TWO of my SNP colleagues – Fergus Ewing and Ian Blackford – this week argued against a reduction in the number of MSPs representing the Highlands.

I agree with them. But this debate raises questions about democracy that extend far beyond our Highland lochs and glens.

Concentrating power in the centre is always a bad idea, and that’s never more obvious than when watching the UK Government operate.

But devolving and decentralising power never happens by chance. And in Scotland, we’ve got some way to go.

As background, the Boundary Commission recently launched its consultation, which includes a proposal to reduce the number of Highland MSPs.

READ MORE: BBC Scottish independence article LEAVES OUT Unionists' political history

There’s an obvious problem for Highland representatives as we have vast areas to represent and cover.

Ian Blackford argues that his seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber is about the same size as Northern Ireland.

My seat of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch is 500 times the size of the average Glasgow seat.

That’s the difference between 12,368 square kilometres and the 24-square-kilometre average in Glasgow. It means it can take just shy of five hours to drive from one side of the constituency to the other.

That’s on top of the twice-weekly four-hour commute to and from Edinburgh. It’s a wonder our families tolerate our choice of job.

Contrary to what you might conclude, these vast constituencies also contain hugely diverse communities and large numbers of people.

For example, Fergus Ewing’s redrawn seat of Inverness and Nairn would have the greatest number of voters – at 69,113. That is considerably more than the quota set by the Boundary Commission.

But workload is a side issue. The bigger question is what kind of representation the electorate deserves in a well-functioning democracy.

They deserve to be heard, their views should carry weight and their local needs should be met in an effective way. There is no room for arbitrary decisions.

Our constituents deal with the direct, tangible impact of policies that affect their daily lives, and so the public debate should not focus purely on intangible, optimistic, hard-to-measure benefits of the future.

That is the most frequent criticism I hear levelled at Highly Protected Marine Areas. I wonder what howls we’d hear if we summarily banned all economic activity in 10% of the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh?

Ah, that’s different, people cry. Perhaps it’s different in scale, but for every individual rendered unemployed by such a policy, it’s not all that different.

The same sentiment is worrying workers in other parts of Scotland.

For example, in the North East, oil and gas workers can’t live off a mythical promise of future jobs while Labour threaten to cut the industry off at the knees.

It’s all very well to debate the future of the industry from the comfort of a shiny London office – but workers in the North East rely on these jobs to pay the bills and keep their families fed and clothed.

This week, the West Highland Free Press published a column about the future of the Highland and Island economy. Written by Faye Macleod, who works extensively with the community development sector, she considers the long-term future for island communities, and the risks that there might not be one.

The one positive she highlights is the growth of community development.

She argues that community ownership is thriving – particularly in the Western Isles.

There, 70% of the population lives on community-owned land. Volunteers across communities are delivering services, employing people and transforming communities, and showing the public sector how to do it.

Why is community development so much more successful than the public sector?

Because small, community groups are directly answerable to the communities in which they work. Consultation is real and genuine, based on a willingness to listen, rather than an ability to fill in a never-ending list of questions.

The truth of the matter is that the best decision-makers are those who deal with the consequences of their decisions.

That should be true of all our elected representatives – and certainly, I know that in the Highlands, the quality of local education affects my children’s prospects, the strength of the economy creates work for my family and the state of the infrastructure can make or break us.

It’s not selfishness, it’s just the reality that feeling the impact changes your perspective.

Decision-making alongside people, not dictating to people.

Community groups are often overlooked, underfunded and locally oriented, but they nevertheless often exhibit the principles which have been lost by other democratic institutions.

Local government has been the battlefield for more debates about reform than perhaps anywhere else. In March, the First Minister launched a New Deal for Local Government, considering greater flexibility over local funding and clear accountability.

Last week, Reform Scotland launched a new forum for debate about measures to decentralise power in Scotland.

Everybody is agreed that reform is long overdue, to strengthen democracy. And you only need to look at turnout figures for council elections to consider that communities can feel further removed from their local council chamber than they do from the national parliament in our country’s capital city.

The starting position is that local government should be small and nimble enough to be able to adapt all policies and funding decisions to meet changing local needs.

They should not have to seek permission – but they must be fully accountable and face the consequences of their decisions at every election.

Local government should have full responsibility for all the matters within its domain – financially and politically. It should be comprised of small enough units to truly make a difference on the ground, but able to collaborate across regions and the country.

That means greater empowerment of the equivalent of area committees to make a real difference.

Highland Council should be carved up immediately. It covers 25,659 square kilometres – more than 427 times bigger than the smallest local authority by land mass. It is impossible for decisions to be made by the Inverness-based council chamber on behalf of communities from Wick to Kilchoan.

But once carved up, it should have the opportunity to build alliances across the country.

It stands to reason that parts of Wester Ross might have more in common with parts of the Borders than with Inverness in their own local authority area.

We should expect universal outcomes in education, housing or infrastructure but we cannot expect that to be achieved with the same inputs in the form of funding or policy.

Acute deprivation in parts of the country will require different housing or education policies, while rurality demands a different approach to funding.

The bottom line is that it is people on the ground who know this better than anybody else.

A healthy democracy relies on freeing up local decision-makers on the front line – and then facing the music locally for those decisions.

We rightly demand that Westminster respect votes and decisions taken by Scotland’s elected representatives, on behalf of the electorate. They refuse to do so.

A government, democratically elected by the people, should be able to implement the manifesto on which it was elected.

It should be able to do that without seeking permission from another party which hasn’t won an election in Scotland for half a century.

Yet, that’s what’s happening every other week in Scotland.

Until we are independent, we need to lead by example – and that can start in local government.