THE votes are in and counted, and even now the hard bargaining is under way to see which parties can form administrations in the 29 councils where there is now no overall control.

That will not be an easy process, especially given the increase in the number of Conservative councillors, which puts both Labour and SNP groups on the spot – do they form administrations with the Tories? That may well be the biggest question to come out of this strange election, which in many areas was fought on a single issue that had nothing to do with local government, and which was so thoroughly rocked by the decision of Prime Minister Theresa May to call a General Election next month. It is enlightening to note that political priorities altered hugely after her declaration on April 18.

The SNP won the largest number of seats and the popular vote, but failed in their aim of taking overall control of Glasgow and other councils. Nevertheless, from being nowhere 14 years ago, the SNP are now the largest party in 18 of 32 councils ... though no doubt the Unionist media will somehow contrive to make that seem like a setback.

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As was widely predicted, Labour were the biggest losers by a considerable distance, and to see their party reduced to second place in Glasgow and third in Edinburgh, while haemorrhaging seats in other former strongholds, must be truly galling for Old Labour, New Labour and whatever Labour they are now.

Labour’s Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale has tried to put a brave face on their decisive defeat, but in that guid Scots phrase, her jaiket is now on a shoogly peg, and unless Scottish Labour makes gains on June 8 her tenure of office will be called into serious question. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s undeniable success, even if their tactics were disgraceful and morally reprehensible. Across the country the party did not even pretend to fight on local issues. Instead, every leaflet was about saying no to a second independence referendum, even though local government has absolutely no influence on whether that happens or not.

Clearly it was a successful ploy, and it will be interesting to see whether candidates who were policy-lite can now be responsible and knowledgeable councillors, especially if they are involved in forming administrations.

Yet in making their campaign a single-issue anti-referendum stance, the Tories may have made a rod for their own back. For now the SNP and the other parties have been well warned that the forthcoming General Election will be fought on similar ground here in Scotland, especially with Brexit uppermost in many voters’ minds.

The Tories will not want to be reminded that their leader Ruth Davidson was one of the most effective and able campaigners for a Remain vote in the EU referendum last June. She has now become a Brexiteer, and like every Conservative who fought for a Remain vote, she will avoid answering awkward questions about her changed stance in the run-up to June 8.

Therefore we can expect the Tories to parrot their anti-referendum proclamations ad nauseam, since it very helpfully diverts attention away from the Brexit issue and the appalling record of the Conservatives in power in Westminster these last seven years.

They have played the Unionist card and will do so again, but now the SNP’s leadership have been given a wake-up call that must ring loud and clear through the upper echelons of the party.

The leadership must very soon come up with the policies and stratagems to beat the current Tory campaign, for a particular refrain from many SNP candidates was that there was no centralised guidance on how to beat the anti-referendum tactic.

Yesterday’s results show that it is time for the First Minister and all those who desire a second referendum to make the case for it as never before.