By a Newsnet reporter 
An organisation, whose membership is mostly opposed to independence, has launched an attack on the SNP’s flagship council tax freeze policy, claiming that the vast majority of people in Scotland want it to end.
The so-called ‘Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy’ [CSLD] which was set up by local authority umbrella group Cosla, has released results from a poll it says shows most people would prefer to pay more council tax if the extra money was guaranteed to be spent on local services.

According to figures released by the group, the poll carried out by Mori showed two thirds of Scots would accept an increase in their council tax, with less than half saying that local authorities were adequately funded.

The survey has been seized on by pro-Union media outlets, including the Scotsman and the Times, with some headlines claiming that the poll undermines the key SNP pledge.  The survey result has also led to massive coverage from BBC Scotland on TV and radio, with the broadcaster reporting that Scots ‘would pay more council tax’.

However the overwhelming pro-Union make-up of the organisation which commissioned the poll, and the apparent loaded nature of the question, has led to questions being asked over the credibility of its poll findings.

On yesterday evening’s Reporting Scotland, CSLD was referred to by reporter Jamie McIvor as a “cross party group”.  However Newsnet Scotland can reveal that the group, far from being cross-party, is in fact dominated by pro-Union politicians, journalists and other figures who question independence.

Of the twenty members of the group, only two are from parties that support independence, one SNP councillor and one Scottish Green councillor.  This contrasts with a total of six former or current pro-Union politicians, including Labour’s Glasgow Council leader Gordon Matheson and the former Labour leader of Edinburgh council, the Rev. Ewan Aitken.

Also on the group are pro-Union journalists Alf Young and Allan Rennie.  Young is a former Labour party researcher whilst Rennie is now the Editor of the Daily Record, a newspaper which is openly pro-Labour and pro-Union.

Others on the group include Geoff Mawdsley, from the Reform Scotland think-tank which opposes independence and STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith who is a regular critic of the Scottish Government’s plans for independence.

Another member is Orkney councillor Steven Heddle, who last year told the Financial Times that Orkney leaving an independent Scotland could not be ruled out: “That would be the thermonuclear option.  It would come with so much danger and difficulty,” … “[But] we shouldn’t rule anything out.”

Professor Richard Kerley, who advises the group once claimed that high profile supporters of independence, such as Jim McColl, Sean Connery and Brian Cox, did so only because they might pay less tax.

The media attacks on the council tax freeze follow a survey question posed by Mori on behalf of the group. 

However some critics have suggested the question was designed to produce the result now being headlined.  Commenting last night Scottish Government Local Authority Minister Derek Mackay said: “Opinion polls can sometimes give you the answer that you want”

Some callers to BBC Scotland phone in programme Call Kaye, which also asked a similar question, suggested that asking people if they are prepared to pay more if good causes can be guaranteed to benefit, usually results in a majority saying yes.

Despite the apparent leading nature of the survey, the details of which have yet to be published, BBC Scotland has afforded the poll considerable coverage on all of its news outlets with Labour politicians being allowed to attack the SNP.

On Reporting Scotland, Labour councillor Martin Rooney was shown attacking the council tax freeze, claiming his own council of West Dunbartonshire had been “hemmed in” by the Scottish Government policy.

In another clip, the chair of the group David O’Neill was heard backing the result of the survey insisting that people are “content” as long as money is spent on the “services that matter”.

In an earlier statement to BBC Scotland, Mr O’Neill said: “This work undertaken by Mori is about getting to the heart of what the people of Scotland think matters, not the things that politicians tell them that matter.

“It is one part of our bigger commitment to ask some new questions about why doing things locally matters, and what stronger local democracy in Scotland might look like.”

However it was not made clear to viewers that Mr O’Neill was himself a Labour party councillor and vice president of the body which created the ‘Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy’.

The manner in which the BBC has seized on the poll results will do little to quell the growing concern felt by many at what many now believe is an increasing tendency by the broadcaster to highlight anti-SNP stories emanating from so called independent commissions and think tanks.

Later this month the BBC Trust will officially publish its findings on BBC Scotland’s handling of a key issue of the independence referendum.  The Trust has found the Scottish broadcaster guilty of breaking editorial guidelines on accuracy, after it misled viewers over the views of a foreign official on the EU status of an independent Scotland.

The SNP has responded to the attacks on the council tax freeze, which come only weeks before a crucial by-election, by highlighting the fact that local authorities currently enjoy a greater proportion of Scotland’s block grant than was the case when Labour were in power at Holyrood.

In the recent Dunfermline by-election, the Labour party claimed it still supported a council tax freeze.  However it’s candidate for the forthcoming Cowdenbeath by election, Alex Rowley, is on record criticising the freeze claiming it undermines local democracy and suggesting that councils should be allowed to increase council tax.


