THE Scottish Tories have snubbed a cross-party commission to find a fairer alternative to the council tax, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the commission in November, as part of her first programme for government as Scotland's new First Minister.

Mirroring the recent Smith Commission on more devolution, it is meant to include nominees put forward by all the Holyrood parties.

It will include the SNP local government minister Marco Biagi and the Labour president of council umbrella group Cosla, David O'Neill.

The Scottish Greens have chosen the respected land reform campaigner Andy Wightman, while the LibDems have picked Scottish Borders councillor Catriona Bhatia, daughter of former Holyrood presiding officer Lord David Steel.

The body is due to report by the autumn.

However before it has even met it has been undermined by Tory non-cooperation.

The party has told the government it will not take part as it is examining council tax through its own "low tax commission", an idea leader Ruth Davidson unveiled almost two months before Sturgeon announced her commission.

Finance spokesman Gavin Brown said Tory MSPs also felt there was little chance of reaching agreement with left-wing parties on tax, and it was only right that voters should be offered a distinctive Tory choice on council funding at the 2016 Holyrood election.

He said the Scottish Government also appeared dead set on scrapping council tax, whereas the Conservatives hadn't ruled out reforming it.

He told the Sunday Herald: "The idea that we would agree with the Greens - or the SNP or Labour - on a tax structure just seemed so unlikely that it was not appropriate for us to put our energy into it, when we know that we were not going to like the results. So we intend to run our own course on it."

The Scottish Government is understood to be unhappy with the Conservatives's decision.

A source said: "The fact the Tories want to stand and snipe from the sidelines instead of getting round the table shows they aren't serious about reaching a fair deal on the future of local tax, whatever their public rhetoric."

Speaking in a personal capacity, Wightman said the cross-party Commission was a chance for parties to stop "fiddling about" and finally create a stable property tax system.

He said: "I think it [the Tories' absence] is disappointing because the council tax is a thoroughly bad tax and to replace it with something that's going to endure requires a strong degree of cross party consensus.

"I think it's incumbent on all political parties to fix the council tax."

Council tax was introduced by John Major's Tory government in 1993 as a hasty replacement for the disastrous and short-lived poll tax.

It has long been considered regressive, as it does not reflect wealth or ability to pay.

The bill for a top-end Band H home is always three times that of a Band A home, even if the Band H home is worth ten or 20 times as much.

Alternatives include a reformed council tax with extra bands to make it more progressive, a local income tax or a land value tax.

The Commission to agree a new model was due to be outlined by ministers last week, but the announcement was delayed amid a row between councils and the SNP government over the ring-fencing of funding for teacher numbers.

Sturgeon's cross-party approach to reform is partly driven by a need to end the council tax freeze without sparking a massive political row.

Although popular with voters, the freeze, which has kept the average Band D bill at £1149 since 2007-08, is rapidly becoming unaffordable.

Next year it will cost £560m, when the total cumulative cost since 2007-08 will be 2.5bn.

Continuing the freeze for another parliament would cost at least another £3bn.