This time it is to choose who should run our municipality; in particular who should tell our headteachers how better to run their schools, who should get to build where and to what height and with what design, or colour of door, who should oversee our social care services, our amenities such as libraries, swimming pools and sports facilities. And let’s not forget our transport infrastructure – for which the repairing of potholes is now used a barometer of how well we can expect a council to perform (mostly badly).
That’s the theory, anyway. Elect councillors to run councils and deal with local issues that in many ways impact more on our daily living than much of what is done in our name at Holyrood and Westminster. But this is politics, and what passes for the theory of how our fragile democracy might work turns out quite differently when confronted with the reality created by the self-interest of parties. Here’s how it goes.
If you are the governing party (or coalition parties) and have presided over an obvious decline in community services, then you will want to distract and deflect away from your record. Libraries closed? Swimming pools drained? More and larger potholes? Don’t recognise your town centre? Crazy cycle lanes that put pedestrians at risk? Bin collections inadequate? Streets with more litter, more weeds and more dangerous paving?
You will not want to talk about how any of that which you have achieved is going to change – you MUST distract and deflect. You will talk about national issues: “send a message to Boris” says the SNP campaign.
As if somehow, voting SNP to beat up Boris is going to reopen the library, fill that pothole or repair that cracked pavement Mrs McClure tripped and broke her ankle on last week.
If you try to rationalise the SNP message and believe that bloke Boris (when he’s not trying to win a trade deal for the benefit of Scotch Whisky in India, visiting Kyiv to show our solidarity with President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people, or trying to make sense of the conflicting advice about how to handle a pandemic – and fighting off allcomers from the media, the opposition before and behind him) is going to sort out your local services then you are bestowing upon him the sort of superhuman powers that until now have only been found in Marvel comics and movies.
Maybe you think it's just about money – or more appropriately the lack of it – and if you vote SNP that chap Boris will start quivering like a pink and blond blancmange resting on a shoogly table and instruct Rishi Sunak to dispatch millions, even billions to the Scottish Government’s coffers so our councils can do the jobs they were given?
If you do think that then you have to ask yourself how is it that the Scottish government now has the most money of any administration at any time since a democratic Scottish Parliament was created in 1999 and yet the ruling SNP/Green parties conspired to cut – yes, cut – local authority spending by £371 million in real terms? After protests that cut was reduced to £250 million – but yes, that is still a cut at a time of what should be municipal munificence. Wine could flow in local fountains, if any fountains worked.
Here are the facts. The Scottish Government is better resourced today than ever before. The last Westminster spending review increased its block grant by £4.6 billion, taking it to around £41 billion a year for the next 3 years – the largest, in real terms, since devolution more than 20 years ago. And here’s the clincher – the Scottish Government receives £126 of Barnett-based funding for every £100 per person of equivalent UK Government spending in England. On top of that, regions across Scotland are seeing £1.5bn of UK Government investment directly through City and Growth Deals.
It looks to me like Boris got the message a few years back, showered Scots with treasure only for the intermediary sitting in Bute House to spray it around her own government’s departments to the detriment of local services. Instead of cutting local budgets they should be increased beyond the imagination of councillors to spend – but still the potholes multiply (fact) and the libraries close (fact).
So while opposition parties launch their local manifestoes with commitments to improve what matters to folk, the SNP-run cities and SNP government need to distract and deflect – they will blame Westminster, claim that (somehow) independence would make those cuts go away (yet would need to find that extra £26 per £100 per person) so don’t look at who’s in charge here. As if they are only monkeys and not the organ grinder. Sitting in Bute House and the Council Chambers they happen to be one and the same.
One example of an SNP deflection recently was to claim Scotland receives less than its fair share of our own money we used to send to the EU that then came back to us in the form of regional grants. Using an inappropriate inflation deflator and currency conversion rate from Euros to Sterling, as well as including agricultural subsidies funded elsewhere a “cut” in the grant was fabricated. It is Scotch mist.
The only people making cuts are in Bute House. We need to send a message alright, but it is not to Boris, it’s to Bute House. From Ferries to libraries the maladministration must stop.
Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and is editor of ThinkScotland.org