At the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum conference, I heard an interesting argument from Gordon Mathieson, the leader of Glasgow Council, who was speaking for ‘Better Together’. He argued that the Nationalist government, in pursing their project of nation-building, had introduced measures to centralise powers on the Scottish Parliament. I think that’s right – they have centralised police and fire services, finance and audit, and are in the process of centralising social care. What he hoped to see, instead, was ‘metropolitanism’ – focusing on the city-regions (such as Glasgow) rather than Scotland as a whole. He saw Glasgow as having more in common with Manchester than with Moray. This, he claimed, was a different, alternative approach from independence. There, too, he is right: it is a genuinely different position. I don’t however think that it’s a particularly persuasive model. Local authorities in Scotland are big and remote from the people they serve. At the same time, they find it challenging to organise local services under national constraints.
There is another alternative. Robin McAlpine, for the Common Weal, argued at the same conference for smaller, participative local authorities on the model of Norway. That’s an attractive option. We need to think in terms of multi-level governance, where a range of different authorities are empowered to meet needs at different levels. I’m not sure, unfortunately, that a vote either for ‘yes’ or for ‘no’ will do much to bring this about.