Brian Monteith: Time to consign Cosla to dustbin

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It would appear that the end of Cosla – the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities to give it its Sunday name – is nearing. It will soon be sent to its resting home, where it will while away the hours remembering how it took on Maggie and her Secretaries of State in the 1980s (didn’t everyone?) and claimed to be more representative of Scottish opinion than the Conservative government.

Coincidentally, the Church of Scotland used to claim the same mantle of public legitimacy and is pretty much going the same way. Does this not tell us something?

What we should consider is that local authorities getting together is nothing other than a conspiracy against the people they represent. The idea that the local interests of a council in, say, Elgin and, say, Edinburgh have a great deal in common is simply fatuous. Many rural authorities will have common problems just as many cities will have similar challenges – but all the councils across the whole of Scotland being in the same boat? Forget it.

It was always a daft idea.Their sizes, demographics, cultural traditions, social problems and economic interests are all different. What it was really about was preserving their own vested interests (their size, their continued growth, and their protection from competition) and topping up the 
public subsidies that they enjoyed.

What it meant was that our 
councils were reduced to agreeing to policies that were limited to a common denominator which, after paying their membership fees funded by the rates, then the poll tax, and now the council tax, might be against their own interests. For that read being against our interests.

Still, this was seen as democratic and therefore supportable, but it was nothing of the sort. Our councillors and our council administration has no business trying to find a common solution for what might work in Govan if it means we don’t get what we need in Gorgie.

The interests of Edinburgh are what our councillors should always put first; they have no legitimacy beyond the city boundaries.

If they want to be on a bigger stage get elected to Holyrood or Westminster. It’s tough, but many Scottish politicians have been successful taking that route.

If not, stick to representing local interests and be proud of that – and don’t be afraid of competing with a neighbour or another city. That encourages innovation, cost-cutting and value for money. The same principle of putting a local council’s interest first goes for West Lothian, East Lothian, Midlothian, Fife and the rest.

This is not to say that there will be no common interests between councils – such as finding savings for the hard-pressed local taxpayer through pooling resources or establishing service delivery agreements. That’s all fair enough – but can be dealt with by bi-lateral contracts.

The death blow to Cosla is coming about because some councils – such as West Lothian, Glasgow and Aberdeen – have signalled their intention to stop paying their subs. That’s like pulling the plug on the life support. Glasgow will save £300,000 a year.

Cosla may yet continue, but it will be a much-reduced organisation in both scope and activity, and that’s probably about right. Producing useful research and encouraging best practice amongst council employees makes sense. But sorry, trying to say what’s in Scotland’s best interest, or even Scotland’s councils’ best interests ended the day the Scottish parliament opened.

And ironically Cosla – like the Church of Scotland – was one of those most vocal in Holyrood’s arrival. Further irony has been how the Scottish Parliament has then emasculated our councils with a council tax freeze and centralisation of services.

Be careful what you wish for is an adage they should have thought of. How fitting that having a real democratic forum has exposed the weaknesses of those that had no mandate and consigned them to discover their real purpose. I for one will not be shedding any tears.

Knickers in a twist

WHILE we were all watching the horrible scenes of the last few weeks in Ukraine something else has been stirring in the wonderful world of Vladimir Putin. I thought I had heard it all when it comes to the Nanny State interfering in people’s lives but news reached me last week of a demonstration in the capital of Kazakhstan where three women were arrested for protesting – against a ban on frilly knickers.

Titter ye not, it’s true – from July 1, any lacy underwear in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that does not have a six per cent absorption rate will be illegal (Absorption rate? Don’t ask me, I’m a bloke). It’s meant to be a public health issue, but I would have thought sans-knickers is a bigger threat.

On investigation, I found that the ban is really all about trying to stop foreign imports into a market worth £3 billion, as 80 per cent of frilly knickers and bras come from abroad – where presumably absorption rates are not an issue.

The demonstrators put lacy knickers on a statue and wore them on their heads. It must have been like a scene out of that satirical film Borat.