report. The next section provides a background on each of the four communities of interest in relation to the aims of the report. The following section presents findings from the qualitative research undertaken. The final section of the report provides the conclusion to the research.
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