Response to the call for evidence and submissions to the Smith Commission

My name is Bill Fraser; I am a private citizen interested in the future of Scotland and this is my response to the call for submissions

  • Principles underpinning my proposals

Essentially power and responsibility should be devolved to the lowest point practicable. The basic principle should be to empower people to look after themselves and their community. We saw during the Independence Referendum campaign unprecedented levels of engagement of the electorate, I would contend that the reason for that engagement was that people felt empowered to take responsibility and that they could effect change by their own efforts.

  • Assessment of the current situation

1    Local Government

I am concerned that calls for more devolution to local councils from the Labour Party in particular are party political in nature and seek to emasculate Holyrood in favour of councils that they control. I believe that to be unacceptable but that does not mean that I do not want more devolution, indeed I believe that so called ‘Local’ Councils are anything but ‘local’.

People have become disengaged with politics as can be seen by the declining numbers of votes cast in local and national elections, with the notable exception of the Scottish Referendum. Local Government in Scotland is local in name only with one authority bigger than Belgium.  The following table from Leslie Riddoch’s book Blossom [1] shows the average size of local authorities across Europe and voter turnout and the following extract postulates (reasonably) that the disconnect from the electorate is the reason.

“Scottish council elections in 2011 had a 38 per cent turnout amongst 32 councils. Coincidence ? Local government across Europe means decision -making by people like your mum, neighbour or other ‘weel kent’ faces. In Scotland, it means control by people you don’t know. Could that be why Scots don’t vote?”[1]

Local Government

 

People cannot feel engaged at a ratio of one councillor to 4,270 people, they cannot feel that they have control over their own lives and it is this powerlessness that leads to apathy and resignation.

If people are empowered they can achieve great things, for example the Reidvale Housing Association (recently the subject of a major BBC Documentary, The Secret History of our Streets) demonstrates how strident community activism paved the way for the Housing Association movement across the UK[2]. Some of the poorest Glaswegians worked together to restore Govanhill Baths – a decade-long campaign to retain a swimming pool against the wishes of Glasgow Council.[3] These are examples of where local communities stood up against the bureaucratic and financial might of councils and succeeded in maintain and improving their local areas but others failed for lack of access to funds. It is for this reason that I believe that taxes should be raised (or at least allocated to) small economic areas (say the size of a village of 5000 people). Of course reallocations will be necessary from more affluent areas to deprived areas to aid in investment for jobs, food production and local energy schemes, some funds should go to regional areas for investment in roads and hospitals and some to national governments to pay for national schemes, defence and motorways and stimulation of economic activity where necessary.

2      National Governments

Westminster, whether by design or lack of design, has allowed the regions of Britain to stagnate economically and have relied on the City of London to bring in tax revenues with disastrous results due to lax regulation of the markets. The cuts made by the present UK Government are not working as the apparent growth in the economy has not translated into higher wages[4] resulting in lower than expected tax receipts.

Multinationals use transfer pricing schemes to avoid taxation and consumption has risen funded by borrowing based on rising house values. House prices are outstripping the ability for the next generation to buy leading to increased moves to a rentier economy.

Increases in the asset values of land and housing are harming our economy yet it is recorded as a rise in GDP. The UK Government have done little or nothing to depress this asset bubble by taxation and encouraging building of affordable housing.  In order to counter these destructive tendencies the constituent Nations and Regions (of England in particular) need to be empowered to develop policies that will stimulate productive economic growth which pays a good rate of return and shares those returns equitably between employees, investors, investment in the business and the state.

We need to replace casino style banking and borrowing for consumption based on rising asset values that have no positive economic value with local businesses that serve their communities and retain and invest the proceeds back into the community cutting imports and encouraging exports.

The failure of National and ‘Local’ government to improve the conditions of people are borne out by the fact that the Labour Party has been in control of the East end of Glasgow locally for fifty years and nationally for 23 of those years yet life expectancy or men in the Calton area at 54[5] is worse than some third world countries. These poor outcome have been linked directly to lack of life chances by Dr Harry Burns[6], the lack of control over their own destinies leads to destructive habits such as drinking and drugs which in turn deprives children of the opportunities that lead to a successful future for themselves and society as a whole as costs are placed on wider society supporting them rather than them contributing to society.

  • The advantages to Scotland and the UK of devolving power

By devolving power and control over taxation and welfare from State to National government and then onwards to real local government and regions, people can be empowered to build sustainable local economies saving money on welfare and health budgets and increasing the ability of government to provide relevant services and investment due to increased revenue from taxation. The costs of running Westminster will be reduced as there will be less need for the apparatus of state to be retained in London and the economic benefits of that activity will be transferred to the Nations, regions and local government.

  • Disadvantages to Scotland and the UK of devolving power

Given that Scotland has voted to retain the Union it is logical that Defence and foreign Affairs should be dealt with at state level. The State should also play a major part in negotiations with supra national organisations for example over international taxation rules with the UN and Europe. The principle should be that everything is devolved unless there are overriding reasons for State control and not simply to satisfy the personal aspirations of elected politicians or members of the House of Lords.

I, as a private citizen, am not equipped to discuss the legal barriers (which I assume must relate to EU and International Law as it is within the power of Westminster to alter other laws as needs be. Nor am I equipped to give a detailed analysis of the financial costs of the various moves that I have proposed though care must be taken to ensure that duplication of effort is minimised. Some extra costs may be expected from devolving powers as duplication of functions will happen amongst National Governments and there will be initial set up costs but by allowing the National, Regional and Local organisations to direct their own future for their own benefit these costs may be seen as a necessary investment to stimulate the local and therefore the national and state economies whilst reducing costs for welfare and health organisations.

I hope that this submission will be taken into consideration.

Yours sincerely

Bill Fraser B.A.

[1] Riddoch, Lesley (2013-08-26). Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish (Viewpoints) (Kindle Locations 3485-3487). Luath Press Ltd. Kindle Edition

[2] http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/campaigning-residents-glasgows-famous-duke-3931469

[3] Riddoch, Lesley (2013-08-26). Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish (Viewpoints) (Kindle Locations 3542-3543). Luath Press Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[4] The New Economics Foundation, Why the Cuts Aren’t Working –  http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/why-the-cuts-arent-working

[5] http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/men-in-glasgows-east-end-have-life-988632

[6] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/resource/0040/00403544.pdf, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/harry-burns-scotland-chief-medical-officer-health

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About Of Men and Markets

A student of politics and economics View all posts by Of Men and Markets

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