Image courtesy of here
Last week the Scottish parliament quietly progressed with another of their manifesto promises. In its 2011 election manifesto the SNP made a commitment to take forward proposals for a Rural Parliament. The commitment was reaffirmed in the SNP's 2011-12 Programme for Government.
A report, a study of existing Rural Parliaments in Europe commissioned by the Scottish government and researched at SAC, has been published. It examines Rural Parliaments in six countries.
One of the main characteristics of the rural movement is that they were usually established to 'give a voice' to rural people and to act as a forum through which to engage with policy-makers and politicians. It was found Rural Parliaments usually meet every two years and each meeting tends to last two days (although this ranges from one to three days) and involves a mix of workshops, plenary sessions, exhibitions, visits and time for networking and socialising.
Finance is drawn from multiple sources including the public, private and third sectors.
The study suggests that around 300 participants seems to be the ideal number and an event held over 2 days will enable plenty of networking opportunities. The event should be a dynamic celebration of the culture, food, music etc of the local area or, as an alternative, a high profile national venue, such as the Scottish Parliament, could host it.
It also notes that 'it can be useful to engage well-known and well-respected individuals (such as former politicians or sports personalities) in driving the process forward and in raising the profile of the event itself.
I live in rural Scotland and at times, when I listen to Westminster and Holyrood politicians, I wonder how many politicians realise the problems (and benefits) rural living can offer. Last week I listened to Patrick Harvie being interviewed on Newnicht about the now-not-to-be tanker drivers' strike. He mentioned that in 20 years time moving vast amounts of fuel would not be happening because people will have moved away from petroleum consuming vehicles to electric ones.
Having available transport is an essential part of living in a rural area. Nobody expects a public transport to meet their every need, but will the countryside of Scotland - or the rest of the UK for that matter - be awash with electric cars in 20 years time? I think not.
Back to rural parliaments. The Scottish Government has said ' a rural parliament would bring it closer to rural Scotland rather than the introduction of a further layer of government'. Having scanned the SAC's report, it may not quite be another tier of government but it could well be another NGO and that would be of little benefit to rural communities and an expense taxpayers could do without.
Would a rural parliament be another talking shop or would it be set up in such a way that it would - not could - give the ordinary rural dweller a say in the government of the country? If the representatives are to number around 300, I would think they would be the 'usual suspects' such as the NFU, Tourist Boards, the Scottish Countryside Alliance etc. They already have strong voices and easy access to Holyrood so is there any need to pay for another platform for them?