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A politician out of touch, arrogant and unthinking

A politician out of touch, arrogant and unthinking

Joan McAlpine’s Daily Record column shows a politician out of touch, arrogant and unthinking.  Her lack of respect for Scotland’s councils, the institutions that the SNP Government relies on to deliver an enormous chunk of Scotland’s front-line services, stands in stark contrast to the regard in which those councils are held by Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries in the Scottish Government.  Those members of the Scottish Government recognise the hard work done by our local authorities and the difficulties faced by them in balancing reducing budgets against increasing demands for the services they provide.

Our councils aren’t perfect, neither is the Scottish Parliament nor, come to think of it, the Scottish Government, but their tasks are hardly child’s play.  Yes, they make unpopular decisions and they upset some people, but they don’t do that for fun or because they are particularly vindictive. 

Closing a school doesn’t have councillors rubbing their hands and chortling over their cocoa nor do the officials relish the emotional sandpaper of the consultations and the campaigns to keep schools open – and that’s before you consider the daily difficulties of managing the school estate in all its glorious variety, staffing, attainment, child protection and everything else that our councils do in their role as education authorities.  They’re not cronies of the opposition (not anti-SNP) parties; they’re people trying to do their jobs in difficult circumstances.

If education is a difficulty then social work and community care make it pale into insignificance.  Ms McAlpine might want to spend a day or two with a social worker before condemning councils for tardiness in getting social care packages in place.

Part of local government’s problem is that some parliamentarians look on councils, councillors and council officials with disdain"

There are institutional problems in local government but they’re not caused by some kind of political feudalism and the idea that Labour councillors view Labour MSPs as their masters is laughable to anyone who has taken the trouble to have a conversation with either councillors or MSPs.  The institutional problems in local government come from a range of sources which include the continual change in their responsibilities and in the load placed on them by central government and the accretions that these lead to over time.  Local Government is not the evil empire.

Another part of local government’s problem, though, is that some parliamentarians look on councils, councillors and council officials with disdain and utter patronising comments like “Don’t get me wrong - many councillors, of all parties or no party, are unsung heroes and heroines. And most council workers, from home helps to teachers to street sweepers, do a great job too.”  We should be grateful that there are people in the Scottish Government, like John Swinney, who treat councils and councillors as equals and see the way forward as being cooperation and collective working for the good of the people who elect both MSPs and councillors.

What is, perhaps, most remarkable about the McAlpine article, though, is the assertion that parties who are in opposition at Holyrood want devolution to local authorities “to strengthen their own tattered power base.”  That suggests that she doesn’t appreciate that the SNP has more councillors than the other parties, that councils don’t belong to the opposition parties (or, indeed, to the SNP), and that power in local authorities these days is often shared and is a fluid concept in many councils.  More telling, though, is that it shows that Ms McAlpine doesn’t think that SNP councillors and council candidates are up to the job of taking control of councils and delivering for the communities the councils serve.  Perhaps she should spend some time with councillors once she’s spent time with social workers.

Using a newspaper column to sneer at local authorities in an attempt to score points against your parliamentary opponents is bad enough; to get it so wrong in the process marks you down as not quite being switched on.  Perhaps Ms McAlpine’s time would have been better spent explaining her vision of the future of local government?  She could start with how to ensure parity of esteem between councillors and MSPs.

Calum Cashley is a former SNP candidate 

See Kate Shannon's comment on McAlpine's "cheap shot" at Scotland's councils here.

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