Some 14 years ago, in the run-up to the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP campaign made a number of promises which won them the election for the first time ever. One with appeal right across the country was this:
A real chance to help poorer people and empower communities was scuppered here.
I was among the 32 council leaders who gathered at CoSLA that June of 2007 to hear John Swinney, the new Finance Minister promised a new “parity of esteem” between councils and government. In exchange for the SNP Government scrapping Council Tax, councils had to agree to council tax rates being frozen for the next couple of years while a fairer alternative was worked out. Although the SNP held no majority, CoSLA agreed to this. Among those in the room were Kevin Stewart from Aberdeen, Joe Fitzpatrick from Dundee and Derek Mackay from Renfrewshire—all of whom became MSPs and Scottish Government Ministers.
To be fair to the SNP, there were efforts made to find an alternative, but these were quietly dropped after the 2011 election, when the SNP won a clear majority. Despite now having a free hand, while council tax remained frozen, the 80% of council income provided by the government was steadily pared in real terms. Actual increases were “ring-fenced” for specific purposes and could not be spent as general funds. Parity of Esteem it most certainly was not. Councils were effectively tools of government policies and Aunt Sallies for public resentment at less popular ones.
Exactly eight years ago, a blog on this site , recognised unforeseen difficulties in finding a short-term alternative to council tax. It proposed a way of simply modifying the existing system to make it less regressive and provide a roughly 15% increase in its revenues to councils. This was brought to the attention of Derek Mackay as Finance Minister, Kevin Stewart as Local Government Minister and Joe Fitzpatrick as Housing Minister. Eight years later, there has been neither response, nor any action beyond lifting the tax freeze two years ago.
For those interested in the (still valid) original proposal, here is the link to the post of March 9th 2012