Election 2021: Andy Wightman says that for him 'localism is not just a buzzword' but the best way to tackle a lot of the problems faced by the Highlands by bringing the people closer to the power and responsibility of decision-making
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Andy Wightman is more certain than ever that the country’s politics needs fundamental change if it is to meet the needs of the people – but only the people can deliver that.
Standing as independent candidate after resigning from Greens after the leadership tried to muzzle him over the gender recognition act he has been steadily making his way across the north.
At a stop off in Dingwall he revealed that too many people he met on the campaign trail are disenchanted by politics – something Mr Wightman said is "depressing."
But the antidote to the disenchantment he witnessed on the campaign trail is to “rediscover some of the Highland radicalism that existed” and start making “real demands of the political system.”
Citing the “wicked problem” of people being priced out of their local housing market to falling school rolls, he said: “No one has ever tackled it at a strategic level and say – do we want this to be a thriving place with folk living and working here, sending their kids to school here in 10, 15, 20, 50 years time or not?
"No one has asked that question but you've got to ask that question otherwise market forces take over.
“I think the most striking thing is it's a general disenchantment and cynicism about politics, which I find very depressing, because politics is about power and it's about change and it's about improving everyone's lot.
“You know I'm not a career politician, if I was a career politician then I'd still be in the Greens.
“I'm in politics because I want to help change the system, a system that makes it difficult for people themselves to effect change and therefore you get this reliance on people making promises that they'll do things on your behalf.
“When in fact what we need is much much more power in the hands of the citizens but that's the biggest thing, the disenchantment, disillusionment, cynicism and that's partly shared across Scotland.
“But there's a very specific Highlands and Islands dimension to that which is to do with the distance from power and that might be Inverness and it might be Edinburgh and it might be London as well.”
Almost every party in the election has talked up their plans for localism with varying degrees of credibility but Mr Wightman said he is convinced that only a bottom-up approach to power will be successful having seen it in action.
“Localism is not just a buzzword, it is about where a decision is best taken and there's universal understanding across the world that decisions should be taken as local as possible,” he said.
“So, I mean a light bulb moment for me was being in Norway in 2010, fire and rescue getting centralized in Scotland, asking the chief executive of a small municipality of 5000-6000 five six thousand voters – how do you deliver fire and rescue, you can’t each have your own service?
“He said – of course not but they all cooperate, all these other municipalities down to Lilyhammer in this case and they cooperate with others in primary education, primary health care, environment all that kind of stuff.
“So that bottom-up democracy is very, very flexible and you can regionalise it but the point is the fundamental power stays within the community and that's very different from the power we have which is a top-down model.
“Here the top tiers will give the lower, the smaller tier some power if it feels it is willing to do so and that relates to this wicked problem of people being priced out of the housing market or school rolls in places like Cromarty having fallen by half in the last 10 or 15 years.
“And in discussing the housing crisis with folk in Aviemore and Skye and other places like that it's evident that the political system can only do so much because political parties and governments tend to do only so much as is necessary to get people to the point of fake satisfaction and it's very poor doing structural change whether it's in the housing market, whether it's in local democracy.”
To do that he argued that the spark that ignited a wave of disenfranchised people to form movements like the Land League or the Crofters Party could now attack problems like housing and fuel poverty.
“The way to sort that I think is in people power so we need far more popular movements of people,” he said. “We had it in the islands in the late 19th century, you know, we had the Land League, we had people demanding change, we had the Crofters Party, so in a sense we need to rediscover some of the Highland radicalism that existed.
“So that is focused on making real demands of the political system, real demands – you've got to change this systemically not just throw a bit of money at it not just some freebies or not some subsidies, not some minor tweak to the regulation you’ve got to do something structural and you've got to work with each other on that.”