The Smith Commission

27 October 2014

 

Extracts for Lesley’s speech in the debate in Dundee City Council on its submission to the Smith Commission

The main points of her motion were  that :

 

Dundee City Council accepts and respects the verdict of the Scottish Referendum that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom;

 

*supports the restoration to councils of the power taken away from them by the Scottish Government and then centralised in the hands of Scottish Government Ministers in Edinburgh

 

*supports CoSLA’s Commission for Strengthening Local Democracy’s belief that the fundamental principles which the democratic future of Scotland will be built on will be those of sovereignty, subsidiarity, transparency, participation, spheres not tiers of governance, interdependency and wellbeing.

 

Text of her speech

The Referendum is over and the will of the Scottish people has been expressed.

We should expect the council, as an elected body, to accept and respect that decision.

In the Referendum, Scotland  voted for devolution for Scotland, not for independence.

And in making our representation as a council to the Smith Commission , we can recall the words of another Smith-

John Smith , the leader of the Labour Party , 20 years ago, who talked of devolution as “the settled will “of the people of Scotland and who sadly did not live to see its creation through the Scottish Parliament.

Devolution expresses what we share in common with the rest of the UK, while at the same time having our own distinctive features in culture, health service and education.

In contrast, the politics of nationalism claims that differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK are so irreconcilable that independence is the only way out.

The Referendum result came down decisively in favour of devolution.

 

The motion goes on to express the need for a new partnership between local government and the Scottish Government through the spirit of CoSLA’s Commission for Strengthening Local Democracy.

The motion does not ask the council to accept every detail, and every recommendation from the Commission in its report earlier this year

The motion asks that the council agrees in general terms with CoSLA’s proposals that the future of local government should be built on 7 Principles for Stronger Democracy in Scotland.

These are :

Sovereignty: “democratic power lies with people and communities who give some of that power to governments and local governments, not the other way round

Subsidiarity: “decisions should be taken as close to communities as possible, and local governance has to be right shape and form for the people and the places it serves.”

Transparency: “democratic decisions should be clear and understandable to communities, with clean lines of accountability back to communities.”

Participation: all communities must be able to participate in the decision making that affects their lives and their communities

Spheres not tiers of governance: “different parts of the democratic system should have distinct jobs to do that are set out in ‘competencies’, rather than depend on powers being handed down from ’higher’ levels of governance

Interdependency: “Every part of the democratic system has to support the others, and none can be, or should seek to be, self-contained and self-sufficient.”

Wellbeing : “the purpose of all democracy is to improve opportunities and outcomes for the individuals and communities that empower it.”

A major feature of the seven years of this current Scottish Government has been its centralising of power, taking power away from Scottish councils and organisations and relocating it in the hands of Scottish Government Ministers.

 

John Swinney, in effect, runs every single council in Scotland, by determining its spending. 

The council tax –a local government tax that was once determined by local councils – has now become a Scottish Government tax – a tax level imposed centrally upon every single council taxpayer in Scotland .

The underfunded council tax freeze means that councils all receive the same threat –

The Scottish Government says : spend what we give you or we will cut the money that you can spend –

That is the choice, and of course, it is no choice at all.

No council in Scotland has the power to resist the grip that the Scottish Government has upon them.

 

Local government has been marginalised.

Councils should be given back their rightful authority to determine their own budgets without the threat of having their expenditure cut by a centralising government in Holyrood if they do not do as they are told.

That is a proposition that should be shared across party political boundaries.

Each and every local government councillor , regardless of his or her political affiliation should support that view.

No councillor should be an apologist for the Scottish Government

The electorate deserve more, not less local accountability.

Councils should have more, not less, local decision-making. 

 

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