Monday, 21 May 2007

Of Size, and Governance


If you set out from Langholm, in Eskdale, and drive in a car to Drummore in the Rhinns of Galloway, you will drive 119 miles, and - according to Google's mapping system - it will take you 4 hours and eight minutes. If you didn't fancy Drummore, you could get to Stafford, in Staffordshire, in one minute less; or Dunkeld, in Perthshire, in five minutes less.
 
From Drummore, driving by road (and taking ferries where appropriate), you could get to Dunoon in Argyle or Dunblane in Perthshire quicker than you could get to Langholm. Even with the ferry, getting to Dundalk in the Republic or Ireland would only take 21 minutes longer.
 
So what's amazing or shocking about that?
 
Well, to get from Langholm to Stafford you pass through Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria, Lancashire, Manchester, Cheshire and finally Staffordshire. Six separate local government units. To get to Dunkeld you pass through Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire, Glasgow, East Dumbartonshire, Stirling, and Perth and Kinross; again, six local government areas.
 
To get from Drummore to Dunoon, you pass through five separate local government areas. Drummore to Dunblane is eight...
 
But Drummore to Langholm is only one: Dumfries and Galloway all the way. It's simply a perversion of language that a councillor from Langholm overseeing decisions which affect Drummore (or vice versa) is in any sense 'local' government. Dumfries and Galloway, if it were a nation, would be by no means the worlds smallest. At 6500 square kilometres it's larger than Palestine; larger than Brunei; larger than Trinidad and Tobago; more than twice as large as Samoa or Luxembourg; more than six times as large as Hong Kong; more than ten times as large as Singapore or Bahrain; more than 40 times as large as Liechtenstein; more than four thousand times the size of Monaco. In fact quarter of all the nations and self governing territories in the world have a land area smaller than Dumfries and Galloway.
 
Ah, you might say, but we have a sparse population. That's true, of course. Only 43 nations and self governing territories are less populous than Dumfries and Galloway.
 
But that's talking about nations, about independence. We don't have independence and we don't aspire to it. Let's look at how other small northern European countries organise local democracy. Take Iceland, for example. Iceland has a population twice the size of Dumfries and Galloway. It is divided into 'municipalities' which have responsibility for  kindergartens, elementary schools, waste management, social services, public housing, public transportation, services to senior citizens and handicapped people and so on. Not so very different, in fact, from the responsibilities of our local government. So, with a population twice that of Dumfries and Galloway, how many of these municipalities does Iceland have?
 
Two?
 
No.
 
The answer is seventy nine.
 
Iceland is an extreme case, of course; a nation of proud and independent people with an ancient history of democratic organisation, and strong civil society. But Denmark, with a population roughly equal to Scotland's, has three times as many local authorities. Norway, with three quarters our population, has 400 more local authorities than Scotland has.
 
Put it differently: Dumfries and Galloway has three times the population of the average Danish local authority; four times of the average Swedish or Dutch; twelve times the average for Norway; thirty six times the average for Iceland. I said Iceland was an extreme case, didn't I? Get this. Dumfries and Galloway has eighty four times the population of the average - the average - French commune.



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