jimtoggleJim O’Neill says we know what the battle will be in next year’s council elections – Labour will be fighting to retain local democracy in the face of an SNP desperate to centralise and impose.

 

Two major stories have drawn my attention over the last week and both go to the heart of the Scottish Government’s policies.

For that hardy band of comrades who go under the title of Chair or Secretary of Labour’s Local Campaign Forums, this is the maddest time of the five year cycle. It is the identification of the numbers of candidates we will stand in each ward and, following that, the management of the selection of those candidates by the members in each ward. I know because this is my second cycle of carrying out those tasks in North Ayrshire.

To say that herding cats is difficult (and I am a former cat breeder) bears no resemblance to managing the availability and expectation of our candidates during this period. For me, hopefully, it will be all over by Christmas and we can then concentrate on the development of a local manifesto and the planning of our campaign. This is particularly important after our terrific by-election win in the summer and the subsequent abandonment by the SNP of the administration.

However, one issue has been taken off our backs. We know already what the main focus of the campaign will be.

Just like the decision by the Tories under Margaret Thatcher and Michael Forsyth, after their humiliating defeat on water privatisation, which has given us such a lopsided council structure, from tiny Clackmannan to the biggest in Glasgow, the SNP have shown their intent to hamstring local government and thus local democracy. From the disastrous Police Scotland to handing unwanted powers to head teachers who just want to get on with providing the best education to their pupils, secure in the knowledge that the council has got their back, the Scottish Government has sought to interfere in what has always been the role of local democracy.

Now secret government briefing papers have come to light which threaten to forcibly merge council services. Many of these ideas have been investigated by the councils themselves in the past with mixed success. Removing councils from childcare decisions, even though childcare powers are implemented with great reluctance by local authorities and only because of parental failure, and removing from councils responsibility for roads and bin collections? Given Humza Yousaf’s failures over Scotrail, the prospect does not gladden my heart.

The documents go so far as to suggest that with what they expect to be greater control of local government by the SNP after next year’s elections, the SNP government is looking to more docile SNP councils to accept legislation to achieve this. Kenny McAskill, writing in the London Times last week, said:

“It’s time for the consensus to end and for radical change to be invoked. The way forward is to move service delivery out of the political arena entirely and into commissions…”

This, of course, is the total negation of local democracy. Commissions, presumably appointed by the Government, will decide what you need and what is good for you. 1984 just a little later. This is battleground 2017. Labour are up for the fight.

Meanwhile, how often have we heard this. “If only we had more powers we could turn Scotland into Utopia” or “the poor in Scotland need the devolution of welfare to allow us to counteract the ways of the evil Tory Westminster empire”? Well, largely down to the hard work of the Scottish Labour members at Westminster, we got what we asked for in terms of welfare powers.

But we now find, from a joint ministerial minute, that the Sturgeon government has asked for a delay in the implementation of those powers for another three and a half years! All the rhetoric has gone out the window and Scotland’s poor have been abandoned to the benefit cutting policies of Theresa May’s government until 2020.

If I hear another SNP MP or MSP whingeing about the attacks of the “Evil Empire” I may puke. They have just given up all rights to complain about welfare policy since they have the powers but don’t want to implement them. In an old Scots saying, which my Grannie often used, the SNP are “all mooth and nae troosers”.

Finally, I note that the SNP house paper “The National” has joined the ranks of those lazy journalists who steal other people’s ideas. Last Thursday, The National had Theresa May pictured as the Dark Lord on its front page. Note to Editor: Britain’s best political cartoonist, Steve Bell, has been portraying Mrs May as Empress Treeza aka the Dark Lord since her election to the leadership of the Tory Party in his brilliant strip “If”. Just sayin’.