A NETWORK of pro-democracy organisations has launched a major overhaul of “hyper-centralised” local democracy in Scotland as new polling reveals a stark divide between voters and councils.

The Our Democracy coalition, led by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Scotland, wants “genuine local democracy” on the agenda for this election, following calls from Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly to let people decide how they are governed locally.

Now the coalition has urged new powers for local communities to set up Citizens’ Assemblies to hold councils to account, and not only at election time.

Scotland has some of the largest and most distant councils in Europe and the network said people feel geographically and politically distanced from them. Parties need the “trust in communities” thinking that got us through the pandemic, with a bold Local Democracy Bill

Our Democracy has launched a declaration backed by community groups across Scotland calling for a new way of doing local democracy, to allow communities a proper say in how we rebuild post-Covid. They are urging people to sign up to push parties into action.

Polling for the group’s launch by Savanta ComRes revealed a crisis of representation at a local level, with voters feeling sidelined and powerless.

Two-thirds of people surveyed (67%) felt they have little or no influence over decisions that affect their local community; only 5% of respondents felt they have a lot of influence; and around a fifth (18%) said they had some influence.

Our Democracy’s petition went live today, backed by mutual aid and community groups across Scotland.

Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland, said: “The pandemic has given us a glimpse of what this polling tells us people want and need. Communities coming together to make decisions for themselves not only makes better decisions but these very acts strengthen the bonds of caring and support. Then people feel that they ‘can do’ and that they have the power to do.

“This is ‘strength training’ for Scotland’s democratic muscle.”

Evie Love, founder of Earth In Common, added: “Local democracy should of course be fully embraced, this is vitally important for healthy communities. People do tend to

know what solutions are needed in their local area.”