SCOTLAND'S most senior councillor will today lay out a radical vision for the overhaul of local government after the 2014 referendum, calling for the largest decentralisation of power ever undertaken.

In his first major speech as leader of the body representing all 32 councils, David O'Neill will say local government should be given the same status it enjoys in other western European states and afforded constitutional protection from "the whim of some higher authority".

Mr O'Neill, who became president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) after last May's elections, will say there will be a new local democracy whatever the outcome.

At his keynote speech to Cosla's conference today, Mr O'Neill will also demand a change in the relationship between Holyrood and councils.

He will say: "Scotland post the referendum should not have higher and lower levels of government, one of which has the ability to rule the roost over the other. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, we will have a new situation for public services in Scotland and it is inconceivable that either of the possible settlements at a national level will not have enormous consequences for provision at a local level.

"A way can be found that so fundamentally embeds local government in the 'constitution' that its status would be fundamentally altered.

"It angers me that when we look to Scandinavia and other countries to see how they manage what is deemed to be a better level of local public service we miss the fundamental point.

"In those countries there are more councils, elected councillors represent fewer people, and these councils and services are constitutionally protected with their funding being secure."

Mr O'Neill and Cosla's vision comes after months of discussions with council leaderships.

It emerges against the backdrop of years of criticism of the SNP Government for centralising power and allegations of using councils primarily as a delivery vehicle for its own priorities.

Last week, Cosla's leadership agreed its future blueprint and it has the full backing of the various political groups.

In his speech Mr O'Neill has said constitutional protection would extend to services such as education, care, cleansing and leisure which it provides, as well as the funding that pays for it.

He said those who want fewer, bigger councils should acknowledge authorities in Scotland are large compared to elsewhere.

He also calls for services not under local democratic control through councils, such as public health, economic development and the welfare system, being brought within "the local government family". Mr O'Neill will add: "There seems to be a fall-back position that when money is tight or when we wish to direct services to be effective and efficient, centralisation is the only answer. Centralisation is the enemy of everything we stand for in local government.

"It will not lead to efficiency and effectiveness, it will lead to increased cost, inflexibility and an inability to respond to local requirements."