Be care­ful what you wish for over lo­cal democ­racy

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Stanhope Fire -

Very few of us re­ally learn from our own mis­takes; fewer still, I fancy, from the mis­takes of oth­ers. In the 1970s, the wool trade – long the sta­ple in­dus­try of the Scot­tish Bor­ders – found it­self in de­cline. Un­em­ploy­ment was ris­ing, high street shops were clos­ing and an air of gloom pre­vailed.

A g overn­ment spon­sored pro­gramme called the Bor­ders Buildup was in­sti­tuted and the town of Galashiels, for one, saw large new hous­ing es­tates be­ing built.

The idea was that an in­flux of fresh ideas and busi­nesses cou­pled with great pop­u­la­tion growth would pro­duce masses of new jobs. Abra­cadabra! Pros­per­ity and con­tent­ment would spread through­out the land.

The en­trenched old coun­cil had not been do­ing quite the job that the in­com­ers were happy with, and var­i­ous lo­cal com­mit­tees and pres­sure groups came into be­ing. Even­tu­ally, doors were opened to al­low of­fi­cially rec­og­nized Com­mu­nity Coun­cils to emerge.

The stated pur­pose of th­ese was to deal with lo­cal is­sues and to have a lim­ited de­gree of of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tion at var­i­ous Town Coun­cil meet­ings.

The new res­i­dents of Galashiels were de­lighted. Their new Com­mu­nity Coun­cil would, it was de­clared, form a con­duit through which opin­ions and in­for­ma­tion could flow from the lowli­est coun­cil ten­ant to the might­i­est in the land. Yea, even to the Laird of Galashiels him­self (mem­ory is vague on this point but I think the Laird at that time was a woman).

Vol­un­teers emerged, in­clud­ing smart-suited busi­ness­men, ex-Glaswe­gian ship­yard rad­i­cals and hand-knit­ted folkies. Elec­tions were held, of­fi­cers ap­pointed and the Com­mu­nity Coun­cil de­clared it­self to be up, run­ning and ready for busi­ness. Off they went with great gusto, pass­ing res­o­lu­tions and for­mu­lat­ing care­fully re­searched pro­pos­als for sub­mis­sion to the coun­cil proper.

Did the coun­cil re­act in the hope­d­for man­ner? Of course not. Their re­sponse to most pro­pos­als was one of ‘thanks but, re­gret­fully, no thanks’.

It soon be­gan to be felt that the whole Com­mu­nity Coun­cil thing had been a con.

The real pur­pose had not been to rep­re­sent – and present – lo­cal opin­ion in an ef­fec­tive man­ner; it was to fence it in, con­tain it and, by giv­ing it the il­lu­sion and trap­pings of of­fi­cial sta­tus, to draw the teeth of any rad­i­cal el­e­ments who may have been a threat to the sta­tus quo.

You who rel­ish the dream of a new dawn of lo­cal democ­racy, be care­ful what you wish for…

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