How “Local” is Local Government?

Well, that’s the 2022 Local Council Elections over! So maybe now is a good time to talk about Local Government.

One of the few things we all know about it is that it’s becoming more and more of a misnomer. The old saying has it that “he who pays the piper calls the tune” and this is very much the case in the Council chambers up and down the country. Between finance being provided increasingly from Holyrood (and with the threats of the muppets in Westminster doing another power grab). Once it enters the Council coffers money is increasingly being “ring fenced” giving less and less scope for Councils to really have an impact on their communities. Even more so for individual Councillors unless you happen to be one of the power brokers.

This is increasingly being reflected in the turn out at local elections where getting to 40% is viewed as a triumph. This poses a genuine threat to democracy where often the 4th person elected in a Ward can have received just a few hundred votes in the 1st preferences.  

Largely this is on the back of campaigns which are about National issues. Campaigns were based on “sending a message” and whether that message was to Boris or Nicola, one common factor stands out; neither of them were standing for election as a Councillor!

Where was the space to genuinely talk about education, roads, social care or the other myriad services Councils provide? Where the space for a discussion on allocations of funds between services? Very few councillors are able to cut through all this noise and be judged on their own records and even more so if you happen to be the second place on your party’s alphabetical choice!

That doesn’t even consider the shape, size and scope of our Councils. When you have one the size of Highland Council which covers an area of 25,657 square kilometres (9,906 sq mi) – which is 11.4% of the land area of Great Britain, 32.9% of the land area of Scotland and an area 20% larger than Wales. At the other end of the scale we have Clackmannanshire which covers just 159 square kilometres or 61.4 square miles. Just how anyone imagines that this represents a sensible way of seeing “local” services delivered equitably is well beyond even my fevered imagination.

Way back in those happy days before covid, we were supposed to have a campaign which would explain and develop the “why” of Independence and I would suggest that it’s not only time that some serious meat was put on the bones of that campaign but that Local Government reform might be a useful part of that discussion. Should more power be devolved to Councils or even to Community Councils? If so what powers and how would they be delivered fairly when Community Councils are largely ignored?

Perhaps the starting point should be to consider how each service could best be delivered and then think about the size and scope of the Council which delivers it. What services need to be delivered to the same standards across Scotland and which could, or should, be matters decided locally. How do we educate our media to move away from either “post code lottery” or “Holyrood centralisation” as their only responses to issues?

Just as a starter for ten in these discussions could be the future, or lack of it, for fee paying schools. If every child went to a state school would that raise the standard for every child and would it make our society a more socially mixed? It would certainly remove the prospect of a future Scottish Government being educated at the type of institution which has produced the current crop of muppets in London and that seems a positive for me!

On a very different note, I was thrilled by Mhairi Blacks’s outstanding speech on fascism. If you haven’t taken the time to listen to it, I have posted the link below and would urge you to do so. Partly because when I watched the May 9 “Victory Parade” in Moscow, my blood ran cold as the massed troops gave voice to their leader. My mind was instantly transported to the scenes of nazi Germany and Hitler’s rallies. I don’t have the linguistic knowledge to translate the actual words of the troops but the overall effect sounded frighteningly like “Sieg Heil”! 

I don’t know if many readers ever watched the Peaky Blinders series but to me, the portrayal of Oswald Moseley and his morals make chilling comparisons to current affairs!

Highland (council area) – Wikipedia

Clackmannanshire – Wikipedia

Mhairi Black’s incredible speech on Tory fascism – YouTube