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March 6, 2019

Time to walk the walk

You’d be hard pushed to find a politician of any party who would openly take issue with any of the policy zeitgeists such as community empowerment, localism and the co-production of public services. Talking the talk is easy. But actually taking the steps to translate all the talk into action is another matter. Political power in Scotland has become so institutionally centralised (and tribal) that it has become virtually instinctive to criticise and oppose anything – even if it what you have previously declared support for. Think tank Reform Scotland call out the naysayers on localism.

Reform Scotland

A Scottish think-tank has criticised opposition parties at Holyrood for taking a ‘centralist’ view of decision making.

Ahead of a vote on handing more powers to local authorities, Chris Deerin, director of Reform Scotland said it is “disappointing” that some political parties who have previously argued in favour of localism are not embracing this principle.

The Scottish Parliament is today expected to vote through the final stages of the Budget Bill which will give local authorities the power to make decisions on introducing workplace parking levies and a tourism tax.

Both have attracted severe criticism from opposition parties and today the Scottish Conservatives are launching an advertising campaign to halt plans for the workplace parking tax.

Mr Deerin said claims that the Scottish Government is responsible for imposing new taxes are “simply incorrect”. He said It will be for individual councils to decide whether such levies are appropriate for their area.

Different councils will make different choices about whether and how to proceed, according to local opinion and need. Reform Scotland believes that devolving more powers to local authorities to allow them to develop individual solutions is a good thing, and that the measures contained in the Budget should only be a first step.

Mr Deerin said: “It is perfectly possible to oppose the imposition of the new levies but believe it should be up to local authorities to decide. Scotland is too centralised and these measures will strengthen local accountability and allow decisions to be made on community need.

“It’s no longer the case that ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’, but neither does the man or woman in St Andrew’s House. It is disappointing that some political parties who have previously argued in favour of localism are not embracing this principle.

“Just as the UK Government is not responsible for the increase in income tax in Scotland because it devolved the power to Holyrood, neither would the Scottish Government be responsible for introducing a workplace parking charge by devolving the power to local authorities.

“Scotland is a diverse nation. If the Scottish Government is truly serious about local empowerment, these proposals must be only the first small step in greater devolution to our local authorities.”

Hypocrisy jibe

Labour and the Tories have been accused of hypocrisy after it was revealed they both backed plans for a workplace parking levy.

Tory councillors in Edinburgh last year voted in favour of the council “pursuing the power for Edinburgh to seek consent to introduce a workplace parking Levy”, while in 2017, Labour councillorsin both Edinburgh and Glasgow stood on manifesto commitments to explore introducing a levy.

SNP MSP George Adam said: “The Tories and Labour have been caught out running embarrassing and hypocritical campaigns against a measure they themselves have been demanding.

“Indeed, several Tory councils have themselves introduced car parking charges despite now decrying them, in an act of breath-taking hypocrisy.

“The public can see right through this two-faced opportunism – parties who demand localism in one breath and then demand Scottish Government acts against such policies in the next.

“Ultimately, it will be up to local authorities to decide whether a workplace parking levy is right for their areas – and if Labour, Tory or SNP councils oppose their use, that’s their choice.

“But it is outright hypocrisy to oppose giving councils that choice when their own parties have demanded it.”