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ELECTION BATTLE FOR SCOTLAND BEGINS

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The battle for political control of Scotland's 29 new unitary authorities began in earnest this week as the four ma...
The battle for political control of Scotland's 29 new unitary authorities began in earnest this week as the four main political parties launched election manifestos.

On 6 April, 1,161 Scottish council members will be the first to take office anywhere in Britain under the new system of unitary local government.

The elections, the last before the next general election, will also define the local map in Scotland until the turn of the century.

Analysis by the LGC Elections Centre at the University of Plymouth suggests that 18 councils will be Labour controlled, five will have no overall control, and three will go to the SNP, with two Independent and one Conservative (LGC, 3 March).

As nominations closed this week, the Labour Party announced it would field a record 940 candidates and - unlike last year - would contest the independent Borders region. The Conservatives will put forward 600 candidates.

Scottish secretary Ian Lang said the Conservative Party would fight the election campaign under the slogan 'lower council tax, better services'.

'Through our reforms, a system has been created which is closer to the people it serves, involving less bureaucracy, but one which should deliver better quality services at a lower cost to council tax payers,' he said.

He praised the example set by Stirling, and Perth and Kinross DCs, two of the five Conservative councils in Scotland.

Shadow Scottish secretary George Robertson opened the Labour Party campaign with an attack on government plans to 'smash up and sell off' council services.

He promised consultation on a proposed reorganisation of services, 'where necessary working jointly across council boundaries'.

The Liberal Democrats made a specific plea for proportional representation on the reconstituted Convention of Scottish Local Authorities - an argument rejected at last week's convention meeting.

Without this, Cosla 'will remain a vehicle for the socialist central belt of Scotland, not the country as a whole', the party said.

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP manifestos all make a commitment to decentralisation, with the Liberal Democrats promising decision-making devolved to local area committees, greater delegation of powers to community councils and public consultation on budgetary priorities and council tax levels.

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