DAVID Cameron has launched a fierce attack on Scotland’s “old-school, centralising, power-hoarding establishment” and backed calls for English reforms in education and the public sector to be enacted north of the Border as well.
In a speech in Dumfries yesterday, ahead of the 3 May local government elections, the Prime Minister hit out at the power of local authority control in Scotland, saying that in areas like education it had “had its grip on Scottish life for far too long”.
If parents or community groups wanted to run schools and services their own way, free from those controls, they should be allowed to do so, he added.
In a speech that also touched on the passing of the Scotland Bill, which is set to hand far more powers to Holyrood, Mr Cameron backed the principle of a more accountable Scottish Parliament, arguing that “if someone has the ability to spend money, then they should have significant responsibility for raising that money”.
However, he again stressed the limits of devolution, noting the importance of “solidarity” across the UK, and saying only that there were “arguments” for transferring more powers beyond those in the new bill.
Mr Cameron’s comments were seized upon by the SNP, which is calling on the Prime Minister to flesh out what further powers beyond the Scotland Bill he supports transferring to Scotland.
It follows his statement earlier this year, when he said further transfers of powers were “on the table” if Scots opposed independence, but failed to say what was up for discussion.
Mr Cameron’s comments on Scotland’s public sector yesterday came with Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson having published a manifesto ahead of the local government vote, calling for Scottish “free schools” and backing more freedom for local government.
She has also backed holding referendums on directly elected provosts in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.
The Prime Minister said: “The manifesto she’s put together is about smashing through the old-school, centralising, power-hoarding establishment that has had its grip on Scottish life for too long.”
He added: “In other parts of the UK, we’ve seen a great revolution in education in recent years.”
He claimed the new independent schools in the English state sector, such as academics and “free schools”, were “working miracles in some of the most deprived parts of our country”.
The Scots Tories, he said, wanted to “release schools from local authority control, to allow communities to set up their own schools if they wish”.
He added: “We shouldn’t insist that councils have a monopoly over providing services. If there are community organisations who can do a better job, and the sums add up, Scottish Conservatives say ‘bring them in’.”
He added: “We shouldn’t stop patients from choosing who provides their social care. They know best what meets their needs – let them decide.
“This manifesto is all about blasting away the old notion that only politicians should hold all the power and make all the decisions.”
The comments come with Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove having pushed forward a rapid increase in the number of academies, which are not controlled by local government, and free schools, which are set up by parents, charities or religious groups.
The Scottish Government, which has full powers over education in Scotland, has maintained the current system where all state schools remain run with local authority support.
Mr Cameron received short shrift from Labour and the SNP last night.
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “We have an excellent system of local democracy in Scotland, and need no lessons from the Tories, who spent generations opposing a Scottish Parliament.”
On devolution, Mr Cameron sought to adopt the principle of further autonomy for Scotland, saying that financial accountability for Holyrood “goes right to the heart of something we should believe as Conservatives”.
Nevertheless, he said, this had to be balanced by the need to maintain “solidarity” across the UK – a further hint that the Tory government remains implacably opposed to devo-max.”
Margaret Curran, shadow Scotland secretary, said: “These are extraordinary words coming from the UK’s foremost establishment figure. It is for the Scottish people to choose how they want their public services run, and time and time again they have rejected Tory reforms.”