I told COSLA…


Tell us what you think                                                                             

We have not provided a long list of questions to answer, but we do want to hear what you have to say about some themes.  Please respond to as few or as many as you wish.  However, it would be helpful to keep your overall response to eight pages or less.

Please provide evidence or examples in support of what you say.  This will help us understand and explore your ideas further.

  1. LOCAL DECISION MAKING: Do you think that decisions about local issues and services are made locally enough in Scotland at the moment? If not, what does deciding ‘locally’ mean to you? Please illustrate your answer with any examples from your own experience.

The key is the principle of subsidiarity, as practiced in e.g., Germany. This means that it assumed that public policy decisions are made at the nearest possible level to the citizens who are affected, and that decisions are only made at a wider level only if it can proven to be impractical or undesirable to do so locally.

On this test, Scotland clearly fails. It continues the UK position whereby any written constitution would not commence “…We the People…” but “…We, the Government…” instead.

In decision-making, ‘locally’ means as near as possible to point where the effect of the decision will be felt.


  1. LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY: How important do you think it is for locally elected people to be responsible for decisions about local issues and services? Do you have any examples of why this is the case?

Local politicians come in two main varieties, both of which are useful.

Type One comprises career politicians, who serve a stint locally before going on to higher office: these are useful because work hard and have an interest in making a wider impact.

Type 2 comprises citizen-politicians, who serve because they want to do the best for the community and their town or city. These are useful because they know their electorate, and because they are generally stay around long enough to see major projects through.

Great examples of Type 2 councillors in Glasgow are Jean McFadden (Leader, Treasurer and President of COSLA); Pat Lally (Leader and Lord Provost); Susan Baird (Lord Provost); Bob Winter (Lord Provost). I worked for all of these (except Susan) as Policy Adviser.


  1. LOCAL PRIORITIES: How well do you think that communities’ local priorities are accounted for in the way that national and local government works at the moment? What is effective, and if there is room for improvement, how should things change?   

National government at Westminster and Holyrood treats local government appallingly: worst of all, MPs and MSPs appear to see local councils as a problem, not as part of the solution to problems in cities, towns and communities. As a result, Holyrood in particular interferes and undermines local decision-making. This ranges from a crude power grab such as a centralised police force or the Council tax Freeze to the abuse of local council decisions as weapons in Scottish Parliament bye-elections (school closures in Dunfermline).


  1. STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY: What do you think should be done to strengthen local democratic decision making in Scotland? Do you have any ideas or examples about how this could improve people’s lives?

See excellent report by Eberhardt Bort et al for Jimmy Reid Foundation:


Also my own letter to Sunday Herald http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/topic-of-the-week-democracy-in-peril-power-to-the-people-keep-politics-local.20160074

My structure for local government in Scotland would be to identify local councils (in cities “Burghs” in the country: towns and villages as the basic building block. These would be supported by regional bodies (e.g., Greater Glasgow, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire) as next stage up, but these would all acquire powers at expense of the Scottish Government (as per my letter).

The regional level would be mainly redistributive through a Regional Income Tax. In this way, Glasgow could be very similar in status to the successful model of the German Hansestädte. Other units (Edinburgh/Lothian) might also adopt this model if suitable locally.



  1. SCOTLAND’S FUTURE: Has there been enough discussion about local democracy in the debate about Scotland’s future? If not, what should be addressed and how might this be achieved?

No. The SNP Scottish Government has centralized and wishes to keep quiet about this.

Labour might address the issue in its Devolution Commission but that remains unknown.


  1. OBSTACLES AND CHALLENGES: Do you have any concerns about strengthening local democratic decision making in Scotland?  

There is no agreed and settled system of local government finance and taxation. The current system will not survive a revaluation and must be replaced, meaning winners and losers. In a Scotland where losers are to be avoided at all costs, it is difficult to see how this will come about.

(I would prefer a Regional Income Tax plus Councils allowed to set own levels and Bands for Property Tax, and being allowed to set and keep own non-domestic rates.)


  1. We would like to keep the conversation going with you. Can you tell us about any events, networks or other ways in which we could help achieve this?  Is there anything that we can do to support you?

I would be pleased to discuss my views with you, and look forward to hearing from you.

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