By Nick Kempe of Parkswatch
It has always required a bit of a juggling act on the part of the Scottish Government to pretend our National Parks are independent when they have almost no room for manoeuvre, but more so in the Cairngorms.
There board members have been far more independent-minded and more likely to do what they think is right than what they have been told to do by senior management and the civil servants behind them.
That almost certainly provides the real explanation for why the Scottish Government is now proposing to reduce the size of the boards, increase the proportion of members it appoints and to appoint the convener. (The proposals for legislative reform of National Parks are tucked away in Section 7 of the Scottish Government’s current consultation on tackling the nature emergency (see here)).
The proposal to increase Scottish Government powers over the National Park Boards is highly ironic given their long history of failing to advertise and fill the posts which they control (see here for recent example).
The arrogance may be breathtaking but when you have a board like that in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority (LLTNPA) the majority of whom won’t say boo to a goose, there is little need to rush to appoint another.
This increased centralisation, which should be viewed as an attack on democracy, is being justified by a supposed need for a National Parks to provide strong leadership in tackling the nature emergency.
The truth is that it is the Scottish Government that has been and continues to be responsible for the lack of action. The last thing our National Park Authorities need “to restore nature and tackle the climate crisis” is more “effective and efficient governance” of this sort.
Rather our National Park Authorities need more powers (almost none are proposed), real debate and more democracy.
It is significant the Scottish Government has made no proposals to reform the corrupt first past the post system by which local members are elected to the National Park Authority (see here for example) or the way in which the Scottish Government appoints board members.
Why not replace the current system where individuals put themselves up for boards with one that give nomination rights to organisations like Revive or the North East Mountain Trust which really do want change?
The Scottish Government is also proposing to amend the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 so that instead of other public authorities having “a duty to have regard to National Park plans” (see here) they have “an obligation to actively support and contribute to the implementation of National Park Plans”.
The difference is tiny but the proposal is all smoke and mirrors.
The Scottish Government already exercises similar controls to those it uses in relation to National Parks over the main public agencies and authorities whose work impacts on nature and climate change (Scottish Forestry, SEPA, NatureScot, Forest and Land Scotland).
It could instruct those agencies to do more to support National Park plans tomorrow. The truth is it was the Scottish Government that abandoned the practice of chairing annual performance reviews of the National Park Partnership Plans which provided a means of holding those agencies to account and were held in public.
It has also been the Scottish Government that has allowed the LLTNPA to create new Park Plans out of thin air without any reference or analysis of what was achieved by previous ones.
In other words the Scottish Government has connived with the lack of progress that they are now criticising.
In short, all the solutions to the many failings of the National Park Partnership Plans already lie in the hands of the Scottish Government which is legally responsible for approving them.