Councillor’s open letter to Nicola Sturgeon

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Edinburgh councillor Jim Orr writes an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon calling on the SNP deputy leader to boost community engagement in politics.

Dear Nicola,

Irrespective of the details around new powers, the energy created by the referendum has created an opportunity to address Scotland’s poor pedigree in recent decades in terms of local political engagement.

In the years leading up to the referendum your government was purposeful in many respects but also risk averse.

The political landscape is very ­different now with an appetite in ­society for radical measures to be introduced, in particular to address social inequality.

As a fresh theme heading into the next elections, your government should commit to a programme of empowering communities and instinctive decentralisation.

Importantly the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament have never yet been optimised and your government could accelerate adoption of the recommendations of the Land Reform Review Group such as the Urban Renewal proposals to address land banking by giving local authorities the powers to make compulsory sale orders.

Such powers appear to be in the public interest and should simply be adopted if they meet that test. Proportional representation has been in place for many years in our councils and this has already improved cross-party co-operation, transparency, scrutiny and local engagement.

In our newly politicised society all this should increase your confidence that any radical new powers would be used as intended to benefit local communities and economies.

Devolving local taxation powers to councils has proved to be challenging in the past, for example as Westminster ruled out compensating the government for lost council tax benefit if the council tax were to be scrapped.

But the government’s vision and desire for services in Scotland to be significantly funded by locally set taxes should be set out once more and with renewed vigour. To prove that the commitment is genuine there are other taxation powers which could be devolved to local authorities at present, such as business rates (or for that matter a transient visitor levy). If such a quasi-federal, Scandinavian-style local government vision were to be laid out, this message would be widely embraced.

The central policy of a locally-set income tax (or land value tax) would remain a long-term goal to be implemented once complimented appropriately by the new tranche of powers.

It is less a question of how much we are taxed but rather how we are taxed.

In such ways, further power should be devolved from the Scottish Parliament while as a nation we campaign together for more powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Yes campaign parties have to be faithful to the spirit of the referendum and accept that independence is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. But the campaign for more powers must not distract your government from thinking radically about what it can, and must do now, to capitalise on the spirit of community empowerment alive across Scotland.

I hope that as our next First Minister, you can embrace such radicalism while working co-operatively too. Exciting times lie ahead for Scotland and you personally.

Best wishes,

Cllr Jim Orr