How are we going to cope with another year of the independence debate?
The parliamentary pass-the-parcel is boring the public but it is also a sideshow. If we want to make the economy grow, a far more productive discussion would be around what powers should be repatriated from London and Holyrood to city-regions in particular and local government in general.
I am not sure how to break this to our nation's politicians, but parliaments are not the powerhouses of the economy. Instead, wherever there is growth and innovation, it is city-regions that are leading the way. In Scotland and across the world, if metropolitan areas thrive, so does the national economy. We live in the age of cities. According to the UN, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas and they are responsible for 75% of global economic production. In Scotland, the pattern is much the same. The majority of Scots live within city-regions and 72% of gross value added is generated by Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
And yet, there has hardly been a mention of the place of cities during the constitutional debate. While the rest of the world focuses on urban strategy, our political discourse seems mired in a form of nation building. Meanwhile, Scottish city-regions are losing competitive advantage to our counterparts in England.
South of the Border, City Deals are already in place. The "deal" is an agreement between the Treasury and a city-region. It involves the transfer of significant additional economic powers and finance in exchange for a disciplined and explicit plan, soundly governed, to invest in economic growth. There is nothing in Scottish urban policy that comes close to the potential of City Deals.
Glasgow and our sister councils across the Clyde Valley are not prepared to sit on the sidelines. We are developing Scotland's first City-Deal bid and we need the Scottish and UK Governments to actively support us. We have already secured the enthusiastic backing of the industry-led Glasgow Economic Leadership board, which oversees the implementation of Glasgow's economic strategy.
But we cannot stop at a deal with the UK Treasury. To allow our city-regions to compete and innovate internationally, there is a crying need to devolve powers within an increasingly centralised Scotland. Among the key insights of the Glasgow Economic Commission was that, as a city, we have to be clear which industry sectors have the greatest potential for growth and we should align education and skills development to this economic strategy. As things stand, employers who want support to make their businesses grow operate in a cluttered landscape and it is unclear where they should turn for help.
For example, the Scottish Government recently launched the Youth Employment Scotland Fund providing a six month, minimum wage subsidy to employers who take on young people. This is a laudable aim but the scheme is incompatible with the well-established Glasgow Guarantee which pays a wage subsidy for 12 months at the living wage level. Confused?
I believe there is a compelling case for abolishing Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland. Most of their functions and budgets should revert to local government. Scottish ministers should resume democratic responsibility for the part of these quangos' functions that are best performed at a national level. Over the coming months I will hold discussions with local leaders from all corners of Scotland, from all political parties and none, to hear their ideas about how city-regions can better integrate and develop, and what an empowered local government would look like. This a big idea which is gaining traction. The city voice in particular must be heard.
None of this agenda should be on hold until next September. It can be delivered within the current constitutional settlement. As with so much else, it's a political and not a constitutional matter. In 2014 we will vote Yes or No to independence. But if our priorities are economic growth and a revitalised local democracy, I cannot help but think we are being asked the wrong question.
Councillor Matheson is leader of Glasgow City Council
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