SCOTTISH Labour’s leadership candidates clashed over the SNP government’s flagship council tax freeze as party members were told the time of the policy was “long gone” as the candidates to succeed Jim Murphy took part in a hustings event last night.
Ken Macintosh said he would not go into next year’s election backing the policy, which he claimed was leading to deep cuts to council services, if he defeated rival candidate Kezia Dugdale in the leadership election.
Ms Dugdale, a Lothians MSP, failed to match the pledge from Eastwood MSP Mr Macintosh and would only call for a cross-party commission on reforming local government finance.
The two candidates were challenged at the hustings event in Edinburgh last night about the council tax freeze, which Scottish Labour has previously backed despite concerns councils are left starved of cash for local services.
Mr Macintosh, who is seen as the outsider in the contest, said he would allow councils to decide whether to freeze council tax rather than have to sign up to the policy of having their funding cut by the Scottish Government.
He said: “The council tax freeze has been good for families under pressure and the freeze helped them. But that time has long gone and it should be up to local authorities whether they want to do it or not.
“Care homes are closing and education funding is being cut. If I’m elected as leader I would not go into an election backing a centrally imposed Scottish government policy on the council tax freeze.”
Ms Dugdale, who is seen as the frontrunner in the leadership election, said council services were also facing pressure due to cuts in overall funding from the Scottish government.
She said: “She said: “I want local government to be able to choose on funding issues rather than being told by the government.
“We need a cross party commission on local government finance. The council tax freeze brings in about 15 per cent of the revenue, but there are more real SNP cuts coming.”
Ms Dugdale also said that it will take Labour “years to recover” from its near wipe-out in last month’s general election in Scotland.
She said: “Our defeat was years in the making and it will take years to recover from. We have a near one-party state.
Mr Macintosh also said he was the “change candidate” in the contest and that he would “negotiate with Labour’s UK leadership to secure a new deal on autonomy for the party in Scotland.
The MSP, who is a father of six, also said that he would “put my family and constituents first” as party leader and said he was not a typical career politician.
During the debate the party’s three deputy leadership candidates MSPs Alex Rowley, Richard Baker and Glasgow council leader Gordon Matheson clashed over autonomy for the party in Scotland. Mr Rowley added that debates over Trident should be encouraged.