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‘Democracy’? – Calls for reform as Scotland’s councils found to some of the ‘least local’ in Europe

CAMPAIGNERS have called for a shake-up as research found that Scotland’s councils are some of the least “local” in Europe.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) found that while England has an average of 2,814 people per councillor, Norway 572 and Denmark 2,216, the average councillor in Scotland has to look after 4,155 constituents.

The ERS is calling for an overhaul of local democracy in the next session of the Scottish Parliament, saying councils have become too remote from the communities they serve.

As well as larger populations, Scotland’s local authorities also tend to have larger geographical areas.

The ERS says the average local authority in Scotland has an area of 2,434.7 sq km – while the EU average is 50 sq km.

Permanent citizens’ assemblies at a local level could be part of the solution, the ERS says.

Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland, said: “These stark findings cast a light on just how distant many ‘local’ councils sadly are, following years of centralisation.

“Councillors have an incredibly tough job, representing thousands of people, with ever-increasing caseloads.

“It’s not fair on voters or their representatives that these mega-councils often feel remote and separate from their communities.

“That’s why we need to see ambitious reform to give citizens a far stronger voice in their areas.”

ERS Scotland believe ‘distant mega councils’ are putting a strain on communities, and contributes to voters feeling distant and isolated from their services. The Our Democracy coalition led by ERFS Scotland is now calling for permanent, new Citizens’ Assemblies at a local level, to hold distant councils to account – backing upcalls of the recent Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland.

They’ve launched a new petition, with nearly 2,000 signatures so far, calling for parties to implement the proposals after next week’s Holyrood elections.

Mr Sullivan continued: “We need an ambitious Local Democracy Bill, that makes it easy for people to take power back to where they are.

“We’ve already seen them work and citizens’ assemblies could transform democracy.

“There’s a real appetite for people to get involved, to have a proper stake in running their areas.”

A recent poll for ERS Scotland found poll found a crisis of representation among voters at a local level: Two thirds of people surveyed (67%) feel they have little or no influence over decisions that affect their local community.

Only five percent of respondents felt they have a lot of influence, and around a fifth (18%) said they had some influence.

And some 81% of people think that citizens’ assemblies could be effective in deciding on local community priorities with a majority (54%) believing they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘much more’ effective than local councils.

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