We must champion Scotland’s communities
Shaun Fraser says decisions on the future of Scotland’s disparate communities are best taken by those who care the most about these communities: the people who live and work there.
I don’t believe in centralisation.
I don’t believe that things work more efficiently from a central control. I don’t believe that government works in the best interests of peripheral communities when it is drawing emphasis towards the centre; invariably the needs of the ‘far away’ are muffled by the clamour of the more immediate.
For a small nation, Scotland is intensely disparate. We have the huge bulk of our population concentrated in the cities and towns of the central-belt and along the east coast. What speckles the vast remainder of the country are townships and villages varying in rurality, connectivity and investment.
Devolution is a hugely empowering and effectual force. This force should be dispersed across Scotland for the benefit of all regions. Decision making should not be swelled and beheld solely in Edinburgh. Where appropriate, power should be entrusted to our local authorities and communities. To pinch a turn of phrase, decisions on the future of these communities are best taken by those who care the most about these communities: the people who live and work there.
The SNP seem quite content for devolution to halt at Holyrood. Since coming to power in 2007 they have centralised decisions about policing and fire services in the central belt. This has damaged local accountability. It has led to police with guns patrolling the streets of the Highlands; community policing Old Firm style. Control rooms and public counters at police stations have been closed.
In the health service, the Scottish Government has imposed a new rule on health boards limiting the amount they can spend on capital works at hospitals without the permission of central government. This means the central government now has centralised decisions on major works at hundreds of hospitals, rather than the decisions being taken more locally.
Local councils have had their funding and council tax levels dictated stringently by central government. The degree of austerity which has been imposed on our local authorities without allowing them the means by which to mitigate this has been scandalous. It has led to essential support services being cut and valued public amenities closing.
The SNP believe in the transfer of power from one domineering parliament to another. They use devolution as an instrument through which to be nation-builders, consolidating authority in the capital and imposing a conceited one-size-fits-all Scottish solution for everywhere from Maryhill to Mangurstadh.
Nicola Sturgeon made a promise about delivering a new deal for Scotland’s islands before the Holyrood election earlier this year. The detail of this was thin but the spirit is to be welcomed. However, any action taken should take place with the whole of Scotland in mind. We should push for similar packages for the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, the Borders etc. Each region has its own specific propensity.
We in Scottish Labour should be grappling this issue robustly. Scotland has a vacuum in democratic diffusion. The voices of our peripheral communities are being undermined. As a party, too, often it feels that on a UK-level we are chattering in a Shoreditch bubble and on a Scottish-level we are facing solely towards our remnants in the central-belt.
We should be fighting for strong communities with strong voices, for rights matched by responsibilities. Above all else we should be striving to make ourselves valid to the wider nation.
This is about giving voice to the country at large. Devolution is a process not a destination. We need to fight for power for a purpose.