Rory Mair, Chief Executive of COSLA, talks in St Andrews
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) held their annual conference at the Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews last week. The two headliners — Scotland’s Deputy Prime Minister, MSP Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party, and head of the pro-union Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling — led off on a cold, cloudy Friday.
The event, “Today’s Reality…Tomorrow’s Vision,” brought together heads of Scotland’s thirty-two local authorities. Revitalizing local government in the face of demographic change, austerity, and the centralizing effects of devolution was discussed. A keynote of each presentation was the possibility of Scottish independence.
Lesley Riddoch, Scottish radio broadcaster for the BBC and columnist in The Scotsman, introduced the event. Regardless of independence, she said, how local authorities can be imbedded constitutionally in Scotland is a question “in front of us now.”
Amongst prominent members of Scottish local government, Nicola Sturgeon spoke about enshrining the role of local government in a constitution — an option, she said, only independence would provide. She related everything to independence. Alistair Darling, arriving just before he was introduced, exchanging a contrived, diplomat’s handshake with Mrs. Sturgeon, refuted independence with a positive message: he’s not necessarily against independence, rather, the U.K. and Scotland are just better together. The bulk of both speeches were recycled arguments; however, Mrs. Sturgeon came across as more driven and her remarks more polished, though not discrediting to Mr. Darling’s argument.
These two heavyweights, exchanging a volley from battle-hardened lines for and against independence, used the backdrop of local government as a platform for why their cause is true. Clearly, they were ready and used to such encounters, and will surely meet again soon — if not already. Local government is at a watershed in Scotland; as each presentation made abundantly clear, a sea change is needed to meet a confluence of inimical demographic and economic trends. Independence may not be the answer, but it certainly raises many questions.
Angus West assess the presentations at the COSLA conference in the Scottish Independence Blog.