Another guest post today, and this one comes from Dean Mackinnon-Thomson, a Conservative-leaning honours student who studies politics.  It considers the aftermath of May’s election with regards relations between Holyrood and local authorities.

It has become a central part of all four major (ED – sorry James) parties’ manifestoes. They are all united (some, admittedly belatedly) around the need to maintain a council tax freeze. Yet, given the real power surrounding the delivery of the council tax freeze rests not with Holyrood but local government; it has become a question of power.

The leaders of Scotland’s local authorities are to set themselves on a collision course with our Holyrood politicians; by pledging to defy the future council tax freeze. The Chief Executive of the Convention of Scottish Local Authority (COSLA) has singled out the council tax freeze as “unaffordable”. Rory Mair continued by adding “I don’t believe council leaders would sign up to another council tax freeze. They will defy it. A council tax freeze requires negotiation or legislation.”

Hang on! Does this mean that we voters are going to have to endure the unedifying spectacle of one set of politicians battling for the powers which currently lies with another? The short answer would seem ‘yes’, no matter who wins in May 5th.

It is prudent to be cautious however. As it must in fairness be admitted that while Holyrood MSPs do not set the council tax rates, nor does COSLA. Indeed many SNP led councils have already begun writing into the newspapers like the Herald arguing that “COSLA does not speak for us”.

But it has been features nonetheless of this election campaign where major party manifesto pledges have clashed directly with the supposed division of powers between Holyrood and local government.

Whether it be election pledges to merge social care with the NHS, or give state schools independence from local authority control; this is all building up to be a dramatic clash of power, control and political interest between politicians and local and national levels. It even cuts across party divides. No matter who succeeds in Holyrood 2011, to carry forward many of the pledges made will demand that Scotland revisits this division of power between the national and local levels. Lest the political parties be forced to drop large swathes of their ‘election pledges’ (one wonders what damage that would inflict on voter turnout?).

Should MSPs, faced with recalcitrant councils, seek to pull more authority and power around themselves at the national level? Or should local government have the freedom of independent action; in line with the principles of localism? These are uncomfortable questions which will cut across established party lines and allegiances at Holyrood after May 5th. The battle for control and power across so many areas of policy delivery might indeed shake the kaleidoscope of Scottish politics dramatically and in unforeseeable ways.

Finally, it may be worth mentioning that many of the folk in the former ‘No to Devo’ camp back in 1997 cried that devolution might result in a Scottish equivalent of the London pull – around Edinburgh. A process where more and more local issues become decided at national levels, where funds and attention drift away from local and rural communities for the Scottish capitol. Some in my family who croft already think this has happened following crofting reforms (of which there have beencountless since devo); they say ‘here is the evidence’.

All I know is this: no matter whom wins on May 5th, this long running question of localism versus centralisation of powers, decision-making will come to the fore at last. And about time too.