2014-01-03 12:49

I didnt believe it when the BBC trumpeted this in.
It shows unionist deceit and their belief that the voting public is, in their eyes, gullible enough to believe it.
Media manipulation, part of the union dividend!
2014-01-03 13:25

It’s business as usual in 2014 with BBC Scotland Labour
2014-01-03 13:30

Thank you for this excellent coverage of more BBC manipulation and creation of non-stories. Maticulous detail of dissection – keep it up guys.
2014-01-03 13:35

The sooner local council politicians are made responsible for collecting most of the money they intend to spend the better.
At present,they can hide behind national government expenditure decisions and blame things like tax freezes for the woes inflicted on their constituents.
If they want greater freedom to raise taxes locally then they have to be largely responsible for spending decisions as well.
Our case for Scottish independence is based mainly on this premise that we collect all of our income and in return decide what to spend it on.
Of course,that makes the Scottish Government reponsible for spending decisions and so it should be for local politicians.
2014-01-03 13:54

Oh dear. This one will kick the unionist camp right up the bahookie. The Council Tax freeze is helping struggling families up and down the counntry and keeping their hard-earned cash away from spend-thrift councils like Glasgow who believe it just grows on trees and spend accordingly. I know. I worked there. Rather than using council vans, GCC workers would spend thousands on taxis to get something from A to B. I had worked in the private sector most of my adult life and was shocked with the spendthrift attitude in GCC.It was disgraceful. Tightening their budgets with the tax freeze forces them to be more cautious and discerning in how they spend our money and saves us all a small bundle into the bargain.
2014-01-03 14:14

When will the principals of the independence movement step forward to defend the integrity of the electoral process by condemning the corrupting influence of a BBC acting in violation of its charter and arguably in violation of law?

At what point does the Corporation’s willful betrayal of the public trust and the misuse of public funds in pursuit of partisan political ends become unacceptable?

When will those individuals responsible for this subversive assault on the rights of the People be named and shamed and brought to account?

Well of course the answer is never, unless the leadership of the independence movement and the Scottish Government take a stand against them.
2014-01-03 14:30

Perhaps the question should have had some numbers attached. As Council Tax provides about 15% of Local Government funding, a 7.5% increase in total funding would require a 50% increase in Council Tax.

Perhaps if the question had been put as “Would you agree to pay 50% more Council Tax in return for a very small improvement in local services”, the answer would have been quite different.
2014-01-03 14:50

If the question had simply been “Do you support a rise in council tax?” the outcome would have been very different.

It would be like the SNP commissioning a survey asking “Would you support independence if it would guarantee a higher standard of living in Scotland?” Do you think any findings of such a survey would be taken seriously by the media?
2014-01-03 14:54

“However it’s candidate for the forthcoming Cowdenbeath by election, Alex Rowley, is on record criticising the freeze claiming it undermines local democracy and suggesting that councils should be allowed to increase council tax”.

It is not possible for the Scottish Government to prevent any Council increasing Council Tax if it so wishes.

Any Council which chose to do so would forego the “extra” funding from central government given to councils which agreed not to raise the tax
2014-01-03 15:07

I guess if you ask enough people who don’t actually pay Council Tax, you’ll get this kind of result.

As someone currently paying £140 per month in CT out of a relatively modest salary – I am very grateful for the SNP’s CT freeze and I’m NOT willing to pay a penny more.

As a single person, £140 per month is actually over the score for the extremely limited services I actually use. What’s more, everyone who works with me feels the same – NOT ONE PENNY MORE!
2014-01-03 15:09

Labour are (and have been) been all over the place with regards the Council Tax Freeze……/…

This Poll reminds me of this……/
2014-01-03 16:36

The SNP should use this for all it’s worth in Cowdenbeath: Labour’s policy is to hike your council tax bills.
2014-01-03 16:39

I have not heard any BBC Scotland news on TV today but on the web site there is no mention of how Maggie wanted to cut the Scottish budget but keep it a secret and we have Cameron telling us to stay with them,it makes you sick,now we have a Labour crowd doing to do the same.The Government should tell the Lab councils to increase the CT but there funding will be cut and then hear them squeal.
2014-01-03 17:03

It depends on whether the money is spent wisely? May I site the George Square fiasco to back my views that councils cannot yet be trusted with people’s hard earned money
2014-01-03 17:10

Does anyone agree with me that we should form a commission ourselves with highly respected YES supporters. With the sole aim of debunking these kinds of things.
It could be commissioned to debunk all the lies and manipulation of BT and the MSM.?
2014-01-03 17:12

The Council Tax freeze is small potatoes besides Independence, but Unionists don’t want people reflecting on the possibilities which Independence will deliver.

