Greens believe in local democracy, but this is meaningless without empowered local communities.
That is why we focused on ensuring fairer funding for local government in the recent budget negotiations.
I was proud that along with my Green MSP colleagues we were able to secure an additional £160 million of funding for local services throughout Scotland in the budget negotiations with the Scottish Government. This will make a real difference to people’s lives.
Orkney will see an additional £1.1million of funding as a result of this deal, which can be invested in local services.
Of course the Scottish Green Party are not in government, and therefore naturally this is not a budget we would have proposed. However, we managed to push the Scottish Government beyond their comfort zone, and we will continue to push them to be bolder in the years ahead.
We have put forward proposals which would radically change how local councils are funded. The Council tax is outdated and unfair; it is based on house prices which are a quarter of a century out of date, and it ensures that those less well off in our communities pay a greater proportion of their income.
My colleagues and I believe that the Council Tax must end, and should be replaced with a fairer funding mechanism which works better for both local authorities and for the people who pay it.
Local democracy should not stop at the council chamber and we Greens believe that local communities should be encouraged and supported to make meaningful decisions for themselves.
Of course given the different circumstances across Scotland, this would vary from one community to another, but could include projects such as community owned renewable energy production, funding for a local charitable organisations or improvements to local infrastructure.
Participatory budgeting is a simple and radical concept which Green Councillors rolled out in Edinburgh a number of years ago.
It is simple because it allows those most directly affected by a decision to decide how money is spent; moving the decision making from local authority officials to communities.
I would ideally like to see funds set aside for participatory budgeting to be rolled out across the Highlands and Islands to allow local communities to have a real say on funding decisions which impact them.
I also believe that the forthcoming Islands Bill will present an opportunity for radical and transformative change in Scotland.
Scotland is currently one of the most centralised countries in Europe and this bill will give us an opportunity to empower our island communities in a way they never have been before.
This bill will hopefully start a much wider debate about the centralisation of power in Scotland and how it can be brought closer to people
The Islands Bill is a precious opportunity to make our island communities the pioneers of a powerful, decentralised, participatory local democracy, showing the way for change across Scotland and I look forward to exploring the opportunities it may provide.
This is a regular column by local MSP John Finnie
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