AS you’re reading this the postal ballot papers for the council elections will be dropping through letterboxes. With the Easter recess in Westminster I’ve been able to not only catch up with work in my constituency office, but also get back on the campaign trail assisting SNP candidates in my local area.
Despite having traditonally low turnouts, the result of the council elections will have a major impact on the day-to-day lives of everyone in Scotland. These elections will determine who runs your local council and what priorities they will set for each local area. It will be the new council administrations who will be deciding what happens with a wide range of local services, from schools to street cleaning and just about everything in between. Councils have an array of powers and responsibilities and it is the local councillors who you elect – either through the postal ballots which are currently being delivered, or on polling day on Thursday, May 4 – who will take the decisions that affect you, your family and your local community.
Sometimes my office, like other MPs and MSPs, gets constituents contacting it regarding council matters. Although we can, and often do, deal with these enquiries other politicians are treated in the same way as a member of the public when it comes to dealing with councils. That is why, where we can, we refer these cases on to local councillors who are best-placed to deal with council matters. This makes sense, as they are the ones who not only set the local policies but are also the ones with the day-to-day contact with council officers and are able to get a quicker resolution to any problems.
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If you want better local services then it is important to make sure you vote in the council elections.
However, it seems that other political parties are trying to ignore the importance of good local services and are now downplaying the role of the council elections. You have to wonder why?
The Tories, who have now suspended three of their candidates – but too late for them to be removed from the ballot papers – are wanting to use the council elections as a referendum on whether or not the Scottish people should have a new independence referendum.
So much for doing the day job!
Instead of putting forward their policies of what they would do if they ran councils, the Tories have decided that the issue of a new referendum on Scottish independence is more important than local services. Yet, irrespective of how anyone votes in the elections across Scotland’s 32 councils, not one councillor or one council could either initiate or block such a referendum.
If you’re swayed by the Tories (and I suspect not many National readers will be) and use these elections as a referendum on a referendum – then don’t bother complaining about what your local council gets up to for the next few years. You will have wasted your opportunity to have your say about local services.
Of course, if the Tories really want to use the council elections as a referendum on national issues then maybe we also look on it as a referendum on their disgraceful and vile rape clause. It’s bad enough that Ruth Davidson has hidden behind a spokesperson on this issue but for her to now complain that the SNP Scottish Government should use its limited powers and budget to offset the Tory rape clause really shows that Davidson and the Tories have absolutely no idea of how out of touch they are with this policy. The Scottish Government already uses its funding to offset some of the worst excesses of Tory policies that Scotland actively rejected in the election but are being forced upon us anyway. However, this cannot continue indefinitely. Public services in Scotland should not be starved of funding simply because Tory policies set at Westminster are harming some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. The easiest way to protect them from Tory cuts is for the Tories to stop attacking the vulnerable – or even simpler, let’s campaign even harder for independence.
As usual Labour are all over the place. In some areas, they are putting out leaflets complaining about cuts from the Scottish Government, neglecting to mention that the cuts came from Westminster and that it was Labour MPs who either approved or abstained on them. Locally it seemed that Labour were very late in announcing their candidates and the material being put out is very haphazard with typos and spelling mistakes – including one Labour councillor who seems incapable of spelling his own surname correctly.
It also seems that in many council areas Labour are not putting up enough candidates to win full control of councils, leading to suspicions that backdoor deals have already been agreed between Labour and others, most likely the Tories and LibDems. However, a new tactic being adopted is for former Labour councillors to announce that they are standing as independents to get elected, obviously even they now realise how toxic the Labour brand is in some areas.
The council elections are important. They will determine who runs local services and who will do their best for your local community. Don’t lose your chance to have your say.