GLORY be. There is finally consensus about breaking up the massive Highland Council.

Today’s local election results will likely provide another mandate for indyref2. But that single, long overdue act of decentralisation could have a domino effect that proves just as transformational.

Ending the democratic nonsense of a “local” council the size of Belgium would be a historic act – reversing the undemocratic centralisation of local government and disempowerment of towns, islands, villages by Westminster in the 70s and 90s.

Back then, without a Scots Parliament, we were in no position to resist the Tories 1974 reorganisation or their replacement of the 57 regions and districts then created with just 32 huge unitary councils two decades later – a level of centralisation they didn’t dare impose on England.

READ MORE: Break up of Highland Council is on the ballot at Scotland's local elections

So, Scotland has the largest “local” government units in the developed world with an average of 175,000 people per council compared to the EU’s average of just 10,000.

And that really matters. Not just for our communities but for independence.

Every day (and despite the best efforts of councillors and staff) these whopping, remote, bureaucratised regional councils, dent our faith in and diminish our experience of self-government. Where Scots should be busiest, liveliest and most engaged – right where we stand – there is nothing.

Is it a coincidence that our under-engaged, disempowered electorate lacked the confidence to vote Yes in 2014? I think not.

Consider. In 2012, one in 2071 Scots stood for election, compared to one in 88 Norwegians. Our turnout was 39%. Theirs was 65%. They had 429 councils. We had 32 – for roughly the same population.

The National:

Democratic disengagement is a real passion killer. And I’d guess it deflates the case for independence as well. Because self-government doesn’t just mean freedom from Westminster – it also means freedom from the whole British system of top-down, remote, elite control.

This is the biggest difference between Scotland and our nearest neighbours. Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are not just small, indy countries, they are also hyper-powerful, vibrant local democracies where the state isn’t a single elected parliament, but the composite of its many local parts. Publicly owned services – like energy in Norway – are the product of hundreds of individual hydro dams owned by local municipalities, not one giant nationalised corporation based in Oslo. And income tax isn’t the sole preserve of state capitals.

In Sweden the average taxpayer sends nothing to the Riksdag – it’s funded by higher rate taxpayers and corporation taxes. All their income tax goes to their local municipalities. No wonder Sweden has a 92% turnout at local elections.

Across the other Nordic nations, there’s an agreed formula that sends roughly 20% of income tax directly to councils and no footering with anything like the regressive property-based council tax. So, pint-sized councils can move ahead with developments larger councils could squabble over for years or procure at several times the cost of locally run projects that cut corners with donated land, volunteer talent and local sweat labour.

That’s how the Faroese council of Vagur (pop 1377) built a 50m swimming pool for a quarter of the “official” cost. Former mayor Dennis Holm says the town wants to create an experience economy, coaxing youngsters back to start their own families after university, by creating memories of childhood full of sports, activity and positivity.

And that’s possible because Vagur is not run from anywhere else and harnesses the talents of its people every day.

Do we? Only by lengthy, complex community buyouts, which leave the over-large formal structure totally intact.

Norway’s local government minister Ole Narud told a recent Nordic Horizons event that small councils deliver services by co-operating with neighbours and hiring directors who are also part-time workers. Home lies a short walk not a day’s drive away, which means council meetings are held in the evening and councillors aren’t paid because they can hold down daytime jobs. Poorer councils are supported by transfers from richer neighbours and central government.

In short – it’s all eminently doable, if we redefine our idea of self-government as freedom from ALL distant control.

Take Norway. The 112 men who drew up its 1814 Constitution decided that each parish should also be a self-governing municipal council and legislation in 1837 delivered on that promise – 70 years before Norway’s formal independence from Sweden. According to historian, Ernst Sars: “There was at that time scarcely any European state where local self-government was so well organised and so widely ramified as in Norway.”

Did this grassroots empowerment boost support for national independence? Just a bit.

And unfortunately, the never-ending centralisation of democracy in Scotland has had the opposite effect. How will Scots run our country as an independent state? Fa kens. The vast bulk of us haven’t had the slightest opportunity to find out what we’re made of.

There’s more. The post-war Labour government’s nationalisation programme took some powers from private industry but many more from local councils – 80% of water supply, 70% of hospital beds, 66% of electricity generation, 40% of gas manufacture, almost all post-school education outside universities, new house-building, public transport and all social security benefits not based on national insurance.

The welfare state revolutionised lives but it did so at the expense of the local democratic state and clumped services together in a way Margaret Thatcher would find easy to privatise.

READ MORE: Scottish Highland council elections 2022: No such thing as a local issue here

According to Professor Jerry White: “Command and control does not work. The micro-management of targets from Whitehall has become a farce. Scandals of NHS procurement, of IT investment vitiated by corruption, of financial blunders leading to mountainous local debt, of corporate governance arrangements that permit conflicts of interest, have provided unceasing noises off for two decades.

“Responsibility for the mess has become blurred in a nightmare forest of organisations … and alongside it all, the democratic deficit … has resulted in a sham local accountability unable to add value because it has no real control over things on the ground.”

It’s controversial. But is he right? Won’t Scots contemplating the establishment of a new state even discuss this?

The theft of Scottish waters by the Blair government still rankles. The poll tax experiment and the presence of Trident near apparently expendable Glasgow still annoy.

But the undemocratic dismantling of Scotland’s local self-government – we’ve learned to live with it.

That’s partly because truly local councils were once the personal fiefdoms of the great and good. But some urban councils were radical seed beds of change.

The great Labour war secretary Tom Johnston who famously brought power to the glens by requisitioning parts of Highland sporting estates, started life as a councillor in Kirkintilloch, setting up a Municipal Bank which offered good rates to local savers and even better rates for loans to the town council, enabling all sorts of local services – like the first public baths for workers at the Lion Iron foundry.

Scotland would have looked and felt very different if our democracy had continued in the same municipal vein – powerfully local and engaged.

But we are where we are and the possibility of dismantling Highland Council is a great start.

All political parties – even the Tories – agree it must be broken up, but that’s easier said than done and there will be nervousness in more remote and less affluent areas. But done wholeheartedly – with guidance from our very willing Nordic neighbours – the Highlands could provide a pioneering template to “right-size” Scottish democracy.

Not overnight. But not in the blue yonder. And for a country that aims to govern itself within a decade – that’s a fairly seismic shift.

Dennis Holm and State Secretary Narud feature in the latest Nordic Horizons podcast