The first meeting of Scotland’s Rural Parliament will be held next year, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs has announced.
The Scottish Government says the Rural Parliament “will empower Scotland’s rural communities by bringing people and policy makers together to look at improving policies and actions that address rural issues”.
The announcement comes a week after Richard Lochhead was in Stockholm to meet representatives from Hela Sverige Ska Leva (‘All Sweden Shall Live’), the rural movement responsible for organising the biennial Swedish Rural Parliament.
Following a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet in Campbeltown, Mr Lochhead said: “Living in rural Scotland has many advantages including stunning landscapes and a vibrant and dynamic community spirit. It also brings different challenges compared to living in less remote areas.
“Scotland’s Rural Parliament will celebrate rural culture and empower our rural communities, giving them a stronger voice and a better say in policy making.
“It is a model that works well in other European countries, and I was able to see this first hand on my recent visit to Sweden, where villages and communities work together and share ideas. I would like a similarly strong rural movement in Scotland ahead of the first sitting of our parliament.
“The Rural Parliament Management Group will now get on with the job of setting up the Parliament, involving rural communities across Scotland, and organising its first session. I look forward to being updated on its progress.”
Norman MacAskill, head of rural policy with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said:
“The rural parliament model has been tried and tested in many European countries, and the time is right to give it a go in Scotland.
“A Scottish Rural Parliament could enable a stronger, more coherent voice for Scotland’s rural communities that reflects their strengths, their common interests and their rich diversity.”
John Hutchison, a director of Community Land Scotland, said: “We are interested in any mechanism that might encourage rural policy development and strengthen links between the community and the land. We have much to learn from social democracy in Europe and welcome steps to build a Rural Parliament in Scotland.”
Angus Hardie, director of the Scottish Community Alliance, said: “Many European countries have already adopted this concept of a ‘rural parliament’ with the result that their rural communities have a much stronger presence on the national policy landscape .
“The announcement that the Scottish Government is to support the establishment of a rural parliament in Scotland is very good news for the community sector.”
Sandy Brunton, chair of the Development Trusts Association (DTA) Scotland, said: “As the representative body of some of Scotland’s most dynamic rural community organisations, DTA Scotland has a strong interest in creating an effective voice for rural communities.
“DTA Scotland played an active role within the Rural Development Council and have been heavily involved in the Rural Parliament Working Group. Conscious of the important contribution which rural parliaments have made in other European countries, DTAS welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to establish a Scottish Rural Parliament and looks forward to actively engaging in this process.”
The Rural Parliament, which will sit every two years, is not a formal part of government nor a legislative or decision making body, but will make recommendations based on the priorities identified by rural communities. Its core principals require it to be ‘rooted in and empowering of rural communities’ and ‘independent and politically neutral’.
The membership of the body and the date of its first sitting have not been announced.