The South Cowal Community Development Company took the Save Castle Toward campaign from the countryside all the way to the Scottish capital this week when they met up with Scottish government officials to talk about the forthcoming community ballot.
Chairman Alan Stewart and Derek McIntyre made the early morning Western ferry trip from South Cowal to attend a meeting at the Scottish government building in Edinburgh. The aim of the journey was to agree the finer points of the community ballot which the residents of South Cowal will soon be asked to cast a vote in. Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which the community group are using to purchase the Castle Toward Estate from the local council, the group must conduct a community ballot of all local residents on the electoral register. The community ballot has to be undertaken in much the same manner as a local election with all the legalities that go with it. To this end the SCCDC representatives travelled to the capital to meet with advisers within government to get a clearer picture of how the vote should be conducted.
After the lengthy meeting, which lasted over three hours, both the government officials and local community group left satisfied that the local community’s forthcoming ballot would be conducted in a satisfactory manner. Nothing, however, about this community’s right to buy can be described as standard as the group had come up with a unique suggestion for making sure everyone gets a proper chance to vote. Derek McIntyre explains, “in our community ballot about purchasing the Castle Toward Estate we came up with the idea that instead of the residents of South Cowal having to leave their homes and trudge all the way to the local village hall to visit the ballot box, why can’t the ballot box come to them?” The local community group had decided, and have now been given permission from the government body, to run a mobile ballot box. Derek went on “instead of going to the ballot box to vote, the ballot box will be coming to you. It really is the best solution when you consider how difficult it can be for some families and elderly residents to make the journey to a fixed ballot box and then back home.” Scottish government official Stuart Hartill of the Community Right To Buy branch, who met with the group said, “I think this is a great way of getting people engaged in voting, rather a unique idea that ticks a lot of boxes - I am impressed with the thought behind it”
The residents in South Cowal will soon receive in the post their ballot papers to vote on the community groups proposed purchase of the Castle Toward Estate. There will then be a number of days over the period of one week in which the community can register their vote using the mobile ballot box. The ballot box’s location and times will be on a leaflet posted out with the ballot paper. The box will also be in one static location on the last day of voting which will be at the local village hall. The Save Castle Toward estate vote will run from Saturday 10th of May till Friday the 17th of May to ensure everyone has the chance to register a vote. Chairman Alan Stewart said, “Now is the time for the community to show its true support for our community buyout, we now have over two hundred registered members who would like to see this plan go ahead but in order to succeed we need more than that to turn out and vote.”
Under the current legislation the local community need to get 50% or more of the local residents to return their ballot papers and they hope the use of a mobile ballot box will help achieve that. The voting process will be administrated by the Electoral Reform Service and scrutinised independently to ensure all votes cast are within the current community right to buy, CRTB, guidelines. The result of the community ballot will be known before the end of May.