Scottish Liberal Democrats have fought for a Scottish Parliament for over a century and played a major part in delivering it. As the party with the longest and deepest commitment to the Parliament, we can best guarantee to make it work effectively. We see it not as an end in itself but as a means to better Government, better public services and to unlocking the full potential of the Scottish people.
We also believe it can be a model for the rest of Britain. Our vision is of a federal United Kingdom in a decentralised Europe where power is exercised at the lowest effective level.
Scotland has the chance to demonstrate modern democracy at its best. There must be an effective executive accountable to a powerful Parliament. We must encourage the participation of the people of Scotland through the use of information technology and an influential Civic Forum. Liberal Democrats will draw particularly on the community values of the voluntary sector in Scotland to build a new ethos of public service.
Scottish local government has not served people well. Much of it is remote from the community unrepresentative inadequately resourced and inefficient.
Making the Scottish Parliament deliver
Liberal Democrats have long believed in a more constructive system of politics, based on partnership and consensus, and committed to delivering long-term benefits for the people rather than short-term fixes. This approach naturally lends itself to a Scottish Parliament elected by fair votes.
Set up powerful and independent Parliamentary committees. They will be charged with controlling the Executive and involving ordinary people in decision-making. A special Public Services Performance Committee will hold politicians and civil servants to account for their use of public money. This will be reinforced by rigorous auditing by a new body to be called Audit Scotland. To strengthen their powers of scrutiny MSPs should have direct access to civil servants.
Locate government agencies throughout Scotland. We will also ensure that Parliamentary committees regularly meet outside Edinburgh. We shall support the establishment of regional committees within the Parliament.
Ensure that Scottish Government consults the voluntary sector. Recognising that politicians are not the only contributors to civic life, we support the establishment of a Civic Forum which will debate issues before they come before Parliament. We will particularly encourage young people to play a role in the Forum.
Promote equal opportunities. We will ensure that in all the workings of the Scottish Parliament and Executive as well as in their appointments and decision making, the principle of equal opportunities will be upheld.
Work in partnership with the UK Government
Seek new powers over broadcasting, equal opportunities and the power to refer to the Monopolies Commission monopoly situations occurring within the Scottish economy. Otherwise we will not press for major changes in the powers of the Parliament, at least for its first term.
Insist on retaining the present number of MSPs at 129.
Work to maintain the Barnett Formula as the best initial basis for the allocation of resources to Scotland for the medium term, and actively pursue a long-term agreement amongst the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and UK Governments on moving to a fair and equitable basis of resourcing for the United Kingdom as a whole, based on transparency a realistic assessment of varying needs and the principle of equalisation.
Protect the interests of island areas.
We will ensure that the executive, Parliament and its committees give proper regard to the special needs and circumstances of the islands, when devising policy and legislation.
Safeguard individual liberties by creating a Human Rights Unit within Parliament and setting up a Scottish Human Rights Commission, drawing together the work of the Equal Opportunities and Race Relations Acts and extending protection to gay and other minority groups.
End excessive secrecy by passing a Freedom of Information Act which establishes citizens' rights to all but the most sensitive records.
Raise standards and accountability in public life by drawing up a strong code of conduct for MSPs reviewing the role of quangos and establishing a Public Appointments Committee of Parliament with a system of open nomination and confirmation.
Reforming local Government
Break up unaccountable one-party fiefdoms by introducing fair votes for local elections, based on the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member wards.
Support local referenda and citizen's juries. We shall require each local authority to establish a Performance Scrutiny Committee, to be chaired by an opposition councillor
Make councillors more effective, reviewing income and conditions to attract higher quality candidates and allowing teachers and other public servants to stand for election. We will give back-bench councillors and area committees more power. We shall oppose council cabinets and gimmicks like directly elected provosts.
Give councils a power of general competence.
Give councils more access to capital investment.
We will work at Westminster to give councils more flexibility over spending and borrowing within prudent guidelines. The current PFI arrangements have many drawbacks; any future scheme should be subjed to the approval of the Scoftish Parliament.
Reform local government finance. We will establish a Scottish Parliamentary Commission to propose a new system of council finance to ensure that more council revenue is raised locally and that taxes relate more closely to ability to pay. Proportional representation would be required before local business rates could be restored to local determination. In the short-term, we will review the Council lax to make it fairer; give local authorities power to reduce the tax bill on businesses, especially in deprived rural and urban areas, and allow councils to charge full Council Tax for second homes.
Support a strong voluntary sector by encouraging councils to involve voluntary bodies where appropriate in providing services and supporting them with long-term funding and training.
Enhance the role of community councils, particularly in towns which have a long history as burghs, or in areas with distinct community identities.