Press & Journal, 30.6.08
People living in Scotland’s main cities should have the chance to vote for directly elected provosts, a think-tank has said.
The independent think-tank Reform Scotland published a report today, described by its chairman Ben Thomson as a “recipe for the revival of local democracy in Scotland”.
The report calls for the Scottish Government to organise referendums in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh in a bid to discover if residents there want to have their own directly elected leaders.
Reform Scotland believes having mayors or provosts who are voted into office by locals could prove to be “a popular and effective form of local government”.
The report argues: “The advantage of having an elected provost or mayor with clear responsibility for local services is that it provides a figurehead and therefore strengthens accountability.
“If combined with greater powers for local government generally, a directly elected provost or mayor would also be in a position to provide strong and effective leadership.
“For example, in New York the elected mayor was responsible for leading that city’s drive to reduce crime.
“Equally, an elected provost or mayor could provide a focus for efforts to drive forward economic development in our cities.”
And it states: “A directly elected provost or mayor could well prove a popular and effective form of local government in Scotland, particularly in our four main cities.”
Reform Scotland also believes some powers could be devolved from local councils down to communities, where there is a demand for this.
This could be decided on in local referendums, with powers given to communities if a simple majority of voters give the move their backing.
The report says many communities would not want to go down this route, but it adds: “Those that do should be able to.”
The think-tank argued for the change after research showed that in countries such as Sweden, France and Norway, local councils represent communities which are far smaller than Scotland’s local authorities, but are able to levy taxes and exercise control over vital local services including primary education, planning, recreation, local transport and community infrastructure.
Mr Thomson said: “We need to adopt this decentralising approach as a matter of urgency.”