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by Kate Shannon
15 January 2015
On the attack

On the attack

Another day, another view on devolving more powers to local government. This time SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has entered the fray, using her Daily Record column on Wednesday to attack both the opposition parties at Holyrood and everyone in local authorities. She doesn’t do things by halves.

To set the scene, McAlpine starts off by asking who you trust more, your council or the Scottish Parliament.

She continues: “In my experience, the Parliament wins hands down. On a democratic mandate alone, elections attract more voters than councils, where turnout is under 40 per cent. But opposition parties still want Holyrood powers transferred to local government.”

She goes on to blame poor planning decisions, school closures and A&E problems on local councils and later states: “The anti-SNP parties want to ‘devolve power from Holyrood’ and had this written into the Smith Commission. They do this to bring down our parliament – because it is popular and the vast majority of Scots want it to have greater powers”.

By the end of the piece she tells us Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservatives control many councils and want to “channel” money back to their “cronies”. Apparently ideas from the opposition parties about devolving powers to local government are merely empire building.

Putting aside the idea election turnout is a key criteria of trust, (hard luck, European Parliament), am I the only one who feels like she missed a point or two here?

Firstly, of course councils get a lot of stick about their decisions but that’s because they are often the only level of government people come into contact with. Obviously local authorities are not perfect, they make mistakes and they are too detached from the people they represent. But surely one possible remedy is to devolve more power to local authorities, not less?

What McAlpine’s SNP colleagues, especially those serving on local authorities, really thought of her rant is anyone’s guess

The Scottish Government itself has talked repeatedly about the importance of councils and local decision making, just look at the Our Islands, Our Future campaign, not to mention the Community Empowerment Bill. What McAlpine’s SNP colleagues, especially those serving on local authorities, really thought of her rant is anyone’s guess but I’d be very surprised if they agreed with it.

Michael Cook, an independent councillor in the Borders and vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said McAlpine’s column was a “cheap shot” at councils and I’m inclined to agree.

"The council tax accounts for 18 per cent of the money we spend, for the rest we are absolutely dependent on Scottish parliamentarians. The suggestion that we are starving people of resources is ludicrous," he said.

Her whole piece is hugely misjudged. The Scottish Government has faced many accusations about its supposed centralising agenda and while SNP politicians have refuted it, this column seems to confirm the idea. The thought of a Scotland where power is held tightly in Edinburgh and councils are disregarded is not one I find comforting, and given the outcry against McAlpine’s column, I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

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