Wither the Parish?

The historic arms of the Royal Burgh, paraded at the Common Riding in Selkirk
I HAVE RECENTLY discovered the hon. members of Selkirk Community Council conducting a terrifically worthwhile campaign which echoes some of the complaints I have long uttered regarding local government to anyone who will listen.
With the introduction of STV wards in local council elections in Scotland last year, numerous rural and urban areas, often with little or no relationship to one another, have found themselves grouped together in a system which emphasises party before candidate and central needs before local. While I agree with the noble aims of proportional representation, in this case it represents little more than the modern incarnation of a long-running trend towards centralisation.

Paisley Town Hall: today, no more than a glorified conference centre
Towns, villages and city districts are today represented by ‘community councils’ - the bastardised reform of the parish (which still exists for census purposes) introduced in 1975. Contrary to the wide powers given to Scottish towns, burghs and even villages in the past, community councils are entirely powerless bodies - their only standing is a consultative one before the local authority.
The Selkirk campaign is one for reinstatement of Royal Burgh status, which was abolished contrary to the terms of the 1707 Act of Union. I would extend this cause far further: that parishes should be restored throughout Scotland and awarded significant powers and funding. Furthermore, every parish that desires one should appoint a provost, not only as a leader of the parish council (this ‘community’ nonsense is as much a fudge as the abolition of status of county) but as the central civic representative and primary focus of administration.

Devolution, the building of cohesive communities and encouraging self reliance are ideas often thrown around in the halls of our legislatures in London and Edinburgh. Meanwhile in reality, these ideas have been crushed by decades of pointless reforms. It is rather ironic that Scotland, where devolution finds its apparently greatest support, also has the least powerful basic units of government in the United Kingdom.

I’ve included a few rather sad images of former burgh and town halls in my native Renfrewshire. Today, they are often found themselves empty. If the grace of the local authority allows (having inherited them for free), community councils may meet, largely ignored and completely emasculated. Restore, refill and reap the benefits!
Town Hall of the Royal Burgh of Renfrew - still partially in use

Coming soon: your humble correspondent direct his vitriol towards the current standing of local unitary authorities. .
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