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Parochial? Moi? Je suis content to be parochial if not provincial

Nicola Sturgeon, the Arc de Triomphe and Patrick Kavanagh.

By Bill Heaney

Nicola Sturgeon has accused critics of her international trips of “the worst possible parochialism and provincialism”.

Scotland’s First Minister was in Paris to open a new Scottish Government office following a five-day tour of North America.

The P and P words emerged when she defended herself from criticism that the trips were a “jaunt”.

“My opponents back home seem to have descended into the worst possible parochialism and provincialism,” Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland.

Really?  I am not defending the criticism here, far from it.

It’s nice to see Nicola getting out more, especially to France to celebrate the Auld Alliance –  even if they did beat us at the rugby.

The Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “Another week and another jaunt abroad for the First Minister.

“Meanwhile, back home, we have a health service on its knees, our schools are struggling, and councils are toiling to balance their budgets due to SNP cuts.”

Speaking in Paris, she said: “First ministers have always, as part of the job we’re elected to do, gone out to sell Scotland internationally.”

She added: “France is Scotland’s third biggest export partner – it’s really important that we underline the importance of that relationship.

“That’s why we have opened a new Scottish Government hub here in Paris.

“It’s never been more vital to get that message across. Not withstanding Brexit, which we regret and which the EU regrets, there’s a real desire to strengthen those relationships.”

After the official opening, Ms Sturgeon spoke before the French Parliament’s 73-member foreign affairs committee at the Assemblee Nationale.

“For me, this is one of the saddest parts of Brexit,” the First Minister said.

“The UK Government is proclaiming the end of free movement as a victory – instead, it is a self-defeating measure. It removes opportunity from millions of people.”

I can’t find it in my heart to agree with the Tory Chief Whip, never could, but there is a great deal of truth about struggling schools and councils toiling to balance their budgets.

It’s the P and P words that bother me.

I don’t think Nicola knows what she means when she uses them.

Are they really a put down? Praise or put down, which?

Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet, had this to say about them: “Parochialism and provincialism are direct opposites. A provincial is always trying to live by other people’s loves, but a parochial is self-sufficient.”

On the basis of that, I am content to be parochial if that means staying in Europe and embracing subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity means having the important decisions about the way we live made at grass roots level.

The SNP government are presently striving to give us the impression that we are in charge of our own affairs, particularly at council level.

However, it is plain on the nose on your face that we are not, since the government holds the purse strings – and it is they who decide how much money will be allocated to services such as health, education, you name it.

Their mantra right now is that if we think not enough money has been allocated to a particular service and we want more for it then we’ll have to choose which cuts to make elsewhere.

There is no more money in the pot, according to Nicola.

That used to be called robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that’s what is now.

Those councils which have been allocated cash for  a needy service will have it taken from them, but it will be taken away from the service to which that money had already been allocated. Cruel or not?

The SNP have a new word for that. It’s called “localism”, a warmer, more accessible word than subsidiarity.

But my columnist colleague, Brian Wilson, is not impressed.

He pointed out that “localism” as used by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay when he was defending his budget proposals, was neither warm nor friendly.

Mr Wilson wrote: “Translated it means that we are again taking hundreds of millions of pounds away from councils but allowing them to raise a fraction of that sum through local taxes.”

Councils should not be limited to generating money for only those things the government wants, whether that’s parking at work taxes or whatever.

Real localism would mean councils being allowed to raise money at local level and deciding for themselves where it should be spent.

If councils want local taxes as “extras” to bump up the amount available to them, then it should be their democratic entitlement to take the electoral risk of imposing them.

If the public think they are getting value for money, then they will vote for them.  If not, they will vote them out. That’s democracy for you – or at least it used to be.

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