By Martin Kelly
The Scottish Labour party has been called on to clarify its stance on the council tax freeze after its candidate in a forthcoming by-election was filmed criticising the flagship SNP policy.
Alex Rowley, who is the Scottish Labour candidate in the forthcoming Cowdenbeath by-election suggested councils should be allowed to increase the council tax and that the freeze was undermining local democracy.
In an interview given before the last Scottish elections, Mr Rowley, who is the leader of the Labour group on Fife council, attacked the freeze and said the council tax should be increased in order to invest in capital infrastructure.
“One option is that you put something on the council tax to try to help you do that,” he said.
The Labour councillor also claimed that the freeze was preventing the council from raising more money and was undermining local democracy, adding: “Right across Europe, local government is able to use local taxation and through that local taxation local government are held to account.
“There is a fundamental question of local democracy here as well as starving councils from being able to raise any money themselves.”
The comments from her main rival for the Cowdenbeath constituency were seized on by SNP candidate Natalie McGarry who called on the Scottish Labour party to clarify its stance on the council tax freeze.
Commenting, Ms McGarry said:
“Alex Rowley has nailed his colours firmly to the mast as an opponent of the Council Tax freeze, which is saving Fife households an average of £1,600.
“That is a significant sum of money in these difficult times, and one that is overwhelmingly backed by people in Scotland. Council Tax bills rose by 50% in Fife when Labour was in office nationally – and what this video makes clear is that if Alex Rowley had his way, that is what would happen again.”
Mr Rowley’s comments appear at odds with his own party’s stance on the council tax freeze. In a recent by-election in Dunfermline the Scottish Labour party issued a leaflet in which it confirmed its support for the flagship SNP policy.
Natalie McGarry added: “Labour are all over the place on the Council Tax freeze – they just won a by-election in Dunfermline on a pledge to support it, yet the leader of the Council in Fife is clearly against it. Perhaps Johann Lamont can at last say what Labour’s position is.
“One of the first jobs the winner of this by-election will have will be to vote on Scotland’s budget. While Alex Rowley may want to see Fife’s Council Tax bills rise, my pledge to people in this constituency is that if elected I will use my vote to ensure that the Council Tax freeze continues.”
The issue looks set to become one of the main points of contention in the by-election set to take place on January 23rd.
This week saw the council tax freeze take centre stage after a survey commissioned by a new group suggested people would be keen to pay more if the extra cash could be guaranteed to be spent on local services.
According to the poll, carried out by Mori on behalf of the so-called ‘Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy’, two thirds of Scots were in favour of ending the council tax freeze.
However the survey was at odds with results from a similar poll conducted in October last year for online site Wings over Scotland, which showed 82% of people supported a continuation of the council tax freeze.