THE scenes at Edinburgh’s City Chambers yesterday were pretty remarkable even by the standard of recent Scottish politics.
We have grown used to the SNP sweeping aside everything in its electoral path and achieving things that everyone previously said were impossible. And seeing the two big tribes of Scottish politics, the Nationalists and Labour, at loggerheads has been the general backdrop of recent years.
But here was a senior SNP politician and a senior Labour one sitting side by side and singing from the same hymn sheet. And neither city council leader Andrew Burns nor his Nationalist deputy Sandy Howat were holding back when it came to criticising the approach that the Scottish Government has taken to funding the local services for which they are responsible, including schools and social care.
“It pains me,” said Councillor Burns, as he talked of inevitable damage to local services as a result of the city’s latest settlement from the Scottish Government. Scotland’s system for funding local services, he said, was “broken”. Cllr Howat was no less impassioned as he deliberately echoed the battle cry of the American Revolution, decrying “representation with very limited taxation”.
What both want is clear – more powers to raise the taxes they believe are needed to deliver decent public services in the Capital. That is, in effect, devolution. Devolution of tax-raising powers from Holyrood to the City Chambers. That might take the form of de-coupling council tax bands, paving the way for a local mansion tax, or allowing the city to levy a tourist tax, or more control over business rates, or all of above.
These are reasonable demands that would be very popular with the majority of council taxpayers.
It will be hard for the Scottish Government to ignore the united front being offered by the self-styled alliance of “social democrats” at the City Chambers – and it would be wrong.