I commend Councillor Ian Baxter on his effort to make the affairs of Midlothian Council better known. Openness is the essence of democracy. There are very few matters that should be discussed in private, the most important being legal affairs at a delicate stage of negotiation and where premature publicity would prejudice the public interest.
The use of the internet could be a big step forward, although it would be of little advantage to those of the public who lack the facilities.
It would depend, too, on users taking the trouble to focus attention on council business. In that respect, it might be an inadequate substitute for a well-informed local press. Ian has noted that the minutes of the council give little information on the core of discussion. It is important that the papers in support of council items of business be just as available as the minutes.
The utmost of discussion is imperative. It is very limited if the discussion is mainly at private meetings of the political parties.
How much is transacted behind closed doors? It is contrary to the democratic practice if a vote is taken in private, which becomes binding on the members when the public meeting is held.
In this way, the electors fail to obtain the true opinion of their representative.
Of course, there may be occasions when this can be justified. A political group does not operate in vacuum. The majority of issues should be treated on a non-party basis. There is much that is artificial between the governing party and the opposition. Better to encourage a free and vigorous clash of opinion.
I hope that this will promote thinking on the most effective way to instil confidence in local government.
Hunt Close, Dalkeith
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