As today’s launch of the Yes campaign rolled out, I began tweeting as follows:

“I believe that it is fundamentally better if decisions about Auchtermuchty’s future are taken by the people of Auchtermuchty #yesauchtermuchty”

This is part of my Campaign for Real Local Government and a call for a radical shake up in the way we do democracy – from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. It would involve re-instating the 196 Town Councils that were abolished in 1975 and re-establishing the parish councils that were abolished in 1929 (and perhaps re-naming them communes or municipalities).

Folk like Lesley Riddoch have been making these arguments for a long time. More recently, the Jimmy Reid Foundation published an excellent report called the Silent Crisis which I heartily recommend you read if you want to see what the key arguments look like.

The towns contained in the tweets are those listed in the First Schedule of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 (5.6Mb pdf) OR see in Annex I of Common Good A Quick Guide. These towns governed themselves until midnight on 14 May 1975 when their Town Councils were abolished by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Popular resistance to their abolition led to the inadequate sop of powerless community councils. Some towns also transferred their common lands into trusts to prevent it being transferred to the new District Councils.

Unfortunately, my tweets were not universally appreciated. Roseanna Cunningham MSP tweeted “he’s being awfully tedious & impressing no-one.”

I didn’t realise that the topic raised such passionate emotions.

16 Comments

  1. As an SNP type, sign me up. Local government is fundamentally broken. The switch to STV, had some positive outcomes, but, it’s the huge wards have destroyed any real accountability.

    Paddy Bort’s paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation is a good place to start

    http://reidfoundation.org/portfolio/the-silent-crisis-failure-and-revival-in-local-democracy-in-scotland/

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  2. I’m in favour of your campaign Andy, but please tell me you’re not typing these tweets out by hand, and that you’ve got some sort of script for auto-completion? Or even just using a spreadsheet with a formula to write them out for you?

    If not, you’re going to get so bored typing out the same phrase, that by the time you reach Laurencekirk, you’ll want to stab yourself in the eye with a pencil!

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    • I copy and paste the phrase and edit the name of town. Then I schedule tweets to go out every 15 or 20 min. The time spent is worthwhile in terms of raising awareness and there will be stuff in tomorrow’s newspapers that shows why this is significant.

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  3. You should put the standard bits of the tweets in cells on a spreadsheet, then have a column with all the burgh names, and use a CONCAT() formula to put your tweets together. Easy peasy!

    That’s what I used at my old work for updating the building control fees for council websites. Would have taken ages otherwise, and that time spent would NOT have felt worthwhile…

    Incidentally (and I dare say the answer to this may be in the Reid Foundation document that I’ve yet to read – although I will do eventually), is it within Holyrood’s control to restructure local governance? Or are there certain monies from Westminster that depend on the existing structure, in the same way they said they’d hold back council tax benefit dosh if we got rid of council tax?

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    • Thanks for techie tip! All the powers needed to restructure local government are devolved. It is a complicated business though and we are only at the very beginnings of what needs to be a serious debate about how we do real local government (as in “local” and “government”).

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  4. It’s not entirely related to local government, but I’d like to see sports based on the old administrative map too.
    By having a strata at development level where youth could play, or compete, for their district vs neighbouring districts, or county vs county, I believe interest could be rekindled.
    At the moment, as an example, look at football, where the SFA has divided the country up into vast swathes. The North region for example, stretches from Aberdeen to the Western Isles and up to the Shetlands. Based in Aberdeen, there’s little or no chance of talented kids west of Inverurie ever managing to progress for inclusion in ‘their’ regional squad, never mind the expense & commitment from parents in travelling should they do so.

    Far better to break it down to a more local level that kids can realistically aspire to. A Badenoch vs Lochaber derby for example, or at the next level up Inverness vs Nairn.

    Bring it all back to a more local, manageable, and achievable level, and I am sure we would do wonders for the countrys sporting youth.

    Imagine the pride they’d feel being selected from their school to represent their district or county, and thereafter the visibility to maybe go onto club level.

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  5. You say “These towns governed themselves until midnight on 14 May 1975″ but it’s important to remember that none of them (except for the “big four” which were equivalent to counties) had full local government competence. Before 1975, just as after, there was a two-tier system of local government with many of the more important functions (e.g. education) reserved to County Councils. (There were also the so-called “large burghs” which had some CC functions which small burghs didn’t, e.g. police.)

    While you could say “what’s not to like?” about resurrecting the pre-1975 second tier of local government and giving it general competence and unlimited tax raising powers, is it not the case that, in practice, the tax base of a place like Auchtermuchty would never be able to afford (for e.g.) a new secondary school of their own if they decided the present one at Cupar (or Glenrothes, I don’t know) wasn’t serving their kids well? If so, you’re not actually going to get to a position where you can meaningfully say “decisions about Auchtermuchty’s future are taken by the people of Auchtermuchty?

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    • Quite so. There’s a lot of thinking to do about powers and geography. Which is why studying kommunes in Denmark and other European countries is so interesting. For the moment, the issue is even to get the topic on the agenda when most politicians are wanting undertake ever more centralisation.

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  6. Freedom for Nairnshire – End Inverness Rule! Everytime there is any sort of survey of public opinion in Nairn the citizens show that they would like the town’s three community councils combined into one. Maybe we’ll get there one day. A town-wide ballot is needed but one community council is against that.

    A Royal Burgh CC would give us a better chance of fighting off Invercentralism. The new regime at Glenurquhart Road is promising to roll back some of the worst aspects of centralised central command at Highland Council HQ however.

    Time for a town council for Nairn.
    http://royalburghcomc.blogspot.co.uk/

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  7. To judge from some of the tweets in response to your Twitter campaign Andy, I think you need to spell out more clearly that the revived burgh and parish councils (let’s call these “communes” for now) will be as well as the existing Councils, not instead of them. (That wasn’t made very clear in the Jimmy Reid Foundation report either.)

    The way it will work is that the communes will be endowed with powers (ability) to do things but no duties (obligations). The duties (to house, educate, maintain roads etc. etc.) will remain with the Councils.

    However, the communes will also be endowed with tax raising powers and, if the local population so votes (and its tax base can afford it), the commune would have the ability to (for e.g.) keep open a primary school the Council wanted to close. (It goes without saying the commune’s local tax-payers (but only them) have to pay to keep the school running.)

    That’s how it works (I assume) in the countries mentioned in the JRF report for e.g. Norway with its 429 municipalities (“communes”) and 21 counties (equiv. of our existing Councils)

    Once this is understood, it knocks on the head the “How on earth does somewhere like New Galloway afford a secondary school?” argument.

    If I’m talking b****cks here, then someone needs to explain it to me too!

    But if I’ve understood it right, I think it’s a no-brainer. It’s the solution to Pts 2 & 3 of the Land Reform Act which only gives communities the single and rather sledgehammer tool of buying an estate to crack the nut of providing a handful of affordable houses, a community petrol station etc. (And subsidise the price of the petrol sold, why not?)

    Bring it on.

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    • Spelling out the alternative will come later – vast amount of work to do to persuade vested interests that democracy must be improved. Agree that some spelling out useful. Meanwhile have a look at http://www.ccre.org/en/membres Any proposal for Scotland (like most of Europe) would have two tiers of local govt – counties and municipalities (Etonia has one tier but two is more common)) and both would have statutory powers AND duties.

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  8. Interesting link. Checked it for Portugal where I live but not sure if something hasn’t been lost in translation with the word “competence”, whether this means power or duty?

    Think this distinction has to be made crystal clear at the outset. What do vested interests not like? Easy politics to sell people the ability to do something (powers), less easy to persuade acceptance of a duty, I would say. But I’m no politician – over to you on that!

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    • Few established politicians like the idea of giving up power to another entity. This needs to be a citizen’s movement.

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  9. Are you saying the existing “coonsy cooncillors” are reluctant to give up their fiefdoms?

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  10. I misread your tweets as a pisstake of the Yes campaign’s slogan, or declaration, so obviously – got needlessly butthurt and indignant.

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