The crisis in local democracy in Scotland is exposed in a new poll today which reveals that three-quarters of Scots are not confident they could name the leader of their local council.
It also reveals the potential solution – the creation of directly-elected provosts to Scotland’s leading cities.
The number of Scots who support the idea of directly-elected provosts outnumbers opponents by two-to-one, and a clear majority say they would be more likely to vote in local elections if such a reform was introduced.
The poll comes with Scotland preparing to go to the polls this May for local council elections. Turn-out has consistently been below 50% since devolution.
Today, Our Scottish Future founder, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, throws his support behind the creation of directly-elected provosts saying the measure could “rekindle” local communities.
He says that the move to drive devolution down to local communities in Scotland has gone “into reverse” under the current Scottish Government.
In a new podcast also released today (Wednesday), Andy Burnham, the metro mayor of Greater Manchester, and Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of Liverpool City Region say they would welcome their introduction in order to complement their own roles.
Today’s new poll, conducted by Opinium, shows that:
- 75% of people are “not confident” that they could name the leader of their local council
- 45% would support the introduction of directly elected provosts, as against 21% who would oppose. 33% said they did not know.
- 71% said they would be more likely than not to vote in an election for a directly-elected provost.
Mr Brown says today: “We need to act to revive our flagging local democracy. And as we turn our attention in 2022 to Scotland’s local elections in May, our poll shows that this may be time to look afresh at the way we are governed locally – and how direct elections for Provosts could rekindle our streets and the communities where we live.”
He adds: “Scotland led the way with devolution more than twenty years ago, when the Scottish Parliament was created by the last Labour government. But since then, our journey to devolve even further downwards has stopped. Indeed, the Scottish Government has put it into reverse, taking a highly centralising approach. Not only have local authorities been drained of the resources they need but also stripped of powers.”
He concludes: “Local democracy is back in vogue everywhere round the world and Scotland should be in the vanguard not lagging behind. Our poll today shows that Scots are ahead of their government on this. Devolution cannot stop in Edinburgh – it is time to give our great Scottish cities and regions the power and control they need too.”
On the podcast, to be released today, Mr Rotheram said: “Devolution (in Scotland) has come from London but then been centralised in Scotland and it is not true devolution unless you get out of Edinburgh.”
He added: “We were in Glasgow for COP26 and it is in need of some tender loving care and some devolution so they can do things for themselves. For me it is about giving them the opportunity to do something for themselves and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Nobody is asking for hand-outs, just the opportunity to do things differently. So far as I can see in Scotland, what has happened is that power has been centralised in Holyrood not devolved.”
Mr Burnham said: “I think it would be a great thing if devolution came to the Scottish cities and city regions because it would allow us to have a place based conversation.”
He concluded: “The drive to net zero will have to be won bottom up not top down. You can’t legislate your way there. You have got to free up places to go at this fast and if Scottish cities are left behind in that I don’t think it will be in Scotland’s interest. So, I think the idea of mayors or provosts on the big city regions would be great for us because the bonds between the north of England and Scotland would get stronger.”
The poll was carried out by Opinium of 1,098 Scottish residents.
In England, there are now 8 metro mayors – in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Midlands, North of Tyne, Tees Valley, Sheffield City Region, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the West of England.
These regions consist of combined local authority areas. The Metro Mayor’s role is to coordinate formal joint working across the combined area on issues such as skills and transport.
In addition, London has had a directly elected mayor responsible to the London Assembly since 2000.
In Scotland, similar combined local authority regions could exist around major cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen. In addition, distinct local areas such as the Borders and the Highlands and Islands could also choose to be represented by a directly elected provost.
Currently, Scotland has 32 local authorities, with the leader of each Council selected by councillors following an election.
In the 2017 election, 1,927,149 votes were cast, amounting to a 46.9% turn out. This compares to the turn out of 63.5% in the most recent Holyrood election last year.