WHAT happens now?

That’s a question I have been asked many times since Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation as leader of the SNP and as First Minister of Scotland just over five weeks ago. It seems like a lot of politics has been squeezed into that short time, far too much, some might say. There will be plenty of time for dissecting history in the months and years to come but what happens next will be determined by decisions taken right now.

There is no doubt that this is the end of an era. Nicola’s presence in – and then dominance of – Scottish politics has been all-encompassing and with the omnipresent John Swinney leaving the front bench at the same time, there truly will be a changing of the guard.

It tells you everything you need to know about both Nicola and John that part of their reason for doing it now was to give others the chance to lead, to grow and to shine. They could easily have continued for several more years and SNP members would have been delighted.

Everybody in Scotland and beyond knows that Nicola Sturgeon is by far the most accomplished, successful and celebrated politician we have elected. That made her untouchable, which is why there never were and never would have been any serious challenges to her leadership.

But she recognised that whilst the focus was all on her, others with ideas and talent and something significant to give to Scotland and our quest for independence, were being overshadowed. So, being the stateswoman that she is and loving our party and our movement as she does, she stepped aside.

As I said in last month’s column, some kind of temporary implosion was then inevitable – although I possibly underestimated the intensity of it. This is undoubtedly a time of seismic change for the party, but I remain confident that it’s necessary and we will emerge, in the very near future, stronger, more united and more determined than ever. For the vast majority of the population, our epoch-defining moments are just a few news bulletins.

None of their personal circumstances have been altered by debates or newspaper columns, none of their concerns or fears have been put to bed by internal campaign rhetoric. These things will only be addressed by action, by hard work, and by delivering on our vision for a fairer, better Scotland.

The bedrock of this better Scotland is our local communities and neighbourhoods and within them, there is a wealth of ideas and talent that we need to help empower.

I often hear complaints that there has been a loss of local spirit and pride in once-vibrant communities but I think much of this is down to a loss of agency.

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There is not the same control or involvement in what happens in people’s immediate surroundings, so they feel disconnected from the place they live and the people they share it with.

In Glasgow, we are really beginning to turn the tide on this with a number of successful community organisations working in partnership with the city council to take facilities into local control and really improve on their offering.

In the past few days, I have been delighted to see the SNP city council really invest in this model of community empowerment in the north-east of the city, an area with some of the highest deprivation in the country but with the most dedicated and engaged local organisations anywhere.

The pandemic has been devastating for local facilities. It forced the closure of many public buildings and on top of that, the loss of revenue and rapid inflation has made reopening extremely difficult. Molendinar Community Centre was one such venue and has been closed for almost exactly three years.

However, there has been an absolute power of work done during that time to ensure that it would open back up with more on offer to the community than ever before.

This week, the city council awarded St Paul’s Youth Forum more than £400,000 of Shared Prosperity Funding to reopen the facility. Their partnership working with the college, community council and local schools will result in a community centre run by and for the people of Blackhill and Provanmill in my constituency.

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On the same day last week, Basketball Scotland was also awarded more than £270,000 to reopen the Easterhouse Sports Centre in partnership with other community organisations, once it is no longer being used as a vaccination centre. Added to this is the very successful asset transfer of Stepford Football Centre to Family Action In Rogerfield And Easterhouse and Easterhouse Football Academy.

The East End of Glasgow truly is blazing a trail in community empowerment and successful partnerships working to develop and improve local services.

Helping to build confident communities where people feel a sense of control in their own lives is how we build a confident nation that has the belief that it is best placed to make the decisions that really matter.

So, I return to my opening question: What happens now?

My answer is that for the party and the country, we need a renewed focus on the local. Local government, local solutions and the empowerment of local communities.

Let’s get things right in your street and in your neighbourhood and bring that sustained majority with us on that next big step to independence.