FORMER first minister Jack McConnell has called for a radical shake-up of Scotland’s local government, saying “it is time to move on” from the current set-up. 

Writing in today’s The Herald, the ex-Labour leader who now sits in the House of Lords, said the country’s councils have remained much the way they were when reorganised 30 years ago by the then Scottish secretary, Ian Lang. 

“Scotland voted conclusively for devolution with tax-varying powers, and in 1999 the wide-ranging powers of the new Scottish Parliament included legislative responsibility for local government,” he said. 

“But, 30 years on from the publication of the original White Paper, it is really quite astonishing that the original decisions of Ian Lang have survived.

“Almost everyone in Scotland might have assumed that such a controversial and unpopular reorganisation would have been a target for Labour, the Liberal-Democrats, and the SNP following the devolution of power in 1999. 

“Instead, the original 32 authorities, large and small, remain in place with largely the same powers, similar statutory duties and largely unreformed local taxes in the form of council tax and business rates.”

READ MORE: Councils need 'radical change' and new funding deal amid strain

The peer says the lack of change has left local leaders struggling “to cope or find a strong voice.” 

“It is time to move on from a scheme dreamt up by the last Conservative government before devolution, that had little public support at the time.”

He points to elected mayors as one possible shake up, saying they  “have transformed the debate between England’s forgotten north and the Whitehall/Westminster bubble, but Scotland has resisted that change.” 

Lord McConnell’s comment piece comes as the thinktank he chairs, Reform Scotland, launches a new project looking at “how to reinvigorate and re-empower local government in Scotland.” 

The peer's interventions come a week after the Accounts Commission, which polices and advises local government, warned councils were in trouble.

They had “gone beyond the point where making savings is enough”, said acting chairman Tim McKay. Only “radical change” would suffice.

James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at Edinburgh, who is currently writing a book on local governance, said the peer raised a vital issue.  

“Devolution was supposed to involve a new positive era on central-local relations with a promise of mutual respect and parity of esteem.  It is good to be reminded of this.  

“Debate has understandably focused in relations between London and Edinburgh, more powers and independence but the governance of Scotland is much more than this. 

“Local governance, central-local relations, funding, the roles of Non Departmental Public Bodies have been relatively neglected.  We need to focus on these matters if we are to tackle poverty, environmental challenges, create a sustainable economy as well as deliver public services effectively.”

READ MORE: Councils are in trouble – can local government survive?

Willie Sullivan from the Electoral Reform Society was wary of elected Mayors in Scotland. 

“We agree with much of what Jack Mcconnel writes here. Local Towns and villages are much more capable of running their own places than current structures and powers allow and of pooling that power where necessary. 

“We also need to address the widespread mistrust of our current political structures and find ways to evolve them to catch up with a society and economy radically transformed by technology since the 1990s. 

“That passing of time has also allowed exciting democratic innovations, such as citizens' assemblies. These need to be baked into the vital representative structures. 

“Citizens need to be involved in decisions if they are to trust them. We have our doubts about Mayors, they are often touted as a solution by the big men in politics and the danger is that they are about creating more ‘big men‘ politicians. The opposite of citizen power.”