The Journey So Far
Somebody, somewhere is making decisions on your behalf. Democracy Matters conversations have already started to explore whether far more of these decisions could be made by communities themselves. This is a key and connected part of the wider Local Governance Review which is looking across all of Scotland’s vital public services to consider how power and resources should be shared between national and local government.
More than 4,000 people took part in the first phase of Democracy Matters conversations in hundreds of locations. People came together in their communities of place and interest to consider a small number of broad questions:
- About their experience of getting involved in local decision-making processes.
- Whether they would like their community to have more control over some decisions, and what these might cover.
- The different types and sizes of communities that would make most sense when taking decisions about their future.
- The structures and processes that would allow for power to be exercised by communities.
What people have told us so far about their desire for much greater control over what happens in the places they know best creates an exciting opportunity to promote what could be the biggest transformation to democracy since devolution.
Scotland’s public sector leaders have also been contributing their ideas for changes to the way powers, resources and responsibilities are shared between national and local government, the wider public sector, and with communities. The Scottish Government and local government are committed to the principle of subsidiarity and local self-determination.
When considering how Scotland is governed it is important to understand where different decisions are best taken, and to make sure that community, local, regional and national spheres of governance come together in ways that are mutually supportive.
The following section is for information only: it describes what the process which had to be postponed due to COVID-19 would have looked like.
Helping to imagine a different democratic future
People from a wide range of backgrounds are clear that different places and diverse communities work best when they have local control over, and are involved in, decisions that affect them most. Transformative change to how Scotland is governed is needed if people are to feel a greater sense of agency in shaping the future of the place they know best. If we get this change right, the outcome will be a new and enhanced relationship between people and their public services.
Democracy Matters conversations started to provide an outline of the type of local democratic systems and institutions required to place power and resources in local people’s hands. This followed the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy which made the case for a more empowered local government and smaller, more local, units of democracy. It also sits alongside the experience of participatory processes such as Citizens’ Assemblies and Participatory Budgeting which are also pointing to the possibility of a different democratic life in Scotland. How to make sure these processes welcome people from all backgrounds and experiences is a vital part of the learning to date.
In developing this paper to support the second phase of conversations, we have drawn on these ideas and experiences to describe a vibrant, equal system of local democracy where people understand their rights and actively participate in civic life. By also building on the many current examples of where community-led activity is working well, we describe how communities in three fictitious places could apply new legal rights and duties to establish new community governance arrangements in order to start taking decisions which can deliver better outcomes for local people.
While it is right that communities themselves decide how local democracy should work, we know it is not easy to imagine a different kind of future. At the end of this paper you will also find real-life examples of community-led action and some of the benefits this brings. You may find it helpful to consider if the new arrangements in the three fictitious places would make this type of activity easier through a transfer of power and resources.
What we are asking people to do
We are now asking people across Scotland to have conversations in their communities based on the new Democracy Matters material. We want you to reflect on the ideas that we set out in the scenario below, and tell us whether these are the kinds of governance arrangements that could meet the needs and aspirations of your communities.
This next phase of Democracy Matters conversations provides another opportunity for as many voices as possible to be heard and help to shape future arrangements. Whether your community is defined by geography, by a shared interest, or by both, we would love for you to join the conversation.
How we will act on what you tell us
What people tell us will involve considering if some decisions about a wide range of Scotland’s vital public services that are currently the responsibility of either national or local government should be taken closer to the people they most affect. This will guide the work which Scottish Government, local government, public sector partners, and the community sector will need to do together to design in detail how the new arrangements could be made to work in practice in diverse community settings.
An ambitious approach to changing how powers and resources are shared will be complex. People told us we should continue to work with them, and take the necessary time to get it right. First, we must be sure future arrangements respond to people’s desire for all communities to have the right to take real power into their own hands, but to be able to do this their own way and at their own pace. Second, we must be sure these arrangements are set up in a way that will benefit everyone, particularly those who experience negative outcomes under current decision-making arrangements.
To provide that reassurance, a further stage of deliberation will follow the Democracy Matters conversations. This will involve people being invited to come together in different places to consider future arrangements set out in detail. This could take the form of Citizen’s Juries, comprising randomly selected people who are representative of an area. Juries would be supported to explore detailed proposals in-depth and make recommendations for final improvements.