Disconnected Democracy? A Survey Of Scottish Community Councils’ Online Presences
Smith, C. (2014). Disconnected Democracy? A Survey Of Scottish Community Councils’ Online Presences. Scottish Affairs, 23, (4), 486-507.
Community Councils are the bottom rung of Scotland’s democracy ladder, having few – but highly significant – statutory consultative duties (especially with regard to planning) and no service-delivery duties. Generally they have failed to live up to expectations in terms of activity and impact, and have struggled to gain legitimacy. Despite this, they are often highlighted in policy debates around community involvement, and have been on the agenda again recently with the release of two significant reports calling for increased powers, and the publication of a Scottish Government working group report examining ways to build their resilience and capacity.
The Internet potentially offers Community Councils potentially useful capabilities. However, survey data shows that only 22% of Community Councils maintain up-to-date online public presences and only 4% have easily-accessible content relating to planning. Worse, only 14% of up-to-date presences support digital dialogue. Such poor communication is a digital symptom of a disease of poverty, namely CCs’ lack of duties and relevance.
This article examines these digital symptoms and suggests appropriate treatment. Without such treatment, the CC system may well just die. The article provides detailed data and analysis to inform the ongoing debate. It updates a study carried out in 2004 to 2006, investigating how technology could be developed to help regenerate democracy at the local community level. Although the 2012 survey reveals some good examples of active online presences and support by local authorities, in general there is no sense of improvement in information provision online.
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