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PREPARE to be slightly shocked: this column is about to extol the virtues of local councillors. On Monday, a committee chaired by the Labour panjandrum, Lord Sewel, proposed that Scotland's civic fathers and mothers receive a salary hike from their current average of to a basic In addition, the good lord proposed that long serving councillors retiring at the 2007 elections should get a non taxable lump sum of in lieu of a pension.

Coming hard on the heels of the publication of MPs' expenses, this proposal has provoked synthetic outrage across the land. What is going on?

Certainly, the Sewel report should not be taken at face value. Far from being "an independent report", as billed by the Executive, it is a fix which has delivered precisely the recommendations it was expected to come up with.

Back in July 2000, the very same proposals (full time salaries and a bung to persuade backwoods Labour councillors to retire) were first put forward by the Kerley Committee. Kerley was "Buy Cheap Jintropin Online" a kite flying exercise devised by Wendy Alexander and Donald Dewar to promote the idea of introducing proportional representation into Scottish local government.

There is a wise old saying that it is a bad idea to inquire too deeply into how either sausages or laws are made. The process of democracy, seen from the inside, can be a trifle depressing, as it consists not of noble speech making but of fixing vested interests.

Thus, the Executive has managed, after five years of effort, to sideline the visceral opposition of the Labour Party machine in Scotland, and pass the legislation necessary to introduce PR in local government. In 2007, this will end the absurdity of Labour administrations across the Central Belt clocking up massive "Anabola Steroider Norge Lagligt" majorities in city chambers on the basis of tiny fractions of the vote. The Sewel report is "Oxandrolone Powder India" just the bribe to disarm the internal opposition. Why has the Executive not noted for its attention to reforms that actually matter taken a scythe to Labour's traditional political power base?

There are several reasons. First, it is the political Danegeld required to keep the Lib Dems happy and quiescent in the coalition, and cheap at the price if it means that Jack and the lads and lassies can go on running the country. Second, there is absolutely no love lost between MSPs and councillors. It's like the old sketch with John "Achat Anabolisant Belgique" Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett: MPs look down on MSPs, and MSPs look down on councillors.

Third, there is a lurking realisation even in the Executive that local government, which is ultimately responsible for the lion's share of public expenditure, is in desperate need of modernisation.

The wise heads have noticed that, even under first past the post, the electorate has been dumping Labour in the town halls. Labour was lucky to hold Edinburgh in 2003, leaving only Glasgow among the major cities with a big Labour majority. With the writing already on the wall, PR was an easy concession.

Doubtless some will feel this effort at reform has been in vain. After all, we are about to get a new class of calculating, professional politicians running the city chambers, rather than the dedicated part timers of yesteryear. The latter is a comforting myth. Unfortunately, as I discovered from spending 12 years as just such a part time councillor, the complexities of modern civic government absolutely demand full time attention.

The town halls of the 19th century were indeed run by committees of local worthies. But the subsequent massive expansion of local government's remit into schools, social work, economic development means that busy folk such as business leaders have dropped out of performing civic duties.

The real question is this: how to combine professional civic politicians with accountability? The answer is to have far fewer councillors say, a dozen per big city who are more visible to the eye of the electorate. And pay them the same as MPs, because they are potentially more important. In particular, directly elect the civic chief executive with a serious salary. I can hear howls of protest: "They'll elect a monkey." No "they" won't, because of all levels of government the town hall is the closest to the voters' concerns.

While I am in favour of the introduction of PR at local level in 2007, I doubt if we are going to see any instant improvement in local government. The electorate is going to have to go through a learning process to get a hang of the new voting system, called STV.

This will be similar to the system used for European elections but different from either the list system for Holyrood and the winner takes all Westminster process. Why three and a half different voting systems? Because the political class is trying to bamboozle us. Fortunately, the voters always get savvy in the end and will exact their revenge, circa 2011.

The Executive has also fiddled the multi Is Testosterone Propionate Illegal member constituencies needed for STV so that it can eliminate the chances of fringe parties such as the Greens getting many seats. It cannot work this magic on the SNP, which will be the biggest gainer from PR. Normally, the even support that the Nats get across Scotland means that they pile up useless votes in wasted second and third places. But in 2007, every one of those votes will count, yielding perhaps several hundred more councillors. The same will happen for the Tories, though on a lesser scale.

Eventually, PR should see a broader kind Masteron King of representation in each city chambers. Contrary to popular myth, our current councillors are not all numpties. True: they are typically white, male and in their fifties, but most have a degree or professional qualification.

The central problem is that the elected Labour members who dominate the Central Belt form an incestuous class with interests of its own: a quarter have a job in local government itself (teaching, social work, etc) while another 10 per cent work in the state subsidised voluntary sector. PR should break up this cosy consensus, but only if the new SNP and Tory councillors are from outside local government itself. If not, we'll have to await the emergence of a fresh political force.

Here's a way for the Tories to revive their fortunes. First, the official Tories should only contest Holyrood and Westminster elections. Next, the old Progressive label should be revived to fight local elections exclusively. Freed of any hated associations with Margaret Thatcher or London, the New Progressives or some other comforting name would seek to champion the interests of local business, and folk not beholden to the state pay cheque. They would run on a policy 4-chlorodehydromethyltestosterone of cutting council tax and re establishing free city academies with entry based on ability alone. By 2011, Progressives would be part of some council administrations. By 2015, they would be a major civic force.

Local government is the stuff of democracy and the one level of politics that can make an instant difference to ordinary lives. Being a local councillor is a great calling. Here's the bottom line: if you are not happy with the state of local government, come 2007, your vote under STV will count a lot more that it did under first past the post. Use it, or shut up.

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