community

Community Assemblies and greater Decision-making powers.

In this week’s Community Safety Blog, I want to reflect upon community decision making and how as a model of active citizenship it can impact positively on all decision-making structures right up to national policy making in government. I have been reading the recently published Citizens Assembly Summary Report and as a model for involving ordinary people with the big issues of the day it has much to offer the practices of community empowerment. Citizens assemblies are new to Scotland, but they have been used successfully in many other nations, Australia, Canada France, Belgium, Poland and most recently the citizens’ assembly in the Republic of Ireland looked at issues including abortion, equal marriage and the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population.

Here are some very brief highlights lifted from our Scottish report:

6.

“The Citizens’ Assembly recommends that in order to

ensure that citizens can make informed decisions in

relation to rebuilding their communities the Scottish

Government and Parliament should:

establish community-based citizens’ assemblies

to assess what is happening in our communities

(including the effects of COVID-19), identify gaps

and recommend actions, including through digital

technology, that can bring people together and make

our communities more inclusive.

In my view this would work well in Camelon and Tamfourhill, it encourages localism and will ensure responses and activities really are appropriate to the needs and aspirations of local people. A local community -based citizens assembly of anywhere between 30 -100 members, they could be picked randomly within agreed demographics to ensure they are representative of the entire population and inclusive of all interests. I have a priority to support the formation of a community safety group for our local areas and this could easily be formed as an Assembly subgroup or community safety could be a key agenda item or theme for consideration by the wider assembly.  There is no reason why individuals could not be requested to participate on a similar basis as being called for jury duty, it could be treated as being a part of your responsibilities as a citizen, time of work would be guaranteed and of course a payment made to all Panel members. Alternatively, we could operate the Assembly in evenings or weekends and gift people for their time and participation.

37.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommends that in order to

overcome the challenges in relation to young people’s

health and wellbeing the Scottish Government and

Parliament should:

invest in and provide opportunities for all young people

to access extra-curricular activities, including sports

and the arts, with support and guidance for young

people to pursue opportunities that are right for them.

Through this national recommendation Young people can thus benefit though the provision of new leisure and creative opportunities, National government are now required to take notice and act upon this decision as agreed by the Assembly. Locally then this would operate along similar lines in Camelon and Tamfourhill, where Falkirk council, Local Community organisations and Statutory Agencies would be required to respond to the decisions reached by our own local Assembly.

I thought that was a particularly relevant recommendation:

55.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommends that in order

to overcome the challenges in relation to providing

equal internet access to all the Scottish Government

and Parliament should:

invest in infrastructure (and utilise existing

infrastructure) to widen mobile networks and remove

black spots, ensuring all communities have access

to the internet through free community hot spots

and publicly available hardware. Internet should be

considered as a basic need, free to all.

This really will address digital exclusion and providing a free phone service, especially for our elderly population would be a significant positive step to combatting social isolation and improving access to vital services.

59.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommends that in order

to ensure that citizens can make informed decisions

in relation to criminal justice reform the Scottish

Government and Parliament should:

undertake a full review of the criminal justice system

to improve outcomes for communities, offenders

and victims. This would include the reintroduction of

community policing, involving citizens in improving

local communications and services.

This could provide a big change to how we deal with criminality and anti-social behaviour and would work well in tandem with more restorative forms of justice and in directly involving the community with resolving the harm that has been done and remedying injustice in a smarter way. This is another area where a local citizens assembly could deliver big changes for the community.

The full Scotland Citizens Assembly report can be found here:

https://www.citizensassembly.scot/main-report

Dan our Community Coach recently in his blog was discussing free money and the Community choices programme, and this is another example of community decision making and an approach to improving grassroots and community democracy through participatory budgeting. We know about the role of community councils but there are other ways where we can enrich and extend local democracy. Oliver Escobar in his recent essay on the Futures in Common (Scotland after the Virus Gerry Hassan & Simon Barrow) discusses democratic innovations and describes processes where big policy-making decisions are conducted and made directly by citizens and not representatives or elected politicians. He lists: Mini-Publics (community assemblies), participatory budgeting (Community choices) and digital crowd sourcing (online decision making) He promotes the idea of Social commons, and this is a radical interpretation of models of community ownership, it has its origins in the common pastures and common lands that everybody once inhabited, enjoyed and utilised. These shared commons were in fact lands and resources held in common a form of community-based governance. We already have local community groups moving in the direction of asset transfers and taking back into community control buildings and facilities and this can be extended into parks and open spaces, canal towpaths, shops, and cafes. This is all about local democracy and community ownership and as we move towards COVID recovery and rebuilding aspects of our communities then this new democratic thinking provides a route map towards a more inclusive citizenship whilst encouraging greater communal responsibility.       

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