We must fight to keep the referendum at the top of the agenda, and hold that initiative all the way through to September. If we let Unionists set the agenda, we already know the guff and horse sh_te we’ll be wading through.
2014-01-03 19:09

Absolutely Breeks.
This is just the British state making sure that it’s friendly natives get maximum exposure in the British media.
Don’t expect British Labour to run a campaign in Cowdenbeath extolling the virtues of an increase in Council tax.
That won’t win them any votes if they do.
This is just another attempt by the British state to undermine SG policies and pretend that if we vote for the local British party representative all will be well.

2014-01-03 18:03

BBC Scotland on-Line would appear to have disappeared their wall to wall coverage of this obvious Project Fear propaganda stunt.

I wonder why their enthusiasm has declined to this extent.
2014-01-03 18:14

Brian Taylor during the morning also used the 2/3 poll in favour of council tax increases as some kind of lever to prise open perceived weakness in main SNP policy. So it was a BBC joined-in scam all along and NNS is absolutely right to flag up such mischief.

The Electoral Commission has issued stringent spending guidelines for both YES and NO to promote their cases, but surely it is reduced to farce when the NO campaign is virtually guaranteed this 100% wall-to-wall cover by the MSM and BBC free of charge? Not only that, the coverage coming from the editorials of the press and the news bites from the BBC are actually strategic main-liner articles which NO are probably incapable of delivering at all; and if this is ‘the establishment’ writ large and in full malignant bloom – democratic fairness demands it be curtailed before much longer – or we are indeed seeing farce.
2014-01-03 20:05

How does raising council tax fit in with tackling the UK cost of living crisis?

Has OneNation failed before it even started?
Steven Heddle
2014-01-03 20:10

Part 1 of 2!

Well, I’m flattered to be mentioned, amused at the irony of the position that you incorrectly project on me, and rather hacked off that you have done so, as I feel you have been selective in how you represent me.

I’m amused, as here in Orkney it is well known that my wife was the SNP candidate for the last Holyrood election, and people attribute the same politics to me. But as the leader of an independent council and member of no political party I toe no party line, and seek the best for Orkney from whoever will give it to us – I hope you will accept that is fair enough.

Currently we are engaging very positively with the Scottish Government through the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group chaired by Derek Mackay, and the past I have gone on record as saying that personally I see Orkney’s future as part of Scotland, regardless of whether Scotland is independent or part of the UK.
2014-01-03 20:26

The statement folk were asked to agree with was “I would be willing to pay more council tax if I was certain the money raised was spent on local services such as schools.”

29% strongly agreed, 36% tended to agree, 15% tended to disagree, 18% strongly disagreed and 3% were don’t knows.

It is an utter non-question because we all know a proportion of the money is spent on vanity projects such as trams and, hilariously, the heart-rending cut illustrated by the eejit in West Dunbartonshire is a feckin’ golf course! Let’s all weep for the essential services.
Steven Heddle
2014-01-03 20:30

(Part 2 of 2)
The quote attributed to me was in response to a question relating to Tavish Scott’s ‘UDI for the Islands’ suggestion, which I distanced myself from along with my counterparts and colleagues in Shetland and the Western Isles. However what Orkney or its Council does is not just up to me, so of course I cannot rule anything in or out, nor should I.

Defending the Commission, this was only one of the findings of the survey. But as the Council Tax is the only local taxation available to councils, if it is frozen then enhancing or preserving a service when the block grant is frozen or cut can only be done at the expense of cuts to other council services. The ability to vary the Council Tax allows local voters to agree to pay more, if that is what they want e.g. to keep schools open, or improve homecare – thus enhancing local democracy.

Nice to be writing for NNS again:
Marga B
2014-01-03 22:46

Trouble is people vote for parties not policies. You effectively give e.g. Labour (for example, normally a big spender) carte blanche to pinpoint “essential” services then say “we need x” to run them, and that “x” will rise every year.

Freezing the tax surely invites economies and imagination. Also doesn’t it have a central “compensation” mechanism? So it’s not so much a freeze but a guarantee of payers’ financial stability.

As long as the council tax is so obviously unfair (i.e. is not based on income) that seems essential. Answer: reform basis of council tax.
Steven Heddle
2014-01-04 00:45

I wouldn’t disagree with your last point Marga, but would suggest that it goes wider to consider the split of what taxes go to local government versus national government e.g. business rates which are now collected centrally, corporation tax, or indeed revenues accruing to the Crown Estate Commission (referenced in the White Paper).

