I didn't get what I wanted, so . . .


Selma Rahman of the WFI National Committee voted for Scottish independence and she voted to stay in the EU.  She didn't get what she wanted, so . . . 

So, I used my vote, I exercised my democratic right, I didn’t get what I wanted…and  now…….……….

Scotland continues to be governed from Westminster with one Tory MP. We could be dragged out of the EU against our majority democratic decision whilst Labour is apparently destroying itself from the inside out over basic ‘democratic’ issues: who has the power and where is the balance between party members and party MPs. Furthermore, we see Scotland without a functioning, challenging ‘opposition. And every government benefits from an effective opposition.  Despite Labour coming third, behind the Tory party ( 2015 Scottish Election) the Tories have not yet been able to build alliances, find common ground to either lead or be consistently effective as the ‘opposition’. Shouting questions at the FM once a week doesn’t make you or your party effectual. Nor do a couple of  by-election wins due to tactical voting herald a revival!

Tory inefficiency isn’t confined to Scotland. The FM reminds us of this almost daily via UK Governmentt Brexit negligence and the sound of silence noticeable in No.10. Or the opposite of silence when the PM and her office come out to counteract the ‘personal statements’ coming from her Brexiteers, Davis, Johnsone and Fox. Brussels beware? Probably not, and definitely …. not yet.

But now, both the map and the processes have changed irrevocably since 2014, two referenda have seen to that. It is highly doubtful that Scotland will return to the  apathy exhibited previously with low turnout at elections, albeit a commonality across the UK, and not confined exclusively to us here. But before we get to the point of  voting  where does our individual interaction with democracy commence? Shouldn’t we start  in  our  local community, our localities? Can democracy be truly participative and effective at this level?

Lesley Riddoch  www.lesleyriddoch.com returned to this in August, when she delivered this year’s Thomas Muir Lecture in Edinburgh. With her customary wit, humour and logic there was an awful lot of ‘challenges’ to us in her audience.  Her critique of ‘local’, ‘local government’ and our part in the democratic process, as one part of her discourse, again invited us to consider ‘other’ models.  Riddoch’s ‘other models’ inevitably lead to Nordic comparisons, and a sad dearth of successful comparators here. Yes, the  #Ourland movement can inform us of great determination and some success, so let’s hear it for  the Kirriemuir mums now running the Camera Obscura or the Haddington mum who set up tinyhomes.com  ..but again, and so far, these are exceptions, not rules.  

With Scotland’s diversity of population and land mass, ‘served’ by  32 unitary local authorities, a local authority such as Orkney has in the region of  under 20,000 inhabitants and Glasgow City in excess of 600,000.  

Across Scotland therefore just how ‘local’ is democracy, how representative is it, and most of all, how relevant are the outcomes within each local authorities to the authentic needs of its people? Is it working?


Perhaps with forthcoming council elections 2017 we should cross examine potential candidates (more) thoroughly to establish their understanding of their party’s  national policies set against the  knowledge of the ‘local’ they seek to serve. Do they understand the demographics, the needs? How will they fit those within the national context, the jostling for resources from the centre, the need for financial prudence in the face of austerity?

I find it interesting that we currently seem to have each of the SNP depute candidates espousing strong voices, the need for party activists to have more say, and the need to involve people in decision making. Nothing new, nothing revolutionary, a mantra evoked by all politicians at a certain point in time and normally when it’s voting time. Surely we need to be able to hear the diversity of strong voices in all our political parties as a given. Is plurality of thoughts and ideas a weakness? Diversity of debate and discussion should inform party policy-decision making, making it both stronger, less open to challenge and in line with what is required to govern a pluralistic society. Such diversity should not be confined to national level, but needs to translate to local. Our politicians need to be connected to voters beyond the run up to elections, just as they need connection with all their constituents, not just party activists. Likewise, all party members are not automatically activists.  So will any political party far less an actual  government make the dramatic leap from rhetoric, Reports, Royal Commissions, Local Government Acts to begin the necessary changes required that will develop  local structures to take grassroots activism beyond the present frameworks?

Local activism shouldn’t be confined to being a supportive prop for politicians and their parties. Nor should activism be confused with ‘local government’, wherein the  main purpose of ‘activism’  appears to be centred around the political parties getting their MP /councillor into power before the opposition. And  worst of all, it shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise that is used by national government to fulfil some notional  ‘government engaging locally’. My city, Edinburgh currently has 46 community council areas across the city and, nominations are being sought for 44. The Scottish Govt web site informs us that  Community Councils’……

‘…..primary purpose is to ascertain and express the views of the community to the local authority and other public bodies. Many Community Councils also involve themselves in a wide range of other activities including fundraising, organising community events, undertaking environmental and educational projects and much more.’

For national government and local authorities to engage locally without devolving power locally is meaningless. And to the many or the few of us who have actually heard of community councils they appear as well-meaning talking shops, devoid of power.  Do you really join a community council because you want to do……….. fundraising, organising community events, undertaking environmental and educational projects and much more.  No matter how intriguing much more might be. (NB You can do all or part of that as a member of your local WFI!)

Devolving power locally would ensure involvement – decision-making and delivery that would benefit local communities via the allocation of a pre agreed range of actual services that meet actual, local requirements. We need to see more people involved in political processes, not necessarily political parties, so where better to start than in our own, local communities? Devolving power from politicians to people doesn’t make political parties and politicians weaker.  It strengthens necessary connections. It removes barriers that create a ‘them and us’, that put politicians beyond the reach of  many of their local and national constituents. If politicians rely on us to use our ‘power’ at the ballot box, they should be able to work with us, sharing ‘power’, at local levels. After all, it’s where we live and work, our kids go to school, we shop, and use all those valued public services. That’s a pretty powerful grass roots knowledge-experience base from which to build and sustain a society where people are democratically engaged in meaningful ‘government’ at all levels at all times.

When better then than now to develop meaningful democratic local engagement:  in other words, before we get to the voting stage? And use it, as part of an indeyref2 strategy?

It’s neither to dismiss nor to re-create the wide YES movement and all that entailed leading up to indeyref1. It’s to acknowledge all that was achieved then, but vitally, acknowledging that there is the need now to add, to strengthen, to change that strategy into one fit for indeyref2.

Can pro Independence parties , groups and organisation work together, using a combination of local arrangements and participation and  engage beyond the narrow confines of ‘my party’, ‘your party’? Can we develop information-sharing-networks across communities the length and breadth of Scotland, networks that deliberate on prime topics such as the economy, the £ or not the £, the environment, business, the arts?

The ability of  us all to be able to meet, debate, interact is vital, especially those of us not aligned to any one party. Some of us are involved via WFI and our local branches, CommonWeal, and all the others that now occupy the political landscape. Some may even flit between one, two or more, learning locally whilst benefitting from the connected national overview.  So whilst the politicians and party faithful know what they want and what they will vote for, it’s us, the ‘others’ who continue to have a huge role in determining the outcome via our participation pre ballot with  ‘no voters, doubters, waverers’.

And who knows, if we can develop and sustain every day, on-going engagement, if we see our strengths and ability to co-operate in identifying and delivering on the vitalindeyref2 strategy, we might  see that ‘ local-ness ’ continue in an independent Scotland with both a national and ‘local’ government structure informed, delivering and connected to everyday people, every day, not just when they want us to exercise our limited democratic power with our vote.


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