Scottish mayors could be ‘local heroes’ for communities

Reform Scotland has urged the next Scottish Government to establish mayor positions.

Scottish mayors could be ‘local heroes’ for communities Getty Images

Introducing directly elected mayors in Scotland would give people a “local hero” to represent their communities, a think tank has insisted.

Reform Scotland has urged the next Scottish Government to establish such positions, saying it could help switch power from Holyrood to local councils.

And former first minister Lord McConnell said it was time the issue was “debated properly”.

Speaking as the think tank published its latest report, the former Labour leader said: “Scotland needs stronger voices across the country and more power devolved to local communities.

“Directly elected mayors and more financial freedom might be the answers we need. It is time they were debated properly.”

London was the first city in the UK to get a directly elected mayor, with the post introduced in 2000 after a referendum in 1998.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously had the job, before Labour’s Sadiq Khan won it in 2016, with the next election taking place in May.

But as it stands, Reform Scotland claimed here people often do not know who is charge of councils, with the report noting that since proportional representation was introduced in local authority elections “most are now run by coalitions and there isn’t always a great deal of voter recognition for council leaders”.

In contrast, it argued having directly elected mayors would provide a “clear figurehead” – a move which the think tank said could “provide dynamism and strengthen accountability and debate”.

It said in areas such as London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, directly elected mayors had given their area a “greater voice” and has also acted to “stimulate the electorate’s interest in, and awareness of, local government”.

Local provosts in many areas are “largely ceremonial posts”, the report added, as it insisted that mayors could “provide strong and effective leadership”.

The report added: “In terms of cities, they can be a powerful force in driving economic development and progress, while in suburban or more rural areas they can ensure their community is not overlooked.”

Report author and Reform Scotland research director Alison Payne, said: “Scotland is far too centralised and needs to see a shift in power from Holyrood to local authorities.

“Although councils run many of the services that are most important to our everyday lives, few of us know who is in charge and who we should be holding accountable. Scotland is unusual, internationally, in the weakness of its local authorities.

“Council leaders can sometimes be viewed as politicians of less importance, and have a lower salary, than backbench MSPs, despite their responsibilities being significantly greater.

“This needs to change. Local people need a local hero who they know, trust to be independent, and who they can elect. Directly-elected mayors are the answer.”

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