EK News Column – 7 September 2016

Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014 truly engaged people in thinking about their future and the future of our country. No matter how people voted, the participation in both the vote and the decision taken was energising – from school pupils through to our oldest residents everyone had something to say.

We should have something to say; we should be listened to. That’s why I was delighted to be there last Friday to hear Nicola Sturgeon launch the new national survey. The Scottish National Party wants to gain a nationwide understanding of people’s views on Europe, Brexit and independence. We want to grow consensus across Scotland in the wake of recent political events. Things have changed since the UK chose to leave the European Union, against the wishes of Scotland’s voters, and we have the right to discuss exactly how we deal with this.

So, look out in East Kilbride for SNP activists asking for your opinion. We want to know the concerns that people have and we want to know your views – whether for independence, against independence or undecided. Please take part. Everyone’s point of view is important.

Of course, it’s not just on the National question that people should have the power to make changes and take decisions on what affects day-to-day life. The well-worn phrase “all politics is local” holds much truth. So much that affects us, our families and friends, is decided and implemented at a local level.

I have long espoused the view that often the best decisions are made by those who are most closely affected by them. Indeed, prior to being elected to the Scottish Parliament, I saw the truth of this in action in my career with community-based housing associations. It was the voluntary management committee of local people in East Kilbride who took the initiative to maintain a stock of social-rented housing in the town. This in the face of the erosion of the rented housing supply through the right-to-buy legislation. People who cared about their town.

Local decision-making and finance for communities is a good way forward – the jargon is Community Empowerment and Participatory Budgeting and the Scottish Government has introduced both. I would like to see South Lanarkshire Council really taking this on board and recognising that the needs and aspirations of East Kilbriders are not necessarily the same as those of, for example, the residents of Hamilton or Biggar. To be fair to SLC they are, I understand, considering some of this, but I would hope for a much more proactive regime in community ownership and public services. True involvement of local people who care about their town could be transforming and cost-effective.

Most councils in Scotland are highly-centralised organisations that too often become distant and disengaged from the day-to-day concerns of those they serve, despite the best intentions of elected councillors and hard-working staff. Here in East Kilbride we have seen the removal of Council functions and services at a local level. Many residents have told me of their view that decisions are handed down from the County Buildings in Hamilton in a top-down way. People end up feeling that they have no control over what the Council does to the places they live in, the services and facilities they use, and pay for, and sometimes even their own lives. Time for a major rethink? Let me know your view.

So, let’s not listen to those who try to close down healthy debate. We’re perfectly able to have informed and sensible discussion about what’s important to us, to our communities, our towns and our country. We all have the right to be heard!

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