People’s movement plans to reboot local democracy

Castle toward cropped

Castle Toward in Argyll - activists were angered when a community buy-out plan failed.

​Start of a new movement which activists hope will lead to sweeping changes to grassroots decision making

Graham Martin's photo

15th May 2015 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

A People’s Council movement has been formed aimed at transforming democracy at its most basic level.

Activists fed up with their local authority, its alleged inaction and lack of accountability, want to completely reframe decision making, drawing it back to the grassroots.

The impetus has come from campaigners who felt decisions taken by Argyll and Bute Council were not made for the benefit of the people it represents.

In particular they cite the authority failing to support a community buy-out of Castle Toward and objecting to decisions made around service cuts.

Activists began chatting online – and soon a community, calling itself the People’s Council movement, was formed.

They quickly recognised that people are concerned about local democracy much further afield than Argyll and Bute – and decided to make the movement Scotland wide.

Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch

Truly local councils are an idea whose time has come – well done Argyll for getting the ball rolling

The group feels that the structure and ethos of councils, and not just their actions and decisions, must be challenged.

It is calling for fundamental reform of local government in Scotland and have called a People’s Council meeting to look at how this can be achieved.

Campaigners have already attracted high-profile support from the likes of broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and leading lights in Scottish civil society.

Riddoch said: “Scotland has Europe’s largest councils by population and physical size. That means distant decision-making, low levels of participation and constant battles between communities and councils.

“Argyll and Bute Council’s shameful failure to transfer Castle Toward to the local community as agreed was one of the lowest points in the history of Scottish local democracy.

“But now activists from across Argyll are demonstrating real leadership by deciding to get even – not angry.

“These campaigners have kick-started a process to devise a new workable template of truly local government in Scotland involving folk from all over Scotland – the People’s Councils.

“There’s been support for this novel, grassroots idea at every meeting I’ve spoken at during the election campaign from Assynt in the Highlands to Duns in the Borders. Truly local councils are an idea whose time has come – well done Argyll for getting the ball rolling.”

Independent MSP John Finnie said: “In far too many local authorities decisions reached indicate just how far, both in terms of geography and mind-set, those charged with representing communities are from what really matters.

“That must and will change as the growing debate around the need to ensure meaningful local democracy, which reflects community aspirations, gathers momentum.”

A one-day event will take place in Oban exploring local democracy reform from a grassroots perspective.

Speakers include Riddoch, Common Weal's Robin McAlpine, Paddy Bort of the University of Edinburgh, Radical Independence campaigner Cat Boyd, local MSP Mike Russell and Councillor Vivien Dance, among others.

The event takes place at Oban High School on Saturday, 6 June from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Tickets are £10/£7 and can be purchased online from Ticket Tailor, or via www.thepeoplescouncil.org. A number of free tickets are also available.