ON a cold wet day in December people representing community organisations attended an Open Space event in McDonald Road Library.
We had organised the event because I wanted to hear the comments and concerns of people. I was there to listen. I chose Open Space because it’s a process which lets ordinary people take the lead, rather than hearing what politicians have done or are going to do for them.
It’s risky, a new approach for mainstream politics, but from my point of view worth doing because the old way isn’t working well. People responded enthusiastically and seriously – discussion was good natured but people were listening to each other and really trying to find answers to complex questions. Certainly no shortage of ideas!
Change is coming to the Scottish Parliament, with greater powers, but people are sceptical that politicians will deliver what they want or what they think is required. They are also very tired of partisan politics – there was at least one action point that said it was time to take party politics out of housing policy. In the workshops I observed people seemed keen for more co-operation and collaboration – and power to be devolved to a local level – to tackle issues like the environment, inequality and care services.
This was what I discovered . . . after voting the most important issues for the community were:
• Care workers need to be better valued (status, pay, conditions, training) with investment by employers and community.
• Council and government should provide funding for childcare from the Scottish Government (no cuts).
• Devolve power down to local authority/community level
• Funding to create sustainable prototypes for circular economy
• Take party politics and profit out of housing
• City-wide audit of empty spaces
At the end of the session, final comments about the evening followed. Everyone said they enjoyed the event and hoped I would follow-up with another session. Some of the comments were “I did not think I had views but I do now” and “Please let’s keep talking and make some of these great ideas happen in real life”. Feedback continued next day on Facebook: “Thank you for organising such a thought-provoking event and giving us an opportunity to get our voices heard.” “I met independent thinkers with a heart for community.”
The discussions gave a clear signal to all parties of the changes sought by local communities. So what happens next? I want to continue our Open Space discussion and follow up with practical plans because real change will take positive action as well as words.
I believe that means working closely with communities – and taking the risk in handing more power to local communities – to enable the kind of inspiring innovations we heard at McDonald Road Library. But I am also aware the room was full of people who actively chose to be there. And although the opening and closing circles represented a wide mix of community interests there were also many gaps. I hope that – as we continue the community conversation – together we may bridge those gaps and make positive change a reality in Edinburgh North and Leith.
The discussions gave a clear signal to all parties that local communities are frustrated with mainstream politics and are keen for change. They want greater control over the things that matter to them in their area. If I take one thing from the session it is that if devolution of power is to mean anything, it has to be extended right down to the grassroots.
Councillor Lesley Hinds is the Labour and Co-operative Candidate for Scottish Parliament Election 2016