Islands Bill could kickstart a revolution in local democracy

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsIslands Minister Humza Yousaf has announced that the government will be publishing their Islands Bill within the next 12 months, the culmination of years of work by island communities and the island councils to make the case for more local democracy and a better deal from national government.

John Finnie has given a warm welcome to the news, saying:

“It’s great news that we’ll be able to move forward quickly with the Islands Bill. I’m looking forward to making it a genuinely radical and transformative event for Scotland’s islands, to fulfil the vision of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, whose hard work and ambition has brought us to this point.

“Power in Scotland is incredibly centralised, so the priority for Greens is to bring powers from Edinburgh back to island communities. For example, giving island councils control over the sea bed (currently in the hands of the Crown Estate) and flexible powers to decide their own taxes and raise more of their own funds would allow them to unlock the huge marine energy potential and the jobs and revenues that come with it.

“I’ll also want to make sure that the Bill recognises the similarity between island communities and many of our more remote mainland communities, especially on the western peninsulas of the Highlands and Argyll and Bute. It’s likely that many of the Bill’s provisions would also benefit these communities, and I’ll be arguing to have them included.

“I hope the Islands Bill can be the start of a much wider debate about where power lies in Scotland, and how it can be brought closer to the people. Island communities have taken the initiative to demand decentralisation of power, but they are certainly not the only communities that need it.

“As local democracy campaigner Andy Wightman (now Green MSP forthe Lothians) described in his eye-opening report Renewing Local Democracy, Scotland is one of the most centralised countries in Europe. The average population of a local council area in the European Union is less than 6,000 people; in Scotland it’s 166,000. The average European local authority gets more than 40% of its income from its own locally-controlled taxes; in Scotland it’s a quarter of that.

“The Islands Bill is a precious opportunity to make our island communities the pioneers of a powerful, decentralised, participatory local democracy, showing the way for change across Scotland.”

If you want to dive into the detail of the Scottish Government’s proposals so far, you can read their original consultation document, all the public responses, and the analysis of responses on the consultation website.

Disappointment at SNP plan to keep the Council Tax

Tell the Scottish Govermnent it's time to scrap the Council Tax - Sign our petition todayClick here to sign the petition to scrap the Council Tax.

John Finnie has expressed his disappointment after the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that she plans to keep the Council Tax if re-elected.

Successive SNP manifestos have included a pledge to scrap the discredited tax, and the Scottish Government set up a cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform, on which land expert Andy Wightman represented the Greens, to examine possible alternatives.

But this morning the First Minister announced that the Council Tax would stay.

John urged Nicola Sturgeon not to give up on her party’s long-stated opposition to the tax, and to move instead to support the Scottish Green Party proposal of a Land Value Tax.

He said:

“I was dismayed to see Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she intends to abandon her long campaign against the Council Tax.

“In 2007, she said ‘Labour’s hated Council Tax is totally unfair, and any tinkering with bands won’t make the system any fairer.’ I think she was right then, and it is extremely disappointing that now she’s planning to stick with the Council Tax after all.

“The Council Tax is regressive, it’s unfair, and it makes Scotland’s housing crisis worse by penalising development and repair. It has to go.

“The Scottish Greens enthusiastically took part in the Scottish Government’s cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform to find an alternative to the Council Tax, contributing our proposal for a Land Value Tax (LVT).

“A Land Value Tax would be payable only on the value of the land itself, not any buildings on top. That means householders wouldn’t be penalised for improving their homes, Landowners would be incentivised to make use of land – for example, for much-needed housebuilding – rather than idly owning land as nothing more than a financial speculation.

“Not only would LVT raise the money we need to save services and jobs, it would tackle the blight of derelict land, alleviate the housing crisis, and help to redress the gross wealth inequality that still exists in Scotland.

“The Commission on Local Tax Reform called Land Value Tax ‘promising’. I urge Nicola to take another look at this promising idea before she gives up and gives in to the hated Council Tax.”

Please sign the Scottish Greens’ petition to scrap the Council Tax – click here.

John urges council chiefs to invest pension funds in affordable homes

John Finnie speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie has written to the Chief Executives of the six Highlands and Islands local authorities, urging them to follow the lead of Falkirk Council by investing a portion of their pension funds in building social and affordable housing.

John has also lodged a Parliamentary Question asking that the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Fund – the pension fund for MSPs – follow Falkirk Council’s example.

Falkirk’s Local Government Pension Scheme Fund has invested £30 million in the Housing Fund for Scotland, managed by Hearthstone Investments. The Falkirk investment is expected to fund the construction of over 300 affordable homes, and the Fund aims to raise a total of £150 million and build over 1,000 new homes.

John has been campaigning to divest public sector pension funds from destructive industries like fossil fuels, weapons and tobacco, and encourage socially useful investments like affordable housing and renewable energy. He has criticised the trustees of the MSPs’ Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme for refusing to take action on unethical investments, and recently supported Edinburgh University students in their protest against the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

John said:

“Public authorities invest billions of pounds in pension funds, and that money could and should be helping to fund the investment we need in everything from affordable homes to clean energy. Our pension funds can do good for society as well as growing strongly to provide for our retirement.

“The dedicated public servants who pay into council pensions aren’t just numbers on a screen. They’re real people who need homes, schools, hospitals, a healthy environment and jobs for their families. It makes no sense to invest their money in things which undermine those needs when it could be helping to fulfil them.

“I believe most people – especially people who have chosen a career in public service – don’t want to be bankrolling oil companies, the arms industry and Big Tobacco. Falkirk’s investment proves there are alternatives; I hope other councils and the Scottish Parliament are paying attention.”

John’s letters to the Chief Executives of Highlands Council, Argyll & Bute Council, Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar read:

Dear Chief Executive

Can I commend to you the approach taken by Falkirk Council which has invested £30M of its pension fund into Hearthstone Investments Housing Fund for Scotland. The Housing Fund for Scotland will help provide for more affordable housing across Scotland.

I believe that such investments which aim to provide a real community benefit ought to make up an increasing share of our public pensions, encouraging moves away from the investments such as tobacco and fossil fuels which damage our health and our environment and the arms which causes so much devastation in communities abroad.

I would be grateful if you would examine the example of Falkirk and consider investing the some of the Council’s Pension Fund in a similar manner.

Kind regards,

John Finnie MSP