Local government in Scotland is unusual within Europe in that so many revenues are collected centrally then disbursed to the extent that the councils only collect 10-15% of the monies they spend. The European Charter on Local Self Government advocates subsidiarity, i.e. decision making as close to the citizen as possible, and the means to ensure adequate funding for local government to provide its services (essentially local taxation as you advocate), laudable aims that I believe in and which I expect the Commission to advocate, supported by sound supporting evidence.
Marga B
2014-01-04 13:06

Wish you were right about Scotland being unique in not applying Local Self Gov. subsidiarty. In Spain new laws trash this & to local outrage are re-imposing central govt. control of 95% municipalities. S. Europe is rife with similar ideologically fueled “austerity” (removal of democracy).

From abroad, I see any non-independentist Scot (and some SNP) accepting the unacceptable here. Won’t apathy and/or in-group thinking (sorry, Labour in focus here) block L.G. reform? London govts. are surely also traditionally anti-local power?

New country, new charter, things like this could be addressed. Sorry if I misinterpret things, but from abroad it’s just some theories.

From The Suburbs
2014-01-03 20:44

The numpties on BBC /MSM and Labour place persons fail to appreciate that Council Tax only accounts for a small part of local government finance and that despite year on year Westminster cuts to the Scottish budget the percentage of Scottish government expenditure on local government by Scottish Government has not decreased.

Too much for BBC / MSM to make this clear.

Labour’s divide and rule tactics on local government / centralisationn claims are are all part of their anti Scottish independence agenda.

In an independent Scotland we could introduce a proper local income tax system which is not possible under devolution.

Claims that a Council Tax freeze benefits the rich does not hold water as they tend to live in bigger houses and are taxed higher through national taxation if they earn well above average earnings without making use of corresponding additional council services.
Leader of the Pack
2014-01-03 21:31

I fail to see how gaining more local council tax helps while the idea is still to deny Scotland local access to its own Income tax, NI, road tax, capital gains tax, airport tax, TV tax, savings tax, stamp duty, VAT, Corporation tax, tobacco duties, alcohol duties, oil and gas revenues and so on and so forth.
How stupid is it to argue from a position of demanding an increase in one form of revenue while promoting the denial of access to all other forms of revenue at the same time?

It is truly sickening to see this level of stupidity not only go unchallenged by the media but supported encouraged and broadcasted as reasonable.
2014-01-03 23:13

David O’Neill still is a Labour Councillor within NAC ,I believe and was the former Leader of the former Labour controlled council from I think 1999 to 2012.he comfortably presided over various financial screw ups, including £15 million to an Icelandic bank which he dismissed as nothing (that was quickly pulled from the NAC web site) and of course various disastrous PFI projects
2014-01-03 23:40

‘We English, who are a marvellous people, are really very generous to

— Margaret Thatcher, 1990


Thatcher made ‘secret cuts’ to Scottish budget
I hope AS gets on to Ruthie about this.
2014-01-03 23:50

Yeah! People always say they’re willing to pay more tax until it comes down the reality, and then they vote against those who propose it. Keep on suggesting higher taxes labour – and you’ll keep on being the bunch of losers that you are.
2014-01-04 00:21


Question is–how do we set the agenda when our opponents control the mainstream media?
2014-01-04 11:19

We must react put every issue and Unionist scare story in the immediate context of the referendum.
There’s simple formula: If the Unionist flags up some unknown or unanswerable question about Scotland, seek out comparable certainty about the UK.

If the issue is a grievance over political policy, then ask what obstructs such policy being fought over in an independent Scotland. Independence is NOT about ephemeral policy which will ebb and flow in tune with elected Scottish governments, it is 100% about the permanent power of choice residing in Holyrood.

If Labour or Better Together is riven with division and internal turmoil, then by all means report and comment upon it, but if independence is a bigger issue than SNP policy, and I believe it is, then it must also be a bigger issue than the political turmoil of those opposed to it.
It is power of choice. Keep the issue pure and simple. It is the only thing the referendum will change.
2014-01-04 13:34

Is there an issue that’s bigger than Nuclear Disarmament? Yes. Scotland deciding whether to keep or get rid of Trident.

Is there an issue that’s greater than EU membership? Yes. Scotland making the choice to leave or stay instead of abdicating that decision to the Home Counties of England.

Is there a more important issue than currency? Yes. Freedom to choose the right currency and change that choice when circumstance demands it.

Is there a more important issue than Defence? Yes. Freedom to pick our own friends and pick our own fights.

Is there a more important issue than our economy? Yes. The power to decide what we do with our economy; how we structure it, and how we nurture the lifestyle we want for the ‘Common Weal’.

Is there a more important issue than Social Democracy? Yes. Having the power to create it, and the equal power to stop those who would prevent you creating it.

NOTHING trumps securing the power of choice.

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