Isobel Lindsay: Council tax move must make us ask – have our politicians lost their nerve?


Campaigner Isobel Lindsay questions whether Scotland’s politicians are sacrificing real change over a fear of risk

IS the Jack McConnell ‘do less’ virus still lingering around Holyrood? Timidity characterises somuch of what the Scottish Government does and the local government finance proposal is yet another example.

My generation saw lots of big things being done in Scotland; it will be disappointing if Holyrood only has the nerve to nibble at the edges of real problems.

It’s refreshing to remember that big change can happen by political choice and that it can be for the better. From the 1950s to the 1970s there was a very successful New Towns programme. If politicians hadn’t had the courage to risk change, there would be no East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Livingston, Irvine, Glenrothes.

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The Scottish Special Housing Association was set up to build thousands of good quality houses throughout Scotland. The Highlands and Islands Development Board and later the Scottish Development Agency were controversial and had some messy early problems but were clearly positive initiatives in retrospect.

The whole juvenile justice system in Scotland was radically reformed with the introduction of the Children’s Panels despite the predictable popular media hysteria about being soft on crime.

Local government was changed utterly with the introduction of the twotier regional and district councils, abolishing over 400 councils. This may or may not have been the right policy but there was no shortage of initiative and of capacity to implement change effectively.

We moved in a short space of time from a largely selective junior and senior secondary school system to a fully comprehensive education system. This was a massive task with school mergers and curriculum changes everywhere except very small towns which had only one school, and it was predictably controversial although not to the same extent as in England.

We established around 14 new universities from the 1960s onwards and greatly expanded student numbers. Of course, the independence plans and the campaign did take real nerve.

It was and continues to be the big issue in Scottish politics. But the vision and courage can’t stop there. Voters need to believe that another Scotland is possible.

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It may have been the experience of disastrous and imposed change in the Thatcher years that made some politicians frightened. It shouldn’t be media attacks that scare – the press is in decline and it will invent hostile stories irrespective of substance.

We know that local government structure and finance needs radical change. We know that tackling housing provision needs a new approach. We know that a comprehensive childcare service is not going to be created by a little bit of expansion here and there.

We know that indigenous industrial development needs a new strategy. So ‘doing less’ competently is not going to address the problems and is not going to inspire a new Scottish generation.

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Picture courtesy of Richard Walker