Independence: ‘Councils role to be in constitution’

NICOLA Sturgeon has pledged that Scotland’s councils will have their role enshrined in a written constitution after independence.

However, the move was described as “hot air” by opponents who said the SNP’s record in office has seen the powers of local councils cut.

The Deputy First Minister’s announcement came a day after she had promised that eradicating child poverty would also be in such a constitution.

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Ms Sturgeon has argued for a written constitution to cover areas such as free education and a ban on nuclear weapons. She made the latest announcement at the annual conference of local government body Cosla in St Andrews yesterday.

“We will also argue for Scotland’s constitution to guarantee the status and rights of local government,” she said. “The role of Scottish local authorities should be entrenched in a written constitution – a democratic settlement that only independence offers.

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“Such constitutional protection is mainstream in developed democracies such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Once again, it is the UK which is the exception.

“We believe this should also be the case in a modern, independent Scotland and I look forward to having productive discussions on further details with representatives and champions of local government in Scotland.”

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But the SNP government has faced claims that the creation a single national police force has robbed councils of a key oversight role, while the council tax freeze was effectively imposed on local authorities after finance secretary John Swinney threatened to cut funding.

Ms Sturgeon also focused on the UK government’s welfare changes, including the “bedroom tax” on under-occupied houses.

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Such an approach would not be taken if she had a say in an independent Scottish Government, she told the conference.

“As everyone knows, part of the job of councils is to empty the bins. But it is not the job of local government to clear up after the rubbish policies generated by a remote Westminster government that appears clueless about the damage to families and society being wreaked by its ideology-driven social policies,” she said.

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The Better Together campaign published a leaked one-year-old Scottish Cabinet document earlier this week in which ministers were warned of “cost pressures” on public spending. It also raised concerns about the volatility of oil revenue, prompting unionists to complain that SNP ministers say one thing privately and another publicly.

The paper also predicted public finances will recover and rise from 2017-18 onwards.

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Former chancellor Alistair Darling, who also addressed yesterday’s conference as head of Better Together, said he was sceptical about constitutions.

“I was a lawyer once, Nicola was a lawyer as well. I’m innately suspicious of written constitutions,” he said. “A written constitution without the resources to back it up is hot air.

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“We have had the right to free education in Scotland since 1872. What actually matters is not so much your right to education but what happens when you actually get into that school.”