Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

Scotland needs local solutions: #chooselocal

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

On May 5, Scotland goes to the polls. It’s a pivotal opportunity to think about the changes that could make a real difference within communities the length and breadth of Scotland. Up and down the country, people are recognising that the top down approach has had its time and as COSLA President I am fully convinced that reform should start by building on local democratic choice.

That’s why Scottish local government through COSLA launched a Manifesto that I feel can not only transform Scotland, but can actually be delivered within 100 days.

We have also decided to support the Manifesto with our first ever social media campaign #chooselocal

All of us in Scotland share many common goals. We want the places where we live to be safe and healthy, vibrant and sustainable, and offer good, decently rewarded jobs. We want older people everywhere to enjoy a fulfilling old age, the young to reach their full potential and the vulnerable to be protected.

COSLA wants to harness the power of a more locally democratic way of doing things, and overhaul participation in decision making across the country.

The case for much stronger local democracy is founded on the simple premise that it is fundamentally better for decisions about these goals to be made by those that are most affected by them. We’re excited about what can be achieved, but we know that this won’t be possible without commitment from across all spheres of government.

That is why we are asking every parliamentary candidate to sign up to 5 key pledges that can put local democracy on the map.

The five pledges in the COSLA Manifesto and supported by #chooselocal are listed below.

  1. Make Scotland’s public services local by default, through an immediate review to localise and simplify how all public services are governed and accountable to communities.
  1. Redraw the partnership between local and national government, beginning with a summit that delivers a new framework for local and national government.
  1. Give communities financial choices, starting by putting local control at the heart of local taxation.
  1. Open up Scottish democracy by joining COSLA in establishing a constitutional convention to design a new approach to accountability.
  1. Join up thinking on reform by focusing the debate on local outcomes not sound bites.

People want better outcomes from the public sector in Scotland. Yet some political thinking still focuses on inputs such as police or teacher numbers, or policies that can prescribe how budgets are used regardless of their local relevance. This is wasteful and does little to prevent problems from emerging in the first place.

The move to genuine outcomes has started, but it has to become the predominant measure by which services are judged. Further and faster progress is now needed. Populist sounding but unhelpful arguments about inputs might appeal to some, but we are asking all parliamentarians to embrace a more progressive debate.

Of course, better outcomes are not just determined by local government, but by the way all public services do business. We therefore also need to prevent a proliferation of competing agendas from diverting attention and resources away from that task. That means freeing up all local partners to listen to communities and focus on what makes the difference to them, not one size fits all solutions or complex governance arrangements.

COSLA feels that all five pledges can be delivered within the first 100 days of the next Parliament and all will help set a course towards better and more equal outcomes for all of our communities.

We want to work with anyone who is similarly interested in that task, and we’d be delighted to hear your views.

Like every local elected member, I passionately believe in local democracy as a positive force for good in every part of Scotland. All of us within Scottish Local Government want to harness the power of a more local way of doing things, and overhaul participation in decision making across the country by bringing democracy closer to people.

A series of independent reports have shown that it is time for this new, radical, local approach. Communities across Europe are already feeling the benefits and there’s a buzz about what can be achieved here.

We believe that it’s time to recognise the difference that local accountability makes.  If you agree, join us in building a stronger democracy. Download a copy of #CHOOSELOCAL from the COSLA website at and follow us on twitter using the #chooselocal hashtag.