Good to hear some louder voices at the CoSLA conference and in the media this weekend making the case for democratically accountable local government. I was concerned that local government organisations like CoSLA felt that there was no need to state the obvious.
How wrong can they be. With one centralising proposal after another there is a risk that local government could control a tiny proportion of public spending as the national this, that, or the other takes over. Added to that we have all the political parties ruling out increases in the Council Tax, leaving councils no freedom to respond to local need. Other than increasing charges - the most regressive of taxation measures.
James Hunter put it well in his comment piece in the Herald on Saturday: "Scotland may be a small country. But it is an endlessly diverse one - the sort of country in which a thousand flowers could be encouraged to bloom by ministers committed to dispersing power rather than hoarding it."
I note in this week's Third Force News a bizarre proposal to do away with councils altogether. Apparently this would mean one less layer of government and councils would be replaced by community bodies getting together to debate issues. Norway is cited as an example of this. Strange given that Norway has 430 elected local councils and 19 strategic authorities - one more layer of government than us.
I belong to a number of community and voluntary organisations. If I don't like what they are doing I can either work hard internally to change them, time I sadly rarely have, or I resign in protest. I can't resign from having my bins collected and thankfully neither can my neighbours. Rats don't respect our boundaries! Even the uber capitalist Victorians recognised this when they created local government.
Democracy does of course mean much more than electing councils every four or five years. Engagement with community organisations is vital. However, that is no substitute for elected democracy. It may not be perfect, but I want to able to tackle my local councillor and vote him or her out when needed. That's real democracy.