VOTING Tory to stop a second independence referendum will put local services at risk, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has claimed.

The Scottish Labour leader is seeing her party squeezed out in the race to win the country’s town halls, with pollsters predicting the vote on May 4 could see Dugdale’s local authority colleagues losing all 19 of the council administrations they currently control or prop up.

Dugdale, said: “Voting in this election isn’t a protest vote. Your vote in this election really matters.

Loading article content

“If you vote for the Tories, you are voting for them to be in power - to take control of your council services. Not to be in opposition or to protest against independence.

“So before you vote, think about whether you want a Tory in charge of elderly care, social services and schools. This is a party itching to cut even more money from our valued public services.”

Dugdale was speaking ahead of Labour’s local government election campaign launch in Edinburgh.

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw responded: “This is desperate stuff from Kezia Dugdale.

“She and her party are heading for an electoral disaster on May 4. Judging from these comments, they are already in panic mode.

“The Scottish Conservatives will be launching our own manifesto later this week with a plan to empower councils, grow local economies and oppose the SNP’s plan to divert the country back to another referendum.

“We will leave Kezia Dugdale to carry on her personal attacks — nobody is buying it. The fact is it is only Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives who can be trusted to provide a strong opposition to the SNP and stand up against their plan for a second referendum.”

Meanwhile, a thinktank has called for councils to he handed full control over local taxation.

Reform Scotland’s Blueprint For Local Power, says local authorities should be responsible for all areas not specifically reserved to Holyrood, with tasks carried out at “the lowest level practical”.

Councils should provide “clear and transparent” information on their activities to ensure proper local accountability, the think-tank said.

On tax, it states: “The way that local taxation operates at present takes no real account of local priorities because local councillors have no genuine control over local taxation.

“Although the council tax freeze has been lifted, increases have been capped by the Scottish Government, just as they were in the past by Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher.

“The only way local priorities and circumstances can be taken into account is if council tax is fully devolved.”

Reform Scotland’s director Geoff Mawdsley said: “Successive governments at Holyrood and Westminster have paid lip service to the importance of local government, while centralising its power and reducing its autonomy and accountability.

“If there is any point in having a level of local government, and if we want it to mean anything, then we have to allow it to exercise power and with it take responsibility.

“That is why we are proposing legislation to cement local authorities’ place in the spectrum of governance in Scotland. If a task can more effectively be carried out at a local level, it should be devolved to local government instead of sitting at Holyrood.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Local authority responsibilities are very clearly set out, and the focus of the Scottish Government is on encouraging councils to empower communities across the country.

“We have committed to a journey of reform to make local taxation more progressive and local authorities can already reduce non-domestic rates as they choose.

“Our Community Empowerment Act puts additional powers into the hands of communities to hold their local authority to account and our proposals for education would see parents and teachers taking greater responsibility for their schools.

“We expect to see at least one per cent of each local authority budget decided by local communities.

“It is important that we do not just consider what power local authorities should have, but how local authorities can transfer more of their power to local communities.”