The Conservatives are in fourth place in Scotland in terms of the number of councillors. We have 138. This compares to the Lib Dems with 164, Labour with 351 and the SNP with 366. The new Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson launched the Scottish Conservatives manifesto for these local elections yesterday and said that the Conservatives initial target was to move up to third place. This sounds pretty realistic – although the achievement would be if it came through the Conservatives making gains rather than just the Lib Dems falling back.
The manifesto is clearly, distinctively, unapologetically Conservative. It applies the logic of devolution to say that councils should be able to decide and so much matters as housing allocation and planning issues – including the chance to reject wind farms:
"Scottish devolution is based on the principle that Holyrood can do whatever it wishes unless the issue is reserved to Westminster. This gives it great flexibility to decide how and where it spends its resources, but this is in stark contrast to local authorities which are constrained by an excess of central government legislation, regulation and rules. We want to extend devolution locally. We would reshape the relationship of local authorities and Holyrood around a power of initiative, which would give councils the flexibility to adapt their structure and service provision to suit the needs of their respective local communities."
Tax cuts are emphasised:
"Scottish Conservatives believe in lower taxes. Restricting – and where possible reducing – the tax burden on Scottish families is a key priority for us. We will support a reduction in council tax for those local authorities – such as Stirling – who are able to deliver it."
What about some Tartan free schools:
"Diversity in Education Scottish Conservatives are very supportive of alternative models of primary and secondary education. We want to encourage diversity in the educational system. Where communities feel it is appropriate, schools should be able to operate outwith council control. We would also enable communities to set up their own schools, which they believe reflect their needs and local demand."
Complaints procedures would be localised:
"Scottish Conservatives are committed to removing unnecessary constraints on councils and councillors and we therefore propose removing local authorities from the remit of the Standards Commission and the Public Standards Commissioner for Scotland and will allow councils to adopt their own Codes of Conduct and complaints procedures."
There would be the equivalent of directly elected mayors:
"We would hold referenda in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh to give people the opportunity to elect a powerful provost."
There would also be greater transparency:
"Everyone should be free to look up detailed information on their council’s expenditure and have the opportunity for detailed scrutiny. We want each council to maintain a list of employee job titles along with salary spreads which will be published online. This would allow local residents to clearly see where their money is going and get a better sense of the structures that underpin local government."