Community Empowerment Web Site. (2018 Draft)

We hope to help your communities take control of their own constituencies

Has your community been empowered?

Ask your community councillor

As a community councillor, do you trust your elected representatives to answer the above question? If not, why don't you? Given that many politicians claim to be democratic what do they mean? Will they implement their constitutional duty? Do they claim you need to be retrained before you can recognise your obligations and duties?

When discussing the progress of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill some community councillors asked "how can we assess the progress of the bill given elected representatives seemed to pay no attention to our initiatives at local and national levels", CCDF (2012).

This Web site attempts to explore any concerns you may have regarding the current implementation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (Act).

Who first suggested democracy?

Historians refer to Cleisthenes as "the father of Athenian democracy. He created a fully and direct democratic system of government (DD) in circa 590 BCE which all citizens could participate making decisions.

Polis is a term that is used to describe a tight-knit, small community, for example a community council area or parish. Power is a right of all the community, especially the poor majority, which remains the guiding principle of Cleisthenes' democracy. This type of democracy is called a DD because citizens have the ability to vote directly on an issue rather than having an elected representative who votes on their behalf, as many "democracies" still do.

     Photograph of author

Brief history of democracy

A Rome poet Juvenal in 50 ACE warned citizens that "bread and circuses" would undermine their democracies. The need for Guardians of Democracy was ignored and Juvenal's prophecy was fulfilled when Rome died in 476 ACE and Europe fell back to despotic governance which launched the medieval age.

Things began to change for the better for Europe in the Renaissance. John Locke (1690) produced an essay entitled Human Understanding. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect "life, liberty and estate" deeply influenced Voltaire and the United States founding fathers. Locke is regarded by some people as the father of modern democracy where the people are sovereign and legislature is selected by the people. England and Scotland merged in 1707, the Poles and Lithuanians followed suit and the French completed the 18th century with their revolution in 1787 - 1792.

Thomas Muir (1793) was a Glasgow solicitor. He was against patronage and wanted to return to the old relationship of church and state. This was unacceptable since it would turn the clock back and break up the Union, a position that resulted in his transportation to Australia for advocating democratic principles in Scotland.

A patron could be the King or Queen, University, Landowner, Town or Burgh Council such as Glasgow which was empowered to fill government positions with employees of their own choosing where "it's not what you know, it's who you know that matters". A medieval practice that still exists in the 21st century, according to Murdo MacLeod In the grip of the Party (2002).

Eight states in the USA enable the six most common forms of DD. Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon. Direct democracy has also come to the EU in Netherlands, Austria and Slovenia and also in Malaysia and Ghana (2012).

Has the Act changed anything?

How do we answer the above question? Sherry Arnstein suggestion was the ladder of participation (1969) which consists of eight steps from arbitrary governance to equal partnership.

The Scottish Government, How Scotland Works and some public servants and academics recommend that we should depend on experts for governance. This position was challenged by Francis Galton in 1906 and is supported by many since. Like Darwin, he came under attack from experts and bureaucrats who challenged the modern approach. Even some community councillors insisted "we've always done it that way".

Local citizens in Glasgow have shown that their Community Planning Partnership seems to have kept to their usual affiliations where some local public spaces have already been built on and still more threatened. This is reminiscent of patronage where empowerment seems to be reserved for approved businesses, local associations, housing associations interest groups, builders etc. but not for local communities.

The Scottish Government's argument

The Scottish Governments Web site What is democracy? (2018) emphasizes the complexities involved if we were to adopt DD. Tip O'Neil(1994) disagreed. He represented Massatuches which has a population slightly higher than Scotland yet entitled his book "All politics are local".

Finally we hope this brief note may help you devise your own questions.

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