Readers' Letters: Local government simply isn’t local enough

This last weekend I wrote congratulating friends here on their re-election as councillors. And commiserating with one strong candidate who did not get elected. It is good that such people are prepared to put their names forward for election at local government level.

But I could not help wondering just how local is our “local” government. As the pre-election leaflets arrived it seemed that the local agenda was being hijacked by national considerations and that the results last Friday were being eagerly awaited and interpreted as indicators of attitudes towards party political interests and Scotland’s future constitutional status.

The neglect of local government is not just recent, though it has reached an extreme form over the last few years. It has been there over many years and is a responsibility shared between the main political parties since the 1980s. A plague on all their houses for failing to grasp that vibrant, responsive, independent minded, far sighted, properly funded and skilled local government is essential in the governance of a modern state.

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Instead of seeing local government as an equal partner in government we have experienced the worst aspects over-centralised, over-bearing national administrations. The United Kingdom has a highly centralised system of government and we now, in the name of decentralisation and devolution, appear to have our own authoritarian version here at Holyrood. The energy and initiative which should reside locally has been sucked into the centre. As a consequence local government has been disempowered and there is the realisation locally that decisions affecting our communities are being taken elsewhere.

Is Holyrood crushing Scotland's local councils? (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

Scotland has a proud tradition. I was one of a number of planners who came north to join the Scottish Development Department in the 1970s. There was the realisation that Scotland was doing special things by virtue of its autonomy in planning matters, the scale of the country and its separate legal system. At very senior levels in Government were people who not only understood the importance of planning as an activity but had political support through the post-war Beveridge contract. This distinctive Scottish approach has dissipated.

I am not clear if the situation is recoverable or if the rot is too deeply established. Certainly I see no way back unless and until attitudes change at central government level. And there seems no immediate prospect of that.

Andrew Robinson, Haddington, East Lothian

Useless trip

It's clear from public comments within The Scotsman’s columns that most Scots don't favour another independence referendum next year as there are more important issues troubling the population than breaking up the UK. So why is Nicola Sturgeon so intent on travelling to the US to set out an independent Scotland's place in the world? The Scottish taxpayers already fork out £9 million per year to fund our overseas offices which many view as vanity projects, with no real role in furthering Scottish interests.

At home Scots are hurting because of extortionate energy costs and rising food prices and the onus is on the governments in Westminster and Holyrood to mitigate the disastrous effects on our cost of living as much as they can. Travelling to Washington does nothing to alleviate the Scots' hardship.

With the US administration focused on dealing with the UK government and Joe Biden's interest totally on Ireland, it's doubtful if the globally unimportant Nicola Sturgeon will even get a mention on the US news network. With Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer doing everything they can to save their own political skins rather than tackle the cost-of-living crisis, perhaps Ms Sturgeon's overseas trip is intended to do the same by pacifying her hardcore support. I can't see it achieving anything else.

Bob MacDougall, Oxhill, Stirlingshire

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Consequences

Frances Scott (Letters, 9 May) asserts that London Crossrail and HS2 don’t generate Barnett consequentials for Scotland’s Government. She is wrong. Both English domestic projects add to ScotGov revenue through Barnett consequentials.

This answer to a Commons written question from the SNP’s Douglas Chapman MP was give on the 26 March 2018 by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss: “As set out in the Statement of Funding Policy, both Crossrail and HS2 are considered devolved for the purposes of operating the Barnett Formula. The Scottish Government therefore receive Barnett consequentials on changes to funding for these programmes.”

It’s important that the many deliberate untruths promoted by nationalists are corrected.

James Quinn, Lanark, South Lanarkshire

Trouble ahead

Nicola Sturgeon crowing about local election results can't hide the fact that only 45.56 per cent of councillors elected were separatists. Strangely, haven't we seen this very same figure before somewhere, back in 2014?

Her public delight at the success of Sinn Féin, the SNP's sister party, can't conceal the reality that most people in Ulster didn't vote for them and only about a third want a border poll. Sinn Féin's ambition is to govern the whole of Ireland. This prospect horrifies most people south of the border; former Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds reckoned Sinn Féin's economic policies would send the country “back to the Stone Age”.

Martin O’Gorman, Edinburgh

The Tory problem

Brian Monteith, while occasionally rather extreme, can usually be trusted to make relatively sound political arguments in his Monday Perspective columns. Odd, then, that he was so wide of the mark in The Scotsman on 9 May when, perhaps in an attempt to deflect from the inadequacies of the Prime Minister, he blamed a poor showing in the local elections on Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives for “not doing a good enough job as opposition to the SNP government”.I, and many like-minded right of centre voters, could not express a conservative preference on the ballot paper this time around quite simply because we are disgusted at the antics of the Prime Minister, and many members of his Cabinet, in recent timesHis dissembling over Partygate is the most recent, and the most damning, demonstration of the deep flaws in the character of this man which have, in truth, been apparent for the greater part of his premiership. Add to this the buffoonery which has characterised his political career from way back and you have the prime reason for the disastrous Conservative showing north and south of the Border.So, in stark contrast to the thrust of your argument, Brian, the problem is Boris Johnson and few of us will return to the fold until honesty and integrity are restored and he, and his acolytes, are shown the door.

Graham Hammond, East Calder, West Lothian

Wrong targets

The BBC News has announced that the Queen would be represented by a proxy yesterday as she told her subjects what new laws her Government would enact during the next parliamentary term. One of these is to be a law punishing protesters against that government's failure to honour commitments to reducing the level of carbon being produced within the UK. If such protesters are to threaten infrastructure they will be liable to prison sentences of up to six months or unlimited fines. This may include protests against illegal nuclear weapons.

In the same bulletin the Met Office was reported as saying that the UK was going to fail to meet the cuts in carbon emissions which would keep the temperature within the internationally agreed limits.

This suggests the whole government system of our country is ignoring its own scientific experts. It also suggests that the BBC are not digesting the information they are broadcasting. Prince Charles, who likes to believe he has green credentials, should be announcing awards for the young people who are pointing out our communal folly by protesting, not reading out their potential punishments.

Iain W D Forde, Scotlandwell, Perth & Kinross

Lost argument

In his argument against an independence referendum next year, Alastair Stewart was perhaps too kind to the SNP approach (Perspective, 10 May). What he describes as their “unequivocal” victories in various elections since 2009 were arguably victories in terms of seats gained. Most still voted for the unionist parties or simply stayed at home. In the 2014 poll with its 85 per cent turnout – about as high as is possible in a mobile society with voting voluntary and less than perfect information – the majority voted against Scotland becoming an independent country.

It is too simplistic to say that all those voting SNP were voting for constitutional change. In last week's local elections, for example, I reckon about half voted for a change in the current arrangements. The other half had more down to earth matters on their minds. It wasn't just the cost of living because the local authorities can only do a limited amount about that. It was the things the councils do have control over – grass cutting, bin collections, OAP homes, libraries, parking charges and the state of the non-trunk roads, local buses in the evenings and whether they think they are getting value for money for their council tax. Partygate was a factor too. On a turnout of well below 50 per cent in some areas it is cannot be argued that the result was a case for a referendum.

Indeed, the case against is even stronger when we consider that there is, as yet, no up to date prospectus for independence, a timetable that is increasingly vague, lukewarm public support north of the Border, and still strong Westminster resistance. Alastair Stewart has highlighted the social case against a poll next year. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government need to give equal concern to the political case against one.

Bob Taylor, Glenrothes, Fife

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