Scotland is a step closer to having its own ‘rural parliament’ to empower communities and give them a greater opportunity to influence decisionmaking, networking and to share expertise.
A report by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) Rural Policy Centre highlighted the experiences of countries which already have rural parliaments, including the benefits and potential pitfalls, success stories and the various formats used.
Richard Lochhead, Rural Affairs Secretary, said: “Scotland’s rural areas have a vibrant and dynamic community spirit borne from a strong sense of place. Surrounded by the magnificent landscape for which our nation is famous and with so much of our world-renowned natural larder on the doorstep, there are many benefits to living in Scotland’s more rural areas.
“But the distances involved bring with them different challenges from those faced in less remote parts of the country. Scotland’s rural parliament will empower our rural communities, giving them a stronger voice and genuine access to decision-making.
By doing this I am confident that our resilient and entrepreneurial rural communities will get the support and opportunities they need to flourish and grow.” The rural parliament will be designed not as another layer of government but to act as a facilitation process that would bring Scottish Government closer to rural Scotland.
The Rural Parliaments in Europe report was produced for the Scottish Government by the SAC Rural Policy Centre. Researcher Dr Mike Woolvin said: “Our study found that government involvement and commitment to setting up a Scottish rural parliament is important but that it must be done in partnership with others.
“Enthusiasm, engagement and drive from the grassroots is vital, as a rural parliament cannot be imposed from the top-down. It is particularly vital that the parliament is well resourced from a variety of sources and that recommendations are quickly translated into actions by policymakers and politicians. There is great willingness from others involved in rural parliaments in Europe to share expertise.” Welcoming the initiative, Vanessa Halhead, Director of the European Rural Community Association (ERCA), said: “Rural parliaments have proved themselves to be an excellent vehicle for giving the rural communities a strong presence and voice on the national stage. For rural Scotland, this is the start of a very exciting initiative, and will have full support from ERCA.” The Rural Parliaments in Europe report looked at such parliaments in six countries – Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia. The creation of a rural parliament for Scotland was included in the 2011-12 Programme for Government.