DEREK Mackay has unveiled his tax and spending plans for next year. For a minority government, that’s only half the story. The Finance Secretary must now find a way of securing the support of at least one other party for the SNP’s Budget to pass at Holyrood.

This is the 12th Budget the SNP have presented since they came to power. While the Conservatives and much of the media like to pretend here’s a binary split between parties which always support or always oppose the SNP, the truth is very different.

In reality, the Greens have voted in favour of four SNP Budgets in those dozen years. And the Tories themselves? They have also voted for four Budgets during the same period.

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The responsibility of opposition parties is to put forward positive and workable ideas for change and strive for agreement whenever possible. We also have a responsibility to stick to our principles and, if the Government refuses to listen, we are right to vote them down. That’s the approach the Greens have always taken.

In recent years that has meant standing up for local services, which have faced the brunt of the cuts.

Last year we showed that a radical reform of income tax could result in fairer taxation, protecting low earners, while putting the Scottish budget back into growth. As a result, local services got a real-terms increase instead of the deep cut Derek Mackay had proposed.

But we also made it clear that the only way to avoid an annual haggle over local cuts was fundamental reform of local taxation, just as the Greens, Labour, LibDems and the SNP had agreed just three years ago.

Since then, that reform agenda has stalled and the Scottish Government has shown no leadership in working toward the replacement of council tax, the most unfair and regressive tax in Scotland.

This week’s Budget statement did nothing to change that. There have been no solid commitments either on council tax replacement or on other ways of broadening the local tax base. As for direct council funding, Mr Mackay’s familiar sleight-of-hand routine tries to present his Budget as an increase, but once we take account of new national policies which the Scottish Government is forcing councils to fund from that settlement, the funds for core services are actually being cut by hundreds of millions of pounds. The consequence, if the Budget passes as it stands, will be to force councils to raise the unfair council tax again, as well as cutting vital services and hiking fees and charges.

I do want to give credit where it’s due. On income tax, the Scottish Government has again backed the Greens’ view that we need to keep moving in a progressive direction and won’t copy the Tories’ giveaway to higher earners. But unless councils are given the powers they need to apply the same principle locally, the service cuts they will be forced to make will hit hardest among people on the lowest incomes.

Our members overwhelmingly agreed at our conference that meaningful progress on local tax reform is a precondition for entering Budget talks. We’re keen to achieve that progress, but the ball is very much in the Government’s court.

Over the years, we’ve done more than any other party to offer detailed, workable plans on fairer local taxes. But all we hear from the Government is that they are “open to dialogue”. We’ve been trying to have that dialogue for years, and it is past time for action now.

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It’s not as if we’re asking anything of the SNP that they fundamentally oppose, like Willie Rennie’s absurd insistence that they abandon independence! The Green proposal is consistent with the SNP’s own policy that the council tax should end. And SNP councillors now form the administrations at 15 Scottish councils, facing decisions to close libraries and community centres, increase charges for public services and slash waste collections. Neither they nor Derek Mackay can claim they had no choice when Greens have presented a clear alternative. Glasgow, for example, could face a funding gap of some £60 million. Council leader Susan Aitken rightly sees Glasgow as a global city, but what sets Glasgow apart from cities it aspires to emulate – such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Berlin – is the remarkable extent to which its hands are tied by national government.

Most modern European democracies have strong municipalities and regions. They don’t just understand their local areas better than national government; being more locally accountable they also build

stronger trust and participation in decision-making.

That’s the kind of vibrant and democratic local government that Scotland needs and deserves. Councils have been denied the funds and the powers they need for far too long. This Budget is an opportunity to change that, and it’s one we can’t afford to miss.