Populism Vs Democracy

'Power to the People' is a very populist concept, but populism and democracy are, in my mind at least, two very different things.

Democracy to me has accountability at its heart.  I know (or can find out easily) who my MSPs and Councillors are.  I can hold them accountable through the ballot box.  Before I give them my vote they tell me what they intend to do.  If I do not like what they do, or do not consider they have done it, I can vote against them in future.

Seperating decision making power from accountability is, in my mind at least, a very dangerous path to start down, and owes more to populism than democracy.


Why the contribution is important

I consider it essential that those who can make decisions which affect me with regard to public service provision can also be held to account for their actions.  Government, both local and national, is subject to democratic accountability, press scrutiny, and professional oversight by auditors etc.  I have grave concerns about replacing this form of accountable decision making with a 'free-for-all' where accountability is weakened or lost entirely.

The proposal to 'devolve power downwards' or 'closer to the people' begs many questions - What are the powers that need to be devolved and why? Who are 'the people' that these new powers will be given to? How will those given new powers be selected?  How will they be held to account?

by SuzieQue on July 25, 2018 at 09:43PM

Current Rating

Average score : 3.6
Based on : 3 votes


  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 27, 2018 at 13:35

    Thank you for your contribution Suzie. You raise some really good questions, which get to the heart of the issues the review is looking at.

    In particular, You raise the important issue of accountability. There is no proposal to separate decision-making from accountability: if there is a move to new forms of decision-making at the community level then there will need to be appropriate mechanisms for accountability alongside them. You identify the ballot box as the cornerstone of democracy, but could we complement this with far more frequent opportunities for community involvement in decision-making on some issues? If so, are there arrangements which could enhance accountability? Really interested to hear what you and others think.
  • Posted by SuzieQue August 09, 2018 at 19:41

    I think opportunities for community involvement would have to be advisory only if accountability is to be maintained. Ultimate responsibility should rest with those who are prepared to publish a manifesto, seek election, and be judged by their actions.

    I cannot stress enough how important I feel it is that if someone makes a decision that effects me, they must be able to be held to account either democratically through the ballot box, or in the worst case legally. Passing decision making to communities, however you define them, would seem likely to fail to pass both these tests - decision making would be separated from accountability, unless participation was advisory only.

    Decision makers, whether in national or local government have well qualified advisors to guide their decision making from a financial, legal, equality and professional perspective. Communities are unlikely to have this level of advice, which may result in decisions being made with unintended negative consequences.

  • Posted by Kulthoz August 17, 2018 at 14:50

    SuzieQue makes some good points here.

    People these days are not inherently selfless and may wish to try to use new powers to make things better for themselves while (albeit potentially inadvertently) making things worse for others.

    For example a wealthier better educated community may be able to use new powers to prevent something like for example a smelly new landfill site being built near them. The alternative may then be to put it into a community with less education and less assets/ability to fight their corner.

    It's maybe an extreme example but my hope would be that more local democracy would enable people to positively shape their community while considering the impact that their decisions would have on others. This would require a robust framework and a lot of education as well as ongoing advice and support.
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