Development Councils: A Proposal For A New System Of Local Democracy In Scotland

Overview —

Common Weal held a series of in-depth discussions with a wide range of individuals and organisations working in local democracy and community development based on an outline plan for a new tier of local democracy in Scotland. The outline plan was then revised and adapted on the basis of the comments received during those conversations. This is the final proposal.


Robin McAlpine

Linda Pearson

Dr Craig Dalzell


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Scotland has the worst degree of local democracy in Europe. To correct this, Scotland should create a new tier of local democracy at the community level. The size and shape of each new democratic area should be defined by communities themselves through a participatory process. Each area should then be represented by a Development Council, elected by every member of the community aged 16 or above.


― Scotland is almost unique in Europe for not having a truly local level of government. What we currently call our Local Authorities are equivalent to a European Regional Government.

― The Community Councils we have instead of local government are essentially powerless and in many places are dysfunctional or non-existent (though excellent examples of Community Councils do exist)

― We propose a system of local government that draws from the best examples of Community Councils and Development Trusts to create what we are calling “Development Councils”

― Wholesale reform of local government is possible with the powers of devolution but disentangling governance systems – especially IT and data systems – would be costly and complex.

― A compromise solution is to create a system of municipal governments at a local level but enable them to “pull down” powers from the renamed Regional Authorities upon request. Civil servants responsible for administering those powers would then speak to the Development Council.

― The size and boundaries of the Development Councils would be determined by local residents taking into account of population size and historic community.

― The Councils would be elected on fixed terms and would be governed and directed by an annual Citizens’ Assembly of residents of their constituency.

― Development Councils should be fully funded and given local tax raising powers. An illustrative budget for several communities in Scotland is given as an example